Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bush's Snow Job

President Bush may have made his best staff selection so far, aside of Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice. He chose Tony Snow to speak for him, and that choice implies that perhaps more than a few changes are about to take place.

Tony Snow is a rare find for an administration whose PR inaptitude may be driving it into the ground. And someone like Tony comes to this job with way more pull than Tory Clark or Dan Senor, who were the other candidates for the job of White House Press Secretary.

He is taking a substantial pay cut to be Press Secretary. He is also an respected figure in the media industry, so he doesn't need this in order to further his career. But most importantly, the White House really wants him and knows that they are in a heap of trouble without a new and functional communications machine.

Which means that Snow can dictate terms. And in his position as a commentator, parsing for the public what politicians put out, Tony is able to identify the communication problems plaguing the Bush Administration and correct them.

And probably first among the things to be corrected is the degree to which Snow has direct access to the President and to the kind of information he needs in order to effectively deal with the issues that the Press Corps will throw at him. That was one of Scott McClellan's biggest weaknesses. The Administration didn't tell him what he needed to know. It became clear that he did not have a decent stream of information or appropriate confidence from the top when, after dismissing the possibility of it, Karl Rove was called to testify about the Plame matter. McClellan's credibility never really recovered, and it was surprising at that point that he didn't resign on the spot, as the Administration did him a huge disservice. To prevent that from recurring, Tony Snow will insist that he have complete access and complete disclosure on all matters which might require public comment. He didn't come to the job just to be a mouthpiece, and I doubt that he would stay in it if that's what things came to.

Thereafter, Snow will develop a communications strategy. It's a novel concept, and it worked for the 2004 campaign. It's why John Kerry was very often on the defensive during the campaign. Failing to employ one for the second term is why we find the President's popularity exploring new depths.

Snow needs to make life complicated for the Democrats, in other words, he needs his position to be a newsmaking one which generates response, rather than simply responding to whatever easy allegation Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Pelosi drops. In fact, he needs to keep the Congressional minority so busy that they don't have time to lob the kinds of cynical accusations at the Administration that they have had the luxury of doing over the past 18 months.

Instead of a "culture of corruption" among Republicans in Congress, the Dems would have to be dealing with the bombastic comments and juvenile behavior of Rep. Cynthia McKinney, and minimizing the damage done to their 2006 election effort by Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), the ranking member of the House Ethics Committee now facing serious allegations of corruption.

Snow will also tell the President that when the blame game is played, he needs to join in and give some very hard assessments of his critics. Which means that former FEMA head Michael Brown would have gone down with Mayor Ray Nagin who told New Orleans residents without transportation that they were on their own if they wanted to get out of the city, and with Gov. Kathleen Blanco who also escaped scrutiny after delaying federal aid that the President offered.

Imagine how things would be if Bush actually came out of most of these controversies looking good. But when he will not set the record straight in an effective manner, he gives the microphone to the Dems to freely do whatever damage their accusations can inflict.

The bottom line is that the President, in order to be successful, must win the news cycle every single day. Because the damage he suffers is cumulative for every day he fails to do it.

If he listens to Tony Snow and does as he says, we will see a return of the very nimble and believable Bush we saw in 2004. Failing that, Snow will resign, a sign that the Administration intends to miss the boat on the art of successful communication, and to set the Democrats up nicely for unearned victories in 2006 and 2008.

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