Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Treasury Selection Is a Real Opportunity

It seems that the Bush Administration has room for but one Snow, that being White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. Because Treasury Secretary John Snow is out. As of Friday, the President knew nothing about it. As of today, he's already named a replacement. Which seems a bit odd for someone who was surprised by the announcement, but I digress.

Snow was by no means a bad Treasury Secretary. But in this environment, where Bush's very successful economic agenda is overshadowed by a controversial foreign policy, Bush needs an exceptional Treasury Secretary.

The biggest issue facing this president is Iraq. Not New Orleans/Katrina, not immigration, not wiretaps, and not even the economy. Iraq. His legacy stands or falls on it.

Iraq is a hard, painful slog. And while it is progressing, with a new unity government, a military that is growing in aptitude, requiring less and less assistance from the United States forces, and a civilian population that can see the difference between the terrorists and their own elected government, clearly preferring the latter, it is portrayed as Vietnam in the desert by overzealous journalists and Democrats. The result is an America that, for reasons that really have no logical basis, believes that much is wrong, just because they see difficulties in Iraq.

Which brings me back to the Treasury Secretary appointment. In an era where unemployment is a very low 4.7%, and where the stock markets are flirting with record highs, and all of this in the wake of the huge loss of employment caused by Katrina and exorbitant fuel prices, we ought to be celebrating this remarkable achievement and our prosperity, not looking down in the mouth. But the media spillover from negative Iraq reporting is having the effect that the left intends--it is keeping attention away from the good which would buoy Bush's politcal fortunes and those of his party. It is the job of the Treasury Secretary to advance the Administration's economic policies, but also to trumpet economic successes. And in this department, the Administration has been lacking.

Paul O'Neill was the last person Bush needed as Treasury Secretary. His head was not in the game, he lasted for but 2 years because of it, and so after his dismissal, he wrote a "tell-all" that was so well received by Americans that it didn't even finish its first printing before the unpurchased copies were pulped for consumption by American dairy cattle. John Snow was a decent guy, but he didn't sell the economy effectively. It wasn't for want of effort but rather an inability to hold people's attention.

But Hank Paulson is a little different. As head of the most prestigious of investment houses, Goldman Sachs, he carries with him quite a good deal of respect in the financial community. Similarly, his ability to communicate will enable the Administration to tout the very obvious economic successes we have seen over the past five years. In other words, if there is anyone who can cut through the media's false flood of negativity on Iraq that has drowned out positive stories and soaked through unrelated issues to create in the American mind the false image of a bad overall picture, it's Paulson.

And it will enable Bush to open up a new front for Republicans in November, and to put Iraq in a little more context. Because a good economy tends to cure many wrongs, whether perceived or real. And while I don't see Bush being able to effectively correct the record on Iraq in time for it to have any significant effect for November, record correction need not be his only strategy. Because if Paulson is effective enough, a real belief in a strong economy may have its own unquantifiable spillover back into Iraq. Perhaps Americans will begin to see it for the good work it really is, or at the very least, see it as less of a concern to them than their nation's good economic position.

It's wishful thinking given the PR disaster that Bush has allowed during his second term, but it must be his Administration's goal.

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