If you’ve ever read David Frum’s How We Got Here, two things that strike you are both his sympathy for people in situations that they can’t understand and his omnivorous learning. He has an uncanny knack for tying small issues together with large ones and thus illustrating a common concept.
Something has long been wrong with the Bush administration; this we all know. The question has been, what specifically is wrong? Frum’s answer: personnel is policy, and the way Bush manages people weeds out good people. (Frum himself was on staff, but lasted less than two years.) How did Scott McClellan go from a political hack in Texas to the White House press office to the hottest thing on amazon.com? From Frum’s National Post column:
As the current press secretary Dana Perino daily reminds us, you don’t have to be a genius to succeed as press secretary. But you do need (1) composure under fire, (2) verbal fluency, (3) an understanding of the imperatives of the news business and (4) access to the interior workings of the administration. McClellan never possessed qualities (1) and (2), and his colleagues refused to grant him (4).
In these deficiencies, McClellan was not alone. George W. Bush brought most of his White House team with him from Texas. Except for Karl Rove, these Texans were a strikingly inadequate bunch. Harriet Miers, Alberto Gonzalez, Karen Hughes, Al Hawkins, Andy Card (the last not a Texan, but a lifelong Bush family retainer) — they were more like characters from The Office than the sort of people one would expect to find at the supreme height of government in the world’s most powerful nation. McClellan, too, started in Bush’s governor’s office, and if he never belonged to the innermost circle of power, he nonetheless gained closer proximity than would be available to almost anyone who did not first serve in Texas.
That early team was recruited with one paramount consideration in mind: loyalty. Theoretically, it should be possible to combine loyalty with talent. But that did not happen often with the Bush team.
Bush demanded a very personal kind of loyalty, a loyalty not to a cause or an idea, but to him and his own career. Perhaps unconsciously, he tested that loyalty with constant petty teasing, sometimes verging on the demeaning. (Robert Draper, whose book Dead Certain offers a vivid picture of the pre-presidential Bush, tells the story of a 1999 campaign-strategy meeting at which Bush shut Karl Rove up by ordering him to “hang up my jacket.” The room fell silent in shock — but Rove did it.)
These little abuses would often be followed by unexpected acts of thoughtfulness and generosity. Yet the combination of the demand for personal loyalty, the bullying and the ensuing compensatory love-bombing was to weed out strong personalities and to build an inner circle defined by a willingness to accept absolute subordination to the fluctuating needs of a tense, irascible and unpredictable chief.
Had Bush been a more active manager, these subordinated personalities might have done him less harm. But after choosing people he could dominate, he then delegated them enormous power. He created a closed loop in which the people entrusted with the most responsibility were precisely those who most dreaded responsibility — Condoleezza Rice being the most important and most damaging example.
In one column, Frum has explained how so many momentous decisions fell into the hands of people who, like Bartleby the Scrivener, would prefer not to. In short, Frum has explained why What Happened happened. Frum has already written one book where he explained what he thought was good and bad about this presidency; I hope he writes another, now that we know more.
Never get on Bob Dole’s bad side, as Scott McClellan has:
“There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don’t have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues,” Dole wrote in a message sent yesterday morning. “No, your type soaks up the benefits of power, revels in the limelight for years, then quits, and spurred on by greed, cashes in with a scathing critique.”
. . .
“In my nearly 36 years of public service I’ve known of a few like you,” Dole writes, recounting his years representing Kansas in the House and Senate. “No doubt you will ‘clean up’ as the liberal anti-Bush press will promote your belated concerns with wild enthusiasm. When the money starts rolling in you should donate it to a worthy cause, something like, ‘Biting The Hand That Fed Me.’ Another thought is to weasel your way back into the White House if a Democrat is elected. That would provide a good set up for a second book deal in a few years”
Dole assures McClellan that he won’t read the book — “because if all these awful things were happening, and perhaps some may have been, you should have spoken up publicly like a man, or quit your cushy, high profile job.”
I think Bob Dole’s being wasted in retirement. We need to send this guy to some place that needs a dose of acid tongue. The UN? Perhaps ambassador to China?
The worst press secretary in memory, who presided over the president’s public relations fiasco that ran throughout 2005 and who was probably responsible for lots of damaging leaks, is now writing a book about how bad the president is. Perhaps Michael Brown will now write a book attacking the president as well.*
In a just world, two people would hold Scott McClellan’s legs while President Bush got a running start and kicked him in the gonads. Lots of other Republicans would get a free shot as well, right after they took their turn on el Presidente.
*Perhaps this isn’t really so amazing. Before making this post, I felt it necessary to check Amazon and make certain that Michael Brown hadn’t written a book attacking the president.
Is the Czech Republic. The Bohemians have long been a contrarian people, and since throwing off the Soviet yoke, they’ve managed to elect presidents name Vaclav who have stood tall for freedom. Here’s Klaus in his continuing attempt to call out environmentalism for its efforts to crush freedom.
Apollo posted this at 8:54 PM CDT on Tuesday, May 27th, 2008 as Convenient Truth
Back in college, I walked in on a professor pounding down a can of Red Bull before a morning class. When this hyperactive lecturer asked if I was surprised, I merely said that I felt no surprise but had found an explanation—a Eureka! moment, if you will.
Today that professor, Jack Pitney, writes of the virtue of Red Bull:
Obama messes up when he’s tired, and for a young candidate, he gets tired surprisingly often. We can see evidence in David Mendell’s Obama: From Promise to Power, the most comprehensive treatment of the senator’s life. (The volume has received less attention than it deserves. Most Washington insiders do not read books. They scan indexes, and this book does not have one.) Mendell writes (p. 267): “In his presidential run in May 2007, a sleep-deprived Obama would accidentally say that ten thousand people had died in a tornado in Kansas when the actual number was just twelve. That launched a series of news stories about his discipline and stamina. Few humans are as disciplined as Obama, but his stamina can be questionable.”
As the RFK incident shows, Hillary Clinton is also capable of gaffes. She is older than Obama, and probably just as tired. A recent interview revealed that she had never heard of Red Bull. If she wants to win, she ought to develop a taste for the stuff — and hope that Obama doesn’t.
Memo to Mrs. Clinton: this is somewhat like getting a whiskey recommendation from an alcoholic. Your call, but I’d stick to coffee.
Hubbard posted this at 4:53 PM CDT on Tuesday, May 27th, 2008 as Audacity of Hype
Rebecca Walker, daughter of Alice, writes about feminism. Her childhood was uncommonly dysfunctional, but it sounds like she’s going to be a good mother because she’s learned what not to do from her own childhood:
Ironically, my mother regards herself as a hugely maternal woman. Believing that women are suppressed, she has campaigned for their rights around the world and set up organisations to aid women abandoned in Africa — offering herself up as a mother figure.
But, while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities — after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.
My mother would always do what she wanted — for example taking off to Greece for two months in the summer, leaving me with relatives when I was a teenager. Is that independent, or just plain selfish?
I was 16 when I found a now-famous poem she wrote comparing me to various calamities that struck and impeded the lives of other women writers. Virginia Woolf was mentally ill and the Brontes died prematurely. My mother had me — a ‘delightful distraction’, but a calamity nevertheless. I found that a huge shock and very upsetting.
According to the strident feminist ideology of the Seventies, women were sisters first, and my mother chose to see me as a sister rather than a daughter. From the age of 13, I spent days at a time alone while my mother retreated to her writing studio — some 100 miles away. I was left with money to buy my own meals and lived on a diet of fast food.
Alice Walker sounds like a modern day Mrs Jellyby (I haven’t quoted the most disturbing parts of Rebecca’s essay). So much hurt—but at least there’s hope.
This morning, I woke up to find no water in my apartment. A water main burst, so I ran down to a gym to shower and shave. I looked around, and was suddenly concerned that smaller people would go into orbit around me. I bumped into a neighbor, who knows my aversion to gyms, and he was confused until he realized that I also had no water.
Later at work today, I ran into a colleague whom I hadn’t seen in a while. He was dropping off several projects that were supposed to go to me but somehow went to him instead, which is a semi-regular occurance since we have the same first name. He said, “You look good. Have you lost weight?”
I offered to have his love child; he declined and looked very confused. One way or another, I’m confusing everybody today.
Jonah Goldberg’s call for McCain to pick a Democrat for VP is distressingly persuasive. Perhaps the best point is this: “And for movement conservatives, the next four years could be a time for much-needed rebuilding.”
If I let myself think about it, it makes me sad that Mitt Romney – MITT ROMNEY! – who denounced Reagan in 1994 – who has the charisma of unflavored room temperature yogurt – somehow became the standard bearer for movement conservatism this last year. That was wrong, and it’s plain that movement conservatives need a time out to think about things for a while. The fact that some conservative types are hyping Romney for VP emphasizes this point.
A point that Jonah didn’t make, but that I’ve been pondering for a while, is that conservatism needs plausible deniability with candidate McCain. Plainly the man is not a movement conservative, so it would be a shame if any defeat he might suffer would be interpreted as a defeat for conservatism (time to move further left: Specter ’12!).
However, in terms of actual policy, I’m not sure how much conservatives have to gain from a McCain presidency. The only area where he’s promising radical reform is with his gawdawful cap-and-trade scheme. More open borders, same general tax structure, no major entitlement initiatives, no real prospect of tilting Washington decidedly to one party and thus enabling reform. America, domestically, after 4 years of President McCain, won’t be a much different place so long as conservative senators can fight off his immigration proposals.
His heart just isn’t in the fights of movement conservatives, or even reform-minded conservatives. He is first and foremost a hawk. And that’s fine, but we do not want whatever it is that a President McCain will do to be defined as “conservatism.” Picking a Democrat for VP seems like the only way for that to be the case.
Conservatives need to get their act together, but we should never forget the costs that can have. 1964 might have a romantic attachment for movement conservatives, but probably not so much for the tens of millions whose cities were devastated and families ruined thanks to the Great Society. A President McCain with a Democrat VP and a Republican Party in Congress that has enough room to define itself as something other than John McCain’s worker bees would be the best way to clean out the party without having to lose in Iraq and on the Supreme Court.
This got me thinking a little. Back in high school physics class there was a box of rulers we all shared. One of them, probably older than me, had an Air Force logo and in large blue letters the slogan: “Toward a Metric Tomorrow!” Yeah, sure.
It strikes me as very peculiar for an immigrant to argue against American exceptionalism. Most of us are here whether we want to be or not, but an immigrant like Zakaria had the whole world to choose from and he picked America. Certainly this place was exceptional to him. If it was all – or even partly – about the metric system, why did he leave India?
Apollo posted this at 9:48 PM CDT on Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 as Amer-I-Can!