Thursday, April 20, 2006

And this is a Republican talking

So how should we best assess all these staff changes at the White House? Will they make a big difference, and help President Bush find his mojo again?
Peggy Noonan says that won't happen - not unless the guy at the top engages in some cosmic soul-searching of his own.

Noonan, the famous Republican speechwriter who crafted key phrases for Ronald Reagan and the senior George Bush, makes that argument in a column today. Her reservations about the younger Bush are, shall we say, politely rendered. You don't have to be a genius to read between the lines. Key excerpts:

"Mr. Bush's feelings, assumptions and convictions set theme, direction and mood....When he won't budge, the White House won't budge. When it clings to an idea beyond evidence and history, it is Mr. Bush who is doing the clinging. When he stands firm, it stands firm...
"(H)e puts severe limits on the number and kind of people who can (advise) him. He picks them, receives their passionate and by definition limited recommendations, makes his decision, and sticks. All very Trumanesque, except Truman could tolerate argument and dissent. They didn't pass the buck to little Harry, they threw it at his head. Clark Clifford was in in the morning telling him he had to recognize Israel, and George Marshall was there in the afternoon telling him he'd step down as secretary of state if he did. It was a mess. Messes aren't all bad...

"George W. Bush, on the other hand, does not tolerate dissent, argument, bitter internal battles....Bruce Bartlett has written of how, as a conservative economist, he was treated with courtesy by the Clinton White House, which occasionally sought out his views. But once he'd offered mild criticisms of the Bush White House he was shut out, and rudely, by Bush staffers. Why would they be like that? Because they believe that as a conservative, Mr. Bartlett owes his loyalty to the president. He thought his loyalty was to principles.
"There are many stories like this, from many others. It leaves friends on the outside having to self-censor or accept designation as The Enemy. It leaves a distinguished former government official and prominent Republican saying, in conversation, 'Those people aren't drinking the Kool-Aid, they're sucking it from a spigot!'

"(S)ometimes the bravest thing is to question yourself, question the wisdom around you, reach out, tolerate a hellacious argument, or series of arguments. Yes there is a feeling of safety in decisiveness, but if it's the wrong decision, the safety doesn't last. And safety isn't the point in any case. Governing well is. That involves arguments. It means considering you may be wrong about some things. This isn't weak--it's humble. It's not breaking, it's bending, tacking, steadying yourself in a wind."

Noonan says a lot more in this vein. Her point, of course, is that major staff changes are "irrelevent" if The Decider proves incapable of changing himself.

By the way, on a related front:
The pollsters at Fox News announced today that President Bush is now supported by only 33 percent of the American public. That's a record low in the Fox poll, which has measured Bush's appeal since 2001. The Fox low, in fact, is lower than the lows recorded lately by Gallup, ABC News-Washington Post, and the Pew Media Center.
I expect that this finding by Fox News will thoroughly confuse and disorient those Americans who assume that such a dire statistic could only be an "MSM" "lie."