Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Thursday, August 19, 2004

In event of a Bush win, few familiar faces seem likely to stay the course

In event of a Bush win, few familiar faces seem likely to stay the course
By Peter S. Canellos, Globe Staff | August 17, 2004

WARNING! the Boston Globe has been known to befriend terrorists so what they write is suspect at best. JBOC

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's loyalty to his subordinates, and his determination to keep his team in place, are hallmarks of his administration.
The Bush team has stuck together for longer than that of any recent administration. It stands in stark contrast to its predecessor, the Clinton administration, where White House aides and judicial nominees were tossed out the driver's-seat window whenever a change in direction was deemed necessary.

Bush, by contrast, is so eager to stand by his team that calls for the resignation of a besieged official disappear into a wind tunnel. Even the officials themselves have a hard time wriggling out, like CIA Director George Tenet. They can't even get thrown out for disloyalty: Secretary of State Colin Powell put his misgivings about the Iraq war on record in Bob Woodward's ''Plan of Attack," and no one in the White House objected.

As a result, Bush heads into the Republican National Convention in New York with his bulwark in place. The core Republican virtues of loyalty and consistency will be evident in the completeness of the administration: Most of the same crew that took office in the winter of '01 are standing together in the summer of '04.

But there's no indication that this team will take office in January for Bush's second term, the one being advertised in New York. In fact, the smart betting in Washington is that almost everyone will be gone.

Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge act a lot like good soldiers dutifully serving out their enlistments. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft have been on fewer Christmas-card lists every year they've been in office, and each is expected to skip the second term.

If Rumsfeld goes, his number two and number three -- Iraq War planners Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith -- may go as well. Unless there's a major Republican sweep, neither Wolfowitz nor Feith could be confirmed for any other job.

Thus, Bush and his team will be running for reelection on a set of policies that will be carried out by a new crew of people. And because the old crew is still there, Bush won't be able to say who might be occupying the most important positions in his administration -- and if they'll really be following the same course as their predecessors.

For Bush, it's like putting a fully furnished house on the market without mentioning that most of the appliances are due to be replaced in January.

But there's clearly more than political calculation at work in Bush's efforts to keep his lieutenants in place. Some of his motivation is probably innate: Bush sincerely believes in personal loyalty and was the loyalty-enforcer in his father's administration.

Also, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney came to office determined to quell some of the pathologies that have taken root in the nation's capital in recent decades -- the relentless investigations, the constant leaks, the yielding of private documents.

Another pathology that has made public service far less palatable is the high number of officials who've left office under clouds.

Bush and Cheney have sought to reduce the pressure by making their loyalty absolute, like a parent's love. But the effect has been to diminish accountability. Except in the Treasury Department, where Secretary Paul O'Neill was shown the gate, the goal of keeping the team together has superseded calls for change.

When studies questioned test-score increases in Houston during the time Secretary of Education Rodney Paige was superintendent, Bush stood by Paige as if both men's feet were in concrete; Houston's supposed turnaround was a model for Bush's education policies and Paige's main credential for his job -- and it remains so, even though Houston was found to have hidden the number of dropouts, underreported crimes, and excluded some of the worst students from its testing numbers.

The Abu Ghraib prison scandal generated ringing calls for Rumsfeld's resignation, and for a while it seemed possible: Rumsfeld himself admitted to wondering whether it might be better if he quit. But Cheney immediately declared that Rumsfeld was the best defense secretary in history, and Rummy remains in charge.

Democrats are hardly upset that these officials haven't been asked to jump ship: Most of them, starting with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft, are popular with the right wing but liabilities among swing voters.

Nonetheless, Bush's unified front is, inevitably, a false front if many of the building blocks aren't likely to stay in place for a second term. And propping it up hampers the president's ability to show what voters say they want from the Republican convention: a clear picture of how he plans to govern in a second term.

Peter S. Canellos is the Globe's Washington bureau chief. National Perspective is his weekly analysis of events in the capital and beyond.