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Friday, March 31, 2006

Bartlett: Same Old Administration

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Bruce Bartlett is not impressed with President Bush's choice of Josh Bolten to replace Andrew Card as White House Chief of Staff:

Bush Plays the Same Old Hand, by Bruce Bartlett, Commentary, New York Times: Washington is still atwitter over the resignation of Andrew Card as White House chief of staff and the appointment of his replacement, Josh Bolten... Much of the buzz comes from the belief that President Bush may be listening to the Washington establishment, which has been urging him to reinvigorate his administration and lift his lowly poll ratings. ...

The problem is that only one part of Mr. Bush’s team ever gets shaken up. Whenever things are not working, the economic advisors seem to take most of the blame, while even dramatic failures by other staff members cause no repercussions. No one was fired for the prewar intelligence failures in Iraq ... George Tenet, the former Director of Central Intelligence, was given a medal. Michael Chertoff is still Secretary of Homeland Security even though his agency was responsible for many of the screw-ups related to Hurricane Katrina.

In contrast, in 2002, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was publicly fired — along with Larry Lindsey, Director of the National Economic Council — in a fashion that suggested there was more to it than a mere desire to change staff. Why Bush could not have told the two men privately that he wanted to make a change and allow them to leave with their dignity intact has never been explained. Instead, Vice President Dick Cheney phoned Mr. O’Neill to tell him he was out — this after Mr. O’Neill had personally asked Bush if he wanted him to leave and was told no. ...

The firings sent a message to everyone in the administration that they were expendable... They would not even be permitted the face-saving gesture of quitting for “personal reasons” ... The effect was to dampen what little initiative and independence might have existed ... Mr. O’Neill’s replacement, John Snow, got the message ... His only job seems to be greeting every new economic statistic as if the nation had won the lottery. The economic news has been fairly good. But ... Mr. Bush apparently still believes he has not gotten enough credit, and that this is the primary reason for his low poll ratings.

I have no doubt that Mr. Bolten will do his job with ruthless efficiency, for he is the truest of Mr. Bush’s true believers. I know this because ... Josh Bolten and I often worked together during the George H.W. Bush administration... We weren’t pals, but we were always on friendly terms. Then, a couple of years into the current administration, I saw him at a reception. I had just started writing some mildly critical things about some of Mr. Bush’s policies, like the Medicare drug program... Up until that time, I had been almost entirely positive in my writings about the administration.

So I was taken aback when I went up to Mr. Bolten to say hello and he pointedly turned his back on me and walked away. I guess he thought he was punishing me for my criticism. All this did was confirm my growing belief that Mr. Bush would ultimately be a disaster ...

The funny thing is that I was treated far better by Bill Clinton’s people ... even though I almost never had a good word to say about their positions. To their credit, they really believed in what they were doing and were almost evangelical in their desire to explain why it was right... I have no doubt that if I had come across Gene Sperling ... at such a reception, he would have come straight at me with a laundry list of facts and arguments for why I was wrong... I would have been invited to the White House mess to carry on the conversation, and I would have left with an armful of studies and statistics explaining the virtues of whatever Clinton program I was attacking.

By contrast, the Bush administration never provides its supporters with any ammunition to defend its positions, beyond the endless repetition of the day’s talking points. ... So I see no reason to believe that anything substantive will change in this White House, no matter how many staff changes are made. ...

    Posted by on Friday, March 31, 2006 at 06:57 PM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (16)

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