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Postscript on Alterman

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April 4, 2002

No there, there Matthew Yglesias has some sensible comments on why this Administration has been sounding so many contradictory and false notes lately, beginning with the apt observation that “in a very deep sense there simply is no George W. Bush in the White House.”
To get a sense of how much this administration lacks a strong center, consider the fact that you probably recognize the name of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Do you have any idea who Clinton’s Deputy Defense Secretary was? Of course not. Can you even name all three of Clinton’s Defense Secretaries? How much can you tell me about the disagreements between Madeleine Albright and Bill Cohen? Warren Christopher and Les Aspin? Nothing, right? Because when Clinton did something, for better or for worse, Clinton did it. Even a casual watcher of the Bush administration can detect which moves bear the stamp of Rove (steel tariffs), Hughes (axis of evil), Powell (“consulting” with allies), or Rumsfeld (letting the daisy cutters do the talking).

The result of all this is that when Bush makes a statement[,] that’s primarily a job for Hughes and the speechwriting team [so] we get lots of tough talk both because she probably believes in it and also because mealy-mouthed appeasement makes for shitty oratory, but when day-to-day management of the situation passes to the State Department everything changes. Then Rumsfeld shows up and starts talking and it’s not clear whether what he says is authoritative or not because it’s not a DoD issue per se and if you ask Ari Fleischer he’ll just deny that the administration’s been contradicting itself all over town.

[11:58 PM]
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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on No there, there:

Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 10:00 AM:

Or, the confusion is by design because the administration isn't interested in displaying a coherent philosophy publicly, because the philosophy it lives by is so politically beyond the pale that it can't possibly show its hand in a systematic fashion.aaI have strong ideas about this, and because of this I'm about ready to start my own damn weblog. I'd prefer to discuss the Mets and Billy Joel's classical career, but that's not what's keeping me awake nights.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 10:41 AM:

Hmm. I don't see the invisibility of Clinton's team members as a positive. In fact, the disaster that was his administration may be very much due to the fact that he couldn't and wouldn't ever pick someone to his cabinet he thought was smarter than he was. Bush is free of this egomania. That MBA wasn't for nothing. He does indeed delegate the way a business manager would--and as shocking as this may seem, he allows his cabinet members to do their job. To me, this alleged undecidedness and contradictory posturing may seem bad--but his strategy is still the same as it was. He sees Iraq as the major problem in the mideast and the problems in Palestine as ones being fomented with support from Iraq and Iran precisely to pull the US off from what should remain its main mission--getting rid of Saddam Hussein by the end of this year. The U.S. should continue to "dither" as long as it takes Israel to exterminate Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 10:58 AM:

Stop, you're both right! Which is to say, I do share Chris Quinones's suspicion that some of what looks like confusion is in fact smoke. And I agree with John Farrell that Clinton's dominance of his Cabinet wasn't an unalloyed good. aaContra John, though, in my experience an MBA conveys leadership and management savvy to exactly the extent that a liberal arts degree conveys good taste and common sense: which is to say, not. Nor are John and I likely to agree that the Clinton administration was a "disaster." My own view is somewhere between Avedon Carol's observation that Bill Clinton was one of the better Republican presidents of the 20th century...and the immortal Onion headline on Bush's inauguration: OUR LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE OF PEACE AND PROSPERITY IS OVER. Which looks more prescient all the time.

Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2002, 06:21 PM:

This is similar to what was commonly said about Ronald Reagan while he was President: that he was a delegator who let a crowd of advisers run the government. The difference is that Reagan's appointees, especially at the beginning of his first term, were a highly ideological lot, so there was never much doubt about direction. Some of those people were household words, for better or for worse-- Haig, Watt, Stockman, Meese... Some of the most embarrassing wingnuts ended up out of a job before long, but others hung on longer. And, of course, this management style became an issue of some import when Iran-Contra broke.aaOf Bush's people, John Ashcroft is the one who most strikes me as a time traveler from 1981.

Matthew Yglesias ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2002, 02:15 PM:

I actually agree with John that the Bush management style is probably preferable to the Clinton one in general. There are pros and cons to both techniques, however, and I think the world has just stumbled into one of those situations where "hands off" won't really cut it.

Mike Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2002, 09:53 AM:

There was a good series ,which naturally I didn't tape, in this country (UK) THE CENTURY OF THE SELF making lots of points about the use (malific)of psycology in Advertising/Politics- the whole point of the last episode was that one can no longer draw a sharp line.a Made a plausible case that the clinton admin and even more so the Blair admin introduced a policy of following 'focus groups' and has no clear policy beyond keeping in with the voters.a You've got the contacts Patrick to get hold of a copy -some fan is bound to have taped it- recommend you do. Scary if you value democracy a DMSaPS It parralleles some things NORMAN SPIRAD has been saying for years