Terms of the Second Term
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Author:  Catherine [ Wed Jan 19, 2005 11:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Terms of the Second Term

Here are four points to make about George W. Bush's government shakeup.

First, this president does not intend to coast through his second term, as has been the case with many presidents. One such "coaster" was Ronald Reagan; after his re-election in 1984, his then-chief of staff, Jim Baker, and his then-treasury secretary, Don Regan, decided between themselves to trade jobs. Baker and Regan made the deal, and then told Reagan about it, to get his OK.

Indeed, Regan and Baker thought that their switcheroo was so cool that they told reporters all about it, making their boss, the president, look as if he was out of his own loop. And Regan, not surprisingly, was a disaster as White House chief of staff; the Iran-Contra scandal erupted on his watch, nearly ruining Reagan's second term.

Bush will not have this sort of problem. He ran a hands-on, bold-colors re-election campaign, and he wants a hands-on, bold-colors second term. His choices for two top posts, Condi Rice for the State Department and Al Gonzales for Justice, will reflect this boldness. Rice or Gonzales may be leaving the White House staff, but they are loyalists to Bush, even friends, so there's little chance that they will be swallowed up by their own bureaucracies - which was the fate of Colin Powell.

Second, Bush's emphasis on personal loyalty can come at the expense of competence and judgment. Though Rice will surely breeze through her Senate confirmation hearings, future historians will marvel that this staffer - who received a memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" a month before 9/11 - was subsequently judged to be the best choice to lead a bureaucracy that's 100 times larger than her current one. Even New York Times columnist William Safire, a leading Bush supporter, observed that she "has not run a strong National Security Council staff."

As for Gonzales, the Republicans' big win in November makes it likely that he, too, will have an easy confirmation. However, as Attorney General, he will be haunted by his 2002 memo referring to Geneva Conventions concerning the rights of POW's as "quaint" and "obsolete." To be sure, Americans don't much worry about the fate of Guantánamo detainees, but the world does. So if Bush's goal is to rally the hearts and minds of Iraqis and others around the world to his vision of a "liberty century," the attorney general - who is increasingly the world's top cop, not just America's - needs to be part of the appeal.

James P. Pinkerton's e-mail address is



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