President Bush no longer exhorts Americans to read his lips. He now suggests that people read tea leaves.
Is there a fortune teller in the Bush White House to match the Reagans' astrologer?Not quite. But a soothsayer might come in handy to help interpret some of the president's recent pronouncements - answers that seem only to raise more questions.
Bush, perhaps deliberately so, has been perfectly unclear on: Lithuanian independence, the status of East Jerusalem, trade talks with Japan and a budget plan by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski.
"Read all the tea leaves. Listen to the nuances. It's out there very clearly," was Bush's response when reporters asked him whether the White House was sending conflicting signals on the Rostenkowski plan.
By any analysis, the White House position was anything but very clear.
Bush's opaque comments only served to underscore what many analysts see as an effort by his administration to have it both ways on the bold plan by the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The White House has embraced the concept of Rostenkowski's plan while quickly backing away from its most controversial features: tax increases and a one-year freeze in Social Security benefits.
On Lithuania, the president also is verbally walking a tightrope in balancing a longstanding U.S. refusal to recognize that state's incorporation into the Soviet Union in the 1940s with his desire to be supportive of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The administration has refused to extend formal diplomatic recognition to Lithuania in the aftermath of the vote in its parliament to secede from the Soviet Union.
When he spoke with reporters on Tuesday, Bush praised Gorbachev for restraint in dealing with the rebellious republic.
"They're still talking peaceful change. That's essential and they've been very good about it," he said.
But within the hour, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater was reading a statement about Soviet troop movements around Lithuania that urged the Kremlin to avoid creating "an atmosphere of intimidation and increasing tension."