April 20, 2006 by lonbud
The White House Shuffle
In Las Vegas, American culture’s monument to itself, when a new dealer takes the shoe or a new croupier the stick, it’s time for gamblers to check their bets. Will the mojo be upset? Is juju about to reign? It’s never an easy moment for those with their money on the line, and the house always has its own inscrutable plan for retaining the favorable odds.
The Bush administration had such a moment yesterday with the resignation of Press Secretary Scott McClellan and the difficult-to-suss announcement that presidential adviser Karl Rove would be taking leave of “policymaking” duties in favor of turning his attention to “political” matters in advance of the Fall mid-term elections.
Mr. McClellan’s departure comes as little surprise after his having served for three years as the administration’s daily spokesperson for “the message” that all is well, that progress is being made, that there have been no mistakes, that regrets are unthinkable.
Should he be remembered to history at all, it will be for his uncanny ability to suspend both logic and disbelief in the service of shielding the White House press corps from anything resembling a straight answer or an admission of contradiction on the part of the President it has been his pleasure to serve.
It’s impossible to resist repeating the line coined at the departure of his predecessor, Ari Fleischman: in a brief statement to the press, he said he was leaving his post to spend more time lying to his wife and family.
The announcement concerning Mr. Rove, who has been — more than any other figure — a Svengali-like presence in the Bush White House, is far more curious, owing to the fact that it’s never been clear exactly who he is or what he does in the administration.
He’s not a member of the Cabinet, nor has he ever been appointed to a post requiring Congressional oversight or approval.
But his imprimatur has embellished Mr. Bush’s public record, from his days as Governor of Texas, through the entirety of his two terms as President. Mr. Rove is widely acknowleged to be “the brains” behind most everything Mr. Bush has done or tried to do as the nation’s chief executive, and the shift in his role is bound to have tongues wagging throughout Washington and the wider punditocracy — even if it is unlikely to portend any significant change in policy or in the way the President approaches his work.
The change comes at a time when the President enjoys his lowest-ever levels of popularity and the general appreciation for his effort on the nation’s behalf continues to wane. There is clearly now a sense of urgency to salvage some hope for maintaining Republican control of Congress after the elections scheduled for November.
At one time the Bush administration boasted an aura of invincibility, and went about its business with the sense it could do no wrong. In the heady days just after the 2004 election the word mandate was even on the lips of the highest ranking members of the executive branch.
Today, however, the aromas of lame duck and cooked goose are prevalent on the land, and it may well be the heat in the Bush kitchen is rising too high for many of the most faithful to stand.
One can only hope that time is not long before Mr. Rove may be called in his role as Head Chef to face the diners and speak to the recipe for disaster he has served up to the nation.