Monday, November 15, 2004

 

A New Age Now begins

Tanned, rested and ready

The president isn’t wasting any time shaking things up after the election. While it is traditional for top-level appointees to submit resignations at the end of a presidential term, it is less customary for a president to accept them. But that has become the rule rather than the exception this time around.

So far, George W. Bush has accepted resignations from Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Education Secretary Rod Paige, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. There are more to come, including Tommy Thompson – and sooner or later, Norm Minetta. I expect Tom Ridge and Elaine Chao to move out of their present assignments, but not necessarily out of the inner circle. (BTW: Put Ridge on your list of people to watch for in the 2008 presidential contest. You heard it here first.) On the preliminary replacement list: Condoleezza Rice to State, outgoing Democratic Sen. John Breaux to Energy.

What it means

There are two ways to read the tea leaves – the changes betoken either discord at the White House or big ambitions on the president’s part. You can find the correct answer in column B.

Some appointees, including the Secretary of State, had asked for a little more time on the job, but were informed curtly that the White House wants to get on with finding a team for the next four years. Colin Powell, who always has noted that he serves at the pleasure of the president, took the news with typical aplomb. Others – who, for the sake of discretion I will not mention – suffered through cases of deep denial, and tried their best to beg their ways back.

This is to be expected. Team Bush has lived through three parlous and historic years, and it’s difficult to turn away from what in many cases will be the most thrilling and fulfilling years of these folks’ public careers. On the other hand, George W. Bush wants to avoid the fate of every second-term president since Teddy Roosevelt. He doesn’t want his presidency to grind slowly to a halt, as pretenders to the throne busy themselves with plots to become the next commander in chief. Expect the most aggressive domestic agenda since TR – check my post from last week on the agenda items – and the most momentous Supreme Court selections since FDR.

No guts, no glory

Ironically, close observers continue to misunderstimate the guy. My favorite headline comes U.S. News, which opines that the president wishes to “consolidate power” at the White House. If a president needs to consolidate power at his own White House, he’s in what the president’s father once referred to as “deep doo-doo.”

Here’s the deal: George W. Bush has built the most disciplined White House in memory – a fact that has annoyed to no end a press corps that feasts upon leaks planted by disloyal or disgruntled employees. Many people fitting those descriptions have been eased out (remember Richard Clarke) to write forgettable memos or draft poison-pen screeds for various publications.

Bush II will have more energy than the latter-day Bush I, with its beleaguered and war-tested cabinet. Unlike his predecessors, the president will not pack his second administration with bench players and camp followers. This administration will have the feel and vigor of a first-term administration, and the president’s charges will have strict orders to shake things up – to knock the barnacles from the bureaucracy, send laggards packing, and transform the federal government from a sclerotic, sluggish money-burning machine into an agent of transformation. We’ve already seen this at work with the CIA, where Porter Goss has made waves by putting the squeeze on the president’s enemies. In short, this is going to be interesting – and an absolute blast for those of us who observe politics for fun and profit.

Also Tanned, rested, and ready

Bill Safire, one of my mentors in the news business and the man who sealed my fate as speechwriting director for President George Herbert Walker Bush, has announced that he’s packing his word processor as of Jan. 24, 2005.

Safire is the consummate Washington Insider – a former aide to Vice President Richard Nixon, speechwriter for President Nixon, and the recipient of many an important leak in this town over the last three decades. But he’s also a polymath, the author of interesting books about everything from Job to Nixon – with Jefferson and Lincoln in-between. He is the founder of the Judson Welliver Society, a collection of former White House Speechwriters. And best of all, he’s simply a wonderful, interesting, impish and lively guy. I hate to see him leave the op-ed page of The New York Times, but it’s comforting to know he’ll be around. I’ll write a more longer paen to Safire soon. But trust me: The guy’s a giant in Washington journalism – and I suspect he’s still available for those interested in seeking either advice or sage career counseling.

The worst poet ever

Mikhael Lermontov, a minor Russian poet, once penned a couple odes to “A young woman, beautiful but dumb.” Britney Spears has now crafted what one might consider the definitive response, in the form of a tender ode to marriage: “A meal, a shower and some ice cream/Then I threw my man down, you know what I mean!” Dr. Spears says she intends to burnish her intellectual credentials by attending a college-to-be-named-later, a revelation that brings to mind another Russian-born author, Vladimir Nabokov, whose book, Lolita, taught every dictionary-toting youth the meaning of the word, “callipygian.”


Comments:
Acta non Verba
My alma mater's motto translates roughly to "action, not words". It appears that the second term of the Bush administration will again follow that tack. Between Porter Goss providing a badly needed shake-up at the CIA and the purge of the cabinet it looks as if the President is rested and ready to move out on his agenda. What separates him from many other politicians is that he is a man of action, setting out to do what he said he was going to do; and he wants results, not rhetoric. That approach does not come without risk, as we have seen in his first term. That is not to say risk is bad. If we do not get in our car because we don't want the risk of a fatal accident we won't get to work. By the way, there were far more fatalities on our highways than of U. S. service personnel in Iraq last year. I am glad to see we are rapidly increasing the risks of being a terrorist in Iraq.

Acta non Verba

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Tony wrote: "Ironically, close observers continue to misunderstimate the guy."

Of course, this reminds me of Bill Sammon's book, "Misunderestimated," So far, I'm only into chapter 4, but chapter 2 was truly an education on Saddam Hussein, and the need for him to be gone.
 
Tony, I'm very happy that you're hosting a blogsite, I enjoy your commentary. It'll make up for you leaving Fox News Sunday, and the fact that I can't listen to your radio show during the day. Just to let you know, I attempted to use the "typical aplomb" link, and received an error from foxnews.com. Looking forward to more postings from you. Get ready, I added you to my blogroll! (As soon as somebody reads my blogsite, you may get some traffic your way...)
 
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You're going to write a "more longer" piece on Safire, is ya?

I'm sure he'd appreciate how well you show of the fancy learnin' he give ya.
 
Kidding aside: One of the things that was obvious to me well before the election was that this President came to office with a pretty ambitious domestic agenda, but that other than tax cuts all of it was derailed/sidelined by the war.

What was also obvious was that, despite all the denials by Democrats, he ran this year on a fairly aggressive domestic agenda filled with policy proposals and ideas. Most of them the same as in 2000, mind you, but that's the point: he didn't run away from any of it, and made his campaign about big ideas on the domestic front. Whatever you think of his "Ownership Society" concept, it's as big an agenda as anyon since the Great Society or the New Deal.

Probably he'll be able to pass a good chunk of it though not all of it. No legislative agenda is ever 100% fulfilled, not FDR's, not LBJ's, not Gingrich's Contract With America, and probably not the Ownership Society. But it's going to be fascinating to watch him try.
 
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