Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Ugly Stepchild Steps Down, The President Must Step Up

Miers is out, and so ends what will be regarded as a politically destructive chapter in the history of the Bush Administration, which washed away the warm fuzzies of the particularly excellent Roberts nomination and confirmation. And the Administration has Charles Krauthammer to thank for making the ending just a tad easier.

Read this and this before going any further. Then catch the rationale for Miers's withdrawal of her nomination.

Charles Krauthammer has always been one of the best minds in Washington, but predicting the path to (or more likely providing the excuse for) Miers's withdrawal may have done the White House some good.

First things first, though. I supported the Miers nomination because I believed (and still do) that Bush had a surprise in store for the left. But this nomination died as a result of an unfortunately predictable "perfect storm". Conservatives were not comfortable with anyone who was not an established and highly qualified individual in the legal community. Bush and Rove should have seen that coming. And without the support of the base, it made it hard to defend Miers. And given the hanging cloud of the grand jury indictments which may be handed up tomorrow, the Administration has been in a complete mental fog. And lastly, the Administration has, while not in word but certainly in deed, dumped Miers by failing to fight for her nomination. Withdrawal became the perfect solution. Her nomination had lost all energy.

And all of these events are 100% the fault of the President. Since his reelection, his communication team has done absolutely nothing to win the PR war. And look at the successes of the past year: A successful election in January in Iraq. A successful election last week in Iraq to approve the drafted Constitution, and a surprisingly silent terrorist presence. Saddam Hussein on trial for war crimes, looking and sounding like a fool. A great nomination of a Chief Justice to the Supreme Court, and in that regard, a huge promise kept, in the person of John Roberts. North Korea backing down on nuclear weapons (the verification component remains to be seen, but...), the appointment of a no-nonsense diplomat to the U.N. , France working with the U.S. at the U.N. to tighten the noose on Syria and an increasingly belligerent Iran, and the appointment of a supply-sider to as the Fed Chairman. We hear nothing of this from the White House. But here's how the Administration has allowed itself to be defined this year: higher gas prices, an investigation of the senior White House staff about an alleged exposure of an alleged undercover agent as a political payback, FEMA and Mike Brown botching the Katrina relief effort, even higher gas prices after that, and the media's celebration (yes, celebration) of 2000 dead soldiers in Iraq.

About the only thing in the PR department that has gone well for the President has been Cindy Sheehan, and that's only because she is abysmally stupid, vastly overplayed her hand, and became a disaster to her own cause, smiling for the cameras as she got arrested, as if she was at Disney World.

It's time once again for Bush to lead. And by lead I do not mean make decisions. We know he can do that. But a successful presidency is about communication. And if he doesn't do that, his second term will be little more than an asterisk--a wasted 4 years.

Bill Clinton's presidency was a disaster. A retroactive tax increase in his first days, a failed attempt at taking over he health care industry, a first lady who stole the show, a regular series of personal and political scandals, campaign funds illegally collected from China, a series of terrorist attacks on American interests that went unanswered, an impeachment, a series of pardons for criminals because they were donors or friends of donors, state property looted from the White House, and a White House left trashed because of bitterness over a lost election. But he stayed afloat for two reasons: he had Republican Congress in whom the economy had much confidence, and he was a communicator like no other. Clinton, for all of his scandals, and they were many, still managed to stay above the fray, and was able to communicate some degree of confidence to the nation in his ability to get the job done, regardless of the fact that most people perceived him to be a boor on a personal level.

And it is no excuse that Bush lacks a silver tounge like Clinton. He has proven himself an effective communicator when he intends to be one.

So, here's the plan. He needs to appoint a judge to the Supreme Court whose qualities and beliefs are known. And just to be really clear, that judge need not be a woman, despite the unfortunate comments that the First Lady was pushing for a woman. He needs to prepare for a fight, as he needs to put up someone of whom the Senate Minority Leadership will not approve. He needs an originalist, he needs a conservative. Again, Janice Rogers Brown, Edith Jones, Michael Luttig, Sam Alito, Michael McConnell. No Alberto Gonzaleses need apply. Because this nomination needs to be less about gender and race than, say, the law. And the gloves need to come off. Bush needs to lead with a clearly qualified, clearly established, clearly well spoken, and clearly originalist judge. So that when the Democrats oppose him/her, they will be doing so for partisan (meaning abortion) reasons alone, and standing for the cause of judicial activism. Because it is judicial activism, combined with political and personal intimidation from the left that has kept Roe largely undisturbed for over thirty years.

Bush's base won't kill him if he doesn't appoint a woman. And I think that the whole problem of the gender of the justice (which makes about as much sense as not disturbing the balance of the court) will go gently away in a short time. We don't reserve seats on the highest court in the land for people based upon their immutable characteristics.

And then it's time for a new communication team. All of them. Out. They are defensive only, and they set no agenda. They respond to press inquiries in the terms that media use. They do not redefine the debate or lead it, but simply participate. An effective President controls the debate. Clinton (with the help of a willing press, of course) redefined the impeachment as "sexual McCarthyism" and all about sex (rather than perjury). Bush has indeed commanded the debate in the past, but he needs to make it the practice rather than the exception. You can't pin your media strategy on getting lucky and expect to win.

Leadership is messy, hard stuff. But Bush needs to get back in it for good. Because the messiness of real leadership would have prevented the mess that the lack of it over the past year has caused him.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. One of the things that has frustrated me about President Bush is his unwillingness to fight back on the negative press that he gets. If you don't lead, someone else will. And we all know that if you don't push back on a bully, he (or she) will keep coming at you. You may get roughed up, but they'll leave you alone and go after easier prey.
Mpls, MN

3:16 PM  

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