“Mr. President, I think I need to resign.” In July 2003, six months after President Bush falsely declared in his State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy yellowcake uranium powder from Africa, Stephen Hadley wanted to take the fall. The CIA had told him before the address that the evidence was dubious, and it was his job to vet the speech.
“Ugh, Hadley,” Bush said, brushing off his deputy national security adviser. According to Peter Baker’s book Days of Fire, Hadley persisted. He explained that the president should expect the highest standards and those who work for him were invested with the national trust. It was no disgrace to accept responsibility for a mistake, he told Bush. “In fact, that is exactly how the system should work, and that is what needs to happen here.”
Bush refused to accept Hadley’s resignation. Separately, he also rejected Vice President Dick Cheney’s offers — three of them, according to Baker — to drop off the 2004 reelection ticket. While the president later fired Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for ineffectiveness, he dithered far too long before pulling the trigger.
Reading Baker’s book, it struck me that Bush and his successor, Barack Obama, share an aversion to jettisoning dead weight. Casting aside loyal lieutenants is a sign of weakness in their eyes — even when it needs to be done, and especially when the chattering class demands it. This personality quirk leads to a lack of accountability and a delay in fixing broken policies. It’s part of what ensnared Bush in Iraq and caused him to clumsily defend the government’s response to Hurricane Katina.
A president deserves the best advice, the public demands accountability, and there’s no shame in admitting failure.
While there is no comparing a war and a hurricane to health care reform, we’ll see soon if Obama has learned from the past, because Hadley was right: A president deserves the best advice, the public demands accountability, and there’s no shame in admitting failure. Obama needs to shake up his team over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a process so mismanaged that a majority of the public now mistrusts the president and the White House will almost certainly fall short of critical ACA enrollment targets. Insularity, deceptive communicatations, and a lack of attention to detail played into second-term controversies beyond Obamacare, including issues involving the IRS and the National Security Agency.
Obama so far has taken baby steps. He brought back his former chief congressional lobbyist, Phil Schiliro, to help on health care issues. Schiliro’s return should bolster a White House legislative-affairs team that has drawn pathetic reviews from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The White House will also benefit from the addition of John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Clinton and the founder of the Center for American Progress, a liberal public-policy group that has provided personnel and policy ideas to the administration. He has agreed to serve a year as a counselor to Obama.
But Podesta is no outsider. In addition to his work at CAP, he led Obama’s transition team in 2008, stocking the administration with political appointees. So if Obama is going to broaden his circle and embrace constructive criticism, he’s still got work to do.
This is no shake-up. It’s a gentle layering. White House officials insist that Podesta’s hiring reaffirms Obama’s support for Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the one person, besides Obama, who is ultimately responsible for any management failures. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who reportedly mocked McDonough for micromanaging the ACA implementation, still has her job — as do others who fumbled Obamacare and other issues.
I wrote last week that Obama needed more than a sacrificial lamb or a couple of new faces. He needs to fire those responsible and hire people who compensate for his weaknesses, a ruthless management team that will force him to remain engaged in the nitty-gritty of politics and governing.
Interestingly, Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, had the opposite problem. He was too engaged in the minutiae of White House management. In The Survivor, biographer John Harris wrote of the time in 1993 when Clinton grew angry at five aides and told White House Deputy Chief of Staff Roy Neel to fire them. “Neel dutifully went about this unpalatable assignment,” Harris wrote. “Within days, he learned — though not from Clinton — that all five people had appealed directly to the president, who had reversed the firings.”
Others weren’t so lucky. Clinton perhaps went too far in tossing aside longtime friends and allies. If Obama decides to actually shake up his team, maybe that’s the sweet spot — somewhere between Bush and Clinton.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."