Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Andy Card Takes One for the Team

Andy Card has chosen to resign. And to be very clear, the only person who is happy about it is probably Mrs. Card, who gets to find out what Andy looks like in the daylight. Andy kept unbelievable hours, from opening up shop at about 5:30 in the morning to leaving around 9-10 at night. But those of us who have been calling for a major shakeup in the Administration are quite glad that the White House now has an opportunity to take control again.

The chief of staff job is a complex one, but in Navy terms, he is the XO (Executive Officer) of the White House. He reports to the President, but everyone else (excluding the Vice-President, of course) reports to him. He sets the drumbeat, and he gets the President's orders done. And for the first four years of the Bush presidency, he was masterful. Bush's White House was a very tight ship. Between successful execution of new tax policy in the first days of the Administration, to the hideous surprise of 9/11 and the war on terror, all the way to the 2004 election victory, Andy Card scored win after win for the President.

But something happened in 2005, and rather than being able to dodge the silliness of the press, the communications apparatus failed, allowing the media to get a little bit of traction as they tried to spin up weekly scandals. Granted, the "scandals" never got anywhere, but they did have the effect of preventing the message from getting out. So while the President was doing what the American people elected him to do, they had no idea about it because endless discussions about Valerie Plame, the now discredited 9/11 Commission, Harriet Miers, Guantanamo Bay, and whatever Harry Reid wanted investigated that day crowded the news, and prevented real outgoing positive communication.

And so it seemed that there was something lacking in the White House's ability to respond to the news cycle, but more importantly, its ability to control it and to set agendas. That is the job of the Chief of Staff, and it is not surprising that after a very successful run, the Chief burns out. But the replacement of chiefs of staff is not an unusual thing. Ronald Reagan had 4, George Bush 41 had 3 in his single term, and Bill Clinton had 4. And the fact that Bush 43 has had but one chief of staff speaks volumes about the effectiveness of Andy Card. But longevity with a chief of staff is not always a good thing.

As with many things, the grind gets to you and you lose sight of the big picture. I don't know what happened, but my guess is that it is much like any pitcher who throws a great first half of a game but is winded by the top of the 6th and is pitching a few more balls than the pitching coach and the fans are comfortable with. He needs a closer. And in this case, with three years left, and a whole lot more policy to implement, Bush needs someone who can be as intense as Andy Card was during the first term to push the remainder of his agenda, because Bush does not intend to coast out the remainder of his Administration.

It's not that Andy Card failed, as he will probably be a success at everything he does, but 18 hour days for five years straight during two simultaneous wars and with a heavy domestic agenda will wear a guy out.

I'll guarantee that this is not the end of Andy Card with the Bush Administration, as his input is still valued, and will likely be even more valuable when he is able to be a bit more detached. But this change is probably the first of many. We will almost certainly see a much more campaign-oriented communications team, a new communications director, and there is even some murmur about a new Treasury Secretary, and even a replacment of Don Rumsfeld, both of which I think are unlikely, but at the very least this change will do Bush much good.


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