President Bush is digging in his heels about making big staff changes at the White House, even as Republican strategists fret that he doesn’t realize the depth of his problems on Capitol Hill.
Advisers say that the more the media speculate on the need for a reshuffling and the more GOP “friends” make the case for new blood, the less likely change will be. Bush is very loyal to his inner circle and doesn’t want any of his senior aides to be embarrassed by appearing to be fired or demoted. He also doesn’t want to be pressured into anything.
Just as important, Bush doesn’t think a shakeup is needed. He is convinced that members of the Washington establishment are simply upset because his staff doesn’t play ball with them or give them special access. Inside the West Wing, advisers say some senior aides would have liked to resign quietly more than a year ago â€“ and that includes Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House counselor Dan Bartlett. But Bush wouldn’t let them go. He has a comfort level with his first-term aides and doesn’t want to replace them with strangers or “outsiders.”
I’ve written about this before (most recently here and here). Every now and then (and with increasing frequency, it seems) there is a flurry of news stories speculating that Bush is about to shake up his staff and bring in some new people. Here is one such story from last week, from the Associated Press.
Such stories are quickly followed by word from the White House — Staff Shakeup? We don’t need no steenking staff shakeup!
At this point prominent Republicans outside the administration are practically begging Bush to at least bring in a couple of new people even if he doesn’t let go of the old ones. Nothin’ doin’.
The pundits say this is because Bush is loyal. But I don’t see anything “loyal” about Bush working people to exhaustion while he clocks out early so he can be in bed by 10 pm. No, this is pure selfishness. Senior White House staff could drop dead at their desks and Bush still won’t want to replace them. There won’t be any staff shakeups unless, somehow, Bush is forced into it.
Why? I can only guess, of course, but I think it’s because Bush’s staff provides more than just a bubble. They are his nest of enablers who allow him to live his fantasy of being the perfect God-King. He resists new staff because he knows that new staff won’t be conditioned to play his head games. On the other hand, the old staff by now are extensions of himself, like his clothes. They are well-worn and comfortable, and they don’t pinch his ego anywhere.
If you’ve ever lived with or worked for someone who was really “difficult” — i.e., had some kind of character disorder or other quirk that had to be catered to, or else — you know what I mean. Such people are surrounded by invisible trip wires. It takes time to learn how to tiptoe around their disorder, whatever it is, to avoid setting them off. This is how people learn to be enablers, of course. But if the sicko is in a position of power the only way to stop enabling is to revolt and walk out the door. I’m surprised Karen Hughes got away with leaving the White House for a time and remained in Bush’s good graces.
Update: “The Stuff That Happens” — re Iraq (emphasis added) —
Chances are that at the time George W. Bush did not have an inkling of how badly he was being served by the decision makers at the Pentagon. But the fact that Mr. Rumsfeld continues to hold his job tells us that Mr. Bush doesn’t care, that he prefers living in the same dream world that his secretary of defense inhabits.
In their wishful thinking, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld undoubtedly tell themselves what they tell us: that the Iraqi people are better off than they were under the brutal dictator, that the Iraqi security forces are gradually learning how to take over defense of their own country and that a unified government is still a good possibility. It’s true that many Iraqis are better off. Others are in far worse straits â€” their homes have been ruined, their relatives killed, their jobs evaporated and their ability to walk the streets in safety obliterated. Women’s rights are being threatened in the south, and sectarian warfare has put families with mixed Shiite-Sunni ancestry at risk in their own neighborhoods. It is hard to quantify relative degrees of misery and pain in these circumstances. But unlike the horrors of Saddam Hussein, the horrors of the present can be laid at America’s doorstep.