14 November 2005

The tale of a boy that would be king.....

Let's Try Baloney... By Eleanor Clift

The White House is way off track. Only something radical can rally Bush's presidency.

Things aren't getting better in Bush land. They had a horrific week with the election results. Virginia, a Red State, elected a new governor, Tim Kaine, a Democrat to the left of current Gov. Mark Warner, who's now a hot presidential prospect as a Democrat who can bridge the divide between Red and Blue America.

Events were no better elsewhere. Bombings of hotels in Amman, Jordan, begged the question: Why can't we capture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born insurgent leader in Iraq suspected of carrying out the attacks-or Osama bin Laden for that matter? Al-Zarqawi moves beyond the borders of Iraq to become a regional threat while Vice President Dick Cheney, a veteran of multiple draft deferments, battles Sen. John McCain, a former POW, for pushing an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that puts the U.S. government on record opposing torture.

Something is deeply askew in the White House when the priorities are so off kilter. Unless events conspire to save President George W. Bush (ie: Iraq turns around, the economy improves for average workers (not just oil execs), and the price of energy comes down) he is heading for a full meltdown, a scary prospect when you realize he's president for three more years. What's needed now is the political imagination to change direction, the way President Bill Clinton did after Republicans took control of both the House and Senate in 1994.

Bush went on the offensive Friday, saying in a Veteran's Day speech that critics of his Iraq policies are undercutting American soldiers on the front lines. He also attacked Democrats who claim that pre-war intelligence was manipulated by the White House. But evidence to the contrary will make this a hard sell. It was the first time an American President used Veteran's day as a forum for a stump speech.

The people who most want Bush to succeed are the alumni of his father's administration, and they are in despair over the state of the White House. One former diplomat after three glasses of wine at an embassy dinner confessed that he has a recurring image of the White House as a crab with seven atrophied legs and one over-developed leg, which would be Karl Rove, pulling everything along. "If he goes, there's nothing left." Exhausted and demoralized Bush aides are turning on each other and leaking stories to the press, a breakdown in discipline that is new to the Bush operation. Friends of the senior Bush are blaming Cheney for usurping too much power, but that's why they wanted him there, as a minder for the man-child who should never have been made president.

This is a battle between the Bushes of Kennebunkport and the Bushes of Crawford, and who prevails will determine which direction Bush 43 goes for the rest of his term. The Connecticut crowd is headed by Bush 41 with Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser, speaking for the father, James Baker the consigliore, and chief-of-staff Andy Card their mole. Scowcroft has terminally offended the White House with his anti-Iraq war views. "He might as well be dead," says the former diplomat. "If you say anything publicly, you're frozen out. You have to show comity toward them, or they won't listen to you."

Suiting up on the Crawford side is Rove, and of course Bush 43, who reinforce each other. If Bush sticks with Rove and goes to the right, there's a ceiling on his popularity at best of 45 percent. If he moves to the center, like the Bush 41 crowd would like, the base collapses and he doesn't necessarily pick up votes in the center. The administration is too far gone, the problems intractable.

Whenever Clinton got into trouble, he reached outside his White House, cleaned house, and developed the strategy of "triangulation" which positioned Clinton between the Democrats and the Republican Congress, and revived his presidency. The elder Bush's allies are pushing to bring in two or three new people who can talk to Bush and help fashion fresh approaches to the nation's problems in the State of the Union address early next year. Who might those people be? After a long silence, the diplomat suggested Jim Baker, who has come to the rescue before, but who is better suited to working behind the scenes. The Right distrusts him and would rebel if they saw Baker's fingerprints.

The other name offered was Condoleeza Rice, who Bush calls "mother hen." She spends time with him-biking, pumping iron and taking walks-or at least she did when she was national security adviser and didn't travel so much. "He likes people who affirm him and make him feel good about himself," said the diplomat, recalling Harriet Miers's note to then Gov. Bush that he was "deserving of the greatest respect." In this diplomat's assessment, having known the Bush family well, respect is the key word. Bush for years was the lost and hapless son of a respected, duty-bound father, and he's still playing catch-up in the family Oedipal drama.

Talking to Bush requires what those around him call the "baloney sandwich approach." It works like this: Your spouse has run up the credit cards. Confronting her will provoke a fight. So you flatter her, tell her what a great wife and mother she is; then present this teeny little problem the two of you can work together to solve because you love her so much. Bush's world has collapsed in on him. It's time to try something new, even if it's baloney.


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