Is the President Unpresidential?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," March 26, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

Watch The O'Reilly Factor weeknights at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and listen to the Radio Factor!

TONY SNOW, GUEST HOST: In the "Impact" segment tonight, was President Bush unpresidential when he made light of the coalition forces inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?  His critics are crying foul, while others say that they  ought to lighten up.  Take a listen to some of the things the president said the other night.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Those weapons of mass destruction got to be somewhere.  Nope, no weapons over there.


Well joining me now, presidential historian Allan Lichtman (search), a professor at American University (search). So professor, now Democrats are saying that the president was being unpresidential. They think that this was not a subject that he ought to use for humor. Some families and people who served in Iraq have said the same thing. What do you say?

ALLAN LICHTMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, let me say, you're supposed to be unpresidential at these correspondents’ dinners. They have become the venue for self-deprecating humor by presidents.

But that said, as you know, Tony, in politics and in comedy, timing is everything. And I think the timing was just a little bit off here. This wasn't the time to be humorous about this issue. It's a time when the nation's nerves are being rubbed raw by allegations that the Bush administration was not urgently preparing for a possible terrorist attack and was perhaps so preoccupied with Iraq, that it concocted a case on weapons of mass destruction.

SNOW: All right, yes, but as you understand, when Bill Clinton was at the height of the Lewinsky affair, he was making fun of that. When Ronald Reagan was under siege for Iran-Contra, he made fun of it. I was at both dinners. It's not unusual for a president to try to figure out what his point of most -- greatest controversy or greatest vulnerability is, and try to poke some fun at it.

Don't you think -- by the way, I thought it was a fairly lame joke.

LICHTMAN: Yes, it was.

SNOW: But don't you think in this case the president's guilty not of a great transgression against the presidency, but of having delivered a bad joke?

LICHTMAN: Delivered a bad joke and I have to say at a bad time on the wrong topic. You know, with self-deprecating humor, you take aim at yourself. Unfortunately, he hit himself with a bullet right in the temple. It was more of a political mistake.

It doesn't show any grand insensitivity on the part of the president. And frankly, the Democrats, I think, have been a bit over the top in their criticism of him as well. Their hands are not clean in this kind of, you know, silly fiasco anyway.

SNOW: I was about to say, John Kerry's probably not the guy you'd take stand-up lessons from.

LICHTMAN: No, John Kerry isn't the guy I want to model my humor on. And unfortunately, Tony, you know, we've got to be really sensitive about this because there are lives at stake. There are families who suffered, tragedies.

But also, there's the bigger picture here. And I think you know as well as I do, this is the earliest, nastiest political campaign in my memory and probably yours. Everything is going to be escalated at this point. We're going to be in for seven months of trench warfare.

SNOW: Well, but you just made an interesting point, which is Democrats have probably been over the top in the sense that you know what? It's getting to the point now, whatever either side says, the other side's going to leap out, hold a press conference and take offense. I don't know about you, but I'm getting bored with it already.

LICHTMAN: Yes, and you got seven more months to go. You know, isn't this the old -- you know, the boys who are crying -- the girls who are crying wolf, wolf, wolf. No one's going to believe anybody anymore when they cry it. If the wolf really comes through the door, Tony, we're not going to believe Kerry or Bush.

SNOW: All right, now when you try to analyze this, you say this is a political mistake.


SNOW: The problem is when somebody complains about a joke, it makes them look humorless, too. If you're giving advice to the president's opponents, what do you tell them to do to try to exploit it politically without looking like I don't know, frumpy, humorless critics?

LICHTMAN: I got two words, shut up. There are plenty of other people out there, you know, making the case for them. You know, sometimes it is best to say nothing. As Victennstein (ph) once said, you know, sometimes you show and point rather than say.

SNOW: You know, it's not often that we get Austrian linguistic philosophers mentioned on this air.

LICHTMAN: There you go.

SNOW: The other thing you talked about was the value of the silence. And I'm sure that that's what you were hinting at as well. So in the grand sweep of things, this is much ado about what?

LICHTMAN: It is much ado about issues that have, you know, rubbed raw the skin off of American politics and about a campaign that is so nasty, it needs you, Tony, or some referee out there to just yell, "Stop, do over." Let's start this campaign all over again on a different note.

SNOW: You know, I asked you just a minute ago what Democrats ought to do going after the president. What do you think the president ought to do? Should he say anything more about the joke or should he also follow your advice and just zip it?

LICHTMAN: I think he's got to zip it. You know, the president was kind of looking under his desk for those weapons of mass destruction. I think right now he's looking under his desk for his political mojo. It's like that Michael Jordan movie "Space Jam." Someone's stolen his mojo. He's been off his game for a while. You know, I have been a great admirer of the politics of George Bush, but not recently.

SNOW: Mojo, "Space Jam" and Victtenstein (ph). I'm dizzy already.

LICHTMAN: There you go.

SNOW: Allan Lichtman, thanks so much.

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2004 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.