Friday, April 21, 2006

Casualties of Whine House Rejig? Hardly...

In the cosmic order, there are few people as unimportant as press secretaries. Sen. Gene McCarthy used to say that no campaign was real until you had sacrificed at least one campaign manager (who mattered some, but not much) and one press secretary (who didn't at all, but the press thought s/he did.) G'bye, Scottie McClellan -- some other dogged, humorless maven of mendacity will replace you but to no avail. It is not spokesbodies, or getting the message out, that make or break Administrations, it is events that do so.

In a pair of almost-insightful pieces, Thursday's Financial Times got the quotes right but the storyline slightly askew. McClellan had no power to lose, and Karl Rove hasn't lost any. Behind the deckchair reshuffling, however, must lurk a visceral sense of panic at the Whine House so extreme as to gladden schadenfreudeian hearts everywhere.

The FT Washington reporting team of Edward Alden, Caroline Daniel and Holly Yeager spawned some gems. After you strip away all the happy talk about how this Bolten fellow is really gonna haul Bush outta the mire, you get to the interesting parts. [Annotations in brackets below are neither recompensed by, nor do they appear in, the Financial Times. You have one guess as to their actual provenance.]
The moves are part of a reshuffle aimed at reviving Mr Bush's second term and helping the Republican party to right its fortunes before November's mid-term elections, in which Republican control of Congress could be threatened. [They still think a steady diet of blue smoke, mirrors and fervor about God, Gays, Guns, GIs, Anti-Abortion and Anti-Taxation -- possibly wafted on a few really tiny, almost negligible mushroom clouds over Teheran -- will be sufficient to retain both House and Senate. So far, this remains as delusional as the Iraq war policy, and for the same reasons -- these guys are, at heart, con-men, that is to say, one-trick ponies, that is to say, doomed.]

Frank Luntz, a Republican political consultant, said: "The Whi[n]e House has recognised what everyone else knew for months now - things needed to change." [Pas de merde, Monsieur Sherlocke. When Rethug consultants start talking about what everybody already knows, the party's knickers are well and truly in a twist. Having no inside knowledge, this looks like Frank's cutting ties to the Bushies in order to take up with McCain or Hegel or some other crown prince.]

[Luntz] said ... a new focus [was] on the importance of communications. "If this administration wants to save its Republican allies, it will continue to focus on message delivery," he said. [Well, yeah, you have to run the advertising campaign so the Mighty WurlitzerTM Noise Machine built around talk radio and Faux News will know which way the wind blows. But no message is sufficiently strong to overcome an indigestible bout of continuous bad news. And there is no way Fitzgerald, Abramoff, Enron trial, Iraq civil war, anti-Iranian nuke-rattling and the path to $100/bbl oil deliver anything but bad news. Furthermore, the notion that Bush gives a rodent's hindquarters about anybody but himself is dubious at best. Sure as excrement his mommy and his daddy never gave him any better example, even if he'd been paying attention if they had.]

Scott McClellan, the public face of the Whi[n]e House for three years, resigned amid [...] shouts from reporters of "dead man walking." [Haven't scanned Post or Times but would instinctively bet this observation was omitted.]

Mr Bolten has aggressively reached out to Congress. Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, speaking on Tuesday, said he had had more conversations with Mr Bolten in the past week than he had with Mr Rove in the past six months. [There is something so pathetic about watching the dilatory and ineffective Frist suck up to the gutted, blasted, withered Whine House operation that you know he decided to put the boot into Karl, not over any specific actual neglect, but just on general principles.]

The changes reflect the return of a classic Washington figure: the dominant Whi[n]e House chief of staff. [No sooner does Sally Quinn offer soothing perception-management tricks to Laura and George than, after a month to percolate through the dim Wasp brain, they are made manifest. The irony is well lost on the Whine House couple that these are the same tricks Sally used on Ben Bradlee when she wanted to stir up the Post newsroom. But palace coups in the outlying corridors of power such as the traditional media are far, far more capable of inducing institutional change than are palace coups at the actual national palace. Events are too intransigeant for even skilled Administration liars, whereas events are about the least important component of intra-media politics.]

"The [Oval] office has not had a functional structure for the last six years. You had three people who outranked the chief of staff - Karl Rove, the vice-president and Karen Hughes. The chief of staff title did not matter," said one Republican strategist. [Still doesn't. Bolten's got the title, Dick and Karl and Karen still have the juice because that's based not on title, but on having a connection with that twisted little addicted brushcutter's soul. In Shakespeare, when the King is incompetent, all his courtiers are too. Shakespeare didn't make that up, he watched it. Neither people nor empires have changed sufficiently in the 390 years since his death to invalidate his insight.]

Although Mr Bolten and Mr Rove are close, the decision to shift Mr Rove marks the first time he has formally lost power. [If he has. Br'er Rabbit was just as dangerous to communal tranquillity in the tall weeds or the briar patch as he was on the broad highway.]

"Bush is reaping what he sowed in the first term. The elephant in the room is Karl Rove. His instincts were to develop an agenda that focused on targeting the base. It got Bush re-elected but was a flawed strategy for governing," [a Republican strategist sniped.] A key test of the relative clout of [Rove vs. Bolten] could come over a new Treasury secretary. Robert Zoellick, the deputy secretary of state, has been angling for the job. "The real problem there is Karl, who has had run-ins with Bob. If Zoellick gets Treasury then Josh has won and Karl has lost," said a Republican strategist friendly to Zoellick. [If anybody imagines a new Treasury guy is going to suddenly have actual, real economic influence -- as none of his Bush2 predecessors was allowed to -- they must've recently been to Thailand and purchased more bhang for the baht. The Bushies already have an economic policy. Build the rich a higher pie. And nothing is going to be allowed to interfere with that, which is going just fine the way it is, thank you very much.]

"The only way to get an A player is to say that there are big things to be accomplished and you are the one to do it. Yet there is no agenda. Instead, they are saying the president needs you. That is not enough for an A-list player," said one Republican strategist. [Exactamundo. Hence, Zoellick is not an A-list player. Hence, he may well get the job.]


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