[Mb-civic] A President in Need of a Blunt Friend - Jim Hoagland -
swiggard at comcast.net
Thu Sep 29 03:59:22 PDT 2005
A President in Need of a Blunt Friend
By Jim Hoagland
Thursday, September 29, 2005; Page A23
What George W. Bush needs right now is his own version of Clark
Clifford. He needs a friend close enough to tell him that his presidency
is failing -- and wise enough to describe what Bush must do to salvage it.
Clifford played that truth-telling role for Lyndon Johnson at the height
of LBJ's Vietnam crisis. Through a unique combination of being loyal to
Johnson and yet not being dependent on him, this archetype of the
Washington legal establishment could not only talk to the president but
also be heard -- if not necessarily followed in detail.
Bush's floundering since he was caught off base and off guard by
Hurricane Katrina strips the veil from a broad pattern of recurrent
inattention to the duties of governance, of misplaced loyalty to
incompetent subordinates, and a crippling refusal to look back at and
learn from mistakes.
I take no pleasure from that harsh assessment. I have never shared the
unreasoning conviction of many of his more partisan opponents that Bush
as a national leader is illegitimate, moronic or both. He isn't.
Add this sobering reality: We have three years and change left on Bush's
second mandate. He has undertaken a vital effort to establish a new and
badly needed foundation for U.S. policy and the U.S. presence in the
Middle East. Hurrying him into lame-duck, dead-end status ahead of his
time will undermine that effort and harm the nation in other ways.
But in the American system, only Bush can prevent that from happening
once confidence has been shaken in presidential leadership as severely
as it has been over the past five months. It is up to Bush to prevent
the breaking of his presidency.
He has at least stopped digging himself deeper into the hole into which
Katrina shoved him. But the public sees his efforts on Hurricane Rita
through the prism of Katrina -- as damage control and repair for his
reputation. He is on the defensive, and showing it.
This is an inadequate but welcome change from the cocksureness that
reelection brought to the small team of decision makers and explainers
around Bush. As I wrote in June as polls showed support falling sharply,
doubts and complaints about the policies the administration was pursuing
in Iraq had become "white noise that Bush and aides no longer hear."
The puzzling inability (refusal?) to hear what was going on in the
country exploded into prime time when Katrina struck and Bush froze,
appearing determined to see through his protester-plagued vacation in
Texas, come what may.
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