Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What should we make of the news that that White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card is resigning?

There are three reasons why someone resigns from a high-profile, high-power position such this. One, they are leaving voluntarily. Two, they are being fired but being allowed to characterize their departure as a resignation. The third explanation, and the one I think applies in this case, is because the President is suffering from bad poll numbers and is trying to manufacture some positive buzz.

Those leaving voluntarily do so because they are burned out, because they want to go chase the money available to them in the private sector or because they disagree with the policy direction being taken. I don't think any of these apply to Card. He doesn't need the money, and he obviously has no problem with what Bush is trying to do.

Those being pushed out are usually asked to leave because they are seen as incompetent (Paul O'Neill as Treasury Secretary) and/or an impediment to implementing the President's agenda (Colin Powell at State). If Card was incompetent, we would have seen evidence of it a long time ago. There's no way that Bush woke up thinking that Andrew Card was the source of all of Bush's problems. And if Card was at odds with what Bush is trying to do, Card wouldn't have stuck around for the better part of five plus years, nor would Bush have kept him on for that long.

That is why I think Bush is sacrificing Card in the hopes of creating some positive spin, it's because neither of the first two possibilities apply that I think the remaining answer is the correct answer. Bush's poll numbers are in the toilet and it is Bush who is responsible for the almost total lack of support he is getting from the American people. Unlike Clinton, Bush is unable to go and find himself an issue that the American people will rally round. Yet Bush needs to do something to keep himself from becoming irrelevant. He needs to do something to give the Republican base a reason to come out and vote this November.

So Bush is resorting to a smoke-and-mirrors play to trick the base into thinking that things are going to change, that there is a reason to be optimistic, that there is a reason to not stay home on Election Day.

But what will change?

See, in the White House, like in business everywhere, the staff exists to implement the policies of those above them. The staff doesn't set the agenda, the President does. The staff doesn't decide to go to war, the staff doesn't decide to commit hundreds of billions of dollars to Katrina relief, the staff doesn't decide to back an unpopular amnesty program for illegal immigrants. The President is the one who makes the decisions.

And Bush is unpopular because of those decisions. Make no mistake, what we have here is not a failure to communicate, what we have here is not a case where Bush makes the right decisions but is undercut by an imcompetent staff. What we have here is a President who, time after time, is making the wrong decisions.

And no amount of changing of the staff, no amount of re-arranging the chairs on the Titanic is going to change that dynamic. So long as Bush keeps making the wrong decisions, so long as he keeps chasing the wrong policies, he will remain as unpopular as he is...