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October 10, 2005

Renovate the West Wing?

The Carpetbagger Report reads Time's Joe Klein--the man, you will remember, who staked his journalistic integrity on his assertion that he was not the author of the novel Primary Colors:

The staff isn't the problem: Time magazine's Joe Klein... sugges[s] that Bush's presidency has effectively fallen apart, but offering the president some advice on setting things straight -- "Renovate the West Wing."

"This Administration has been excellent at politics and spin," [an unnamed Republican Senator] told me. "It hasn't been very good at governance. Perhaps it's time for Bush to do what Ronald Reagan did to shore up his White House in the final years -- bring in a team of terrific managers, people with credibility from Day One." Faced with the Iran-contra scandal, Reagan brought in Howard Baker and then Ken Duberstein as chiefs of staff, Frank Carlucci and then Colin Powell as National Security Advisers....

President Bush confronts nothing so threatening to his Administration as Iran-contra. But it's probably time to renovate the West Wing staff under new leadership...

Klein misrepresents what went on. Reagan didn't bring in Baker, Duberstein, Carlucci, and Powell. Moderate Republicans (and Democrats) in the Congress said that they would have no confidence in the government unless the crazies--North, Poindexter, et cetera--and those out of their depth--Regan, et cetera--were thrown out, Howard Baker brought in to control who talked to the (by this time almost completely passive) Ronnie, and Howard Baker's sign-off required on everything. It was not Ronald Reagan renovating his White House staff. It was, rather, a change of government--a change of ministers--while keeping the same figurehead chief-of-state.

Klein may well understand this: he may understand that what he is calling for is the elevation of George W. Bush to the position of figurehead who rubber-stamps the decisions reached by the High Councils--the NEC, the NSC, et cetera--under the guidance of a strong Prime Minister... excuse me, White House chief-of-staff: a transition of George W. Bush's role from that of an (incompetent) Tony Blair to that of a Queen Elizabeth.

I used to be in Joe Klein's camp: I used to think that things would be OK if only we could get wise and persuasive men and women as chief-of-staff and as the heads of the NSC, NEC, et cetera to guide George W. Bush along a good path.

But I don't think that any more. There is no reason to think that George W. Bush--who by all accounts does not realize how unqualified he is to exercise the office of Presiden tof the United States--would be willing to accept such a change-of-role. As the Carpetbagger Report writes:

Klein's approach... miss[es] the point of Bush's troubles. "Terrific managers" aren't trivial, but the need for "new leadership" starts with the one White House staffer who can't be fired -- the one in the Oval Office. The problem isn't that Bush's aides and managers are incompetent; it's that Bush has personally created an atmosphere of ignorance and fear. "It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS.... Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty."

The president could "bring in a team of terrific managers," but would they change Bush's worldview? If Rove, Card, and Bartlet were gone, what, exactly, would change with a 21st century version of Baker, Duberstein, and Carlucci? It was Bush's choice to surround himself with yes-men. It was Bush's choice to tell those around him to tell shield him from news he may not like. It was Bush's choice to embrace "Bubble Boy" policies that expose him exclusively to pre-screened sycophants...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Posted by DeLong at October 10, 2005 07:19 PM