Thursday, October 27, 2005

David Brooks – Have Kneepads, Will Travel

Mr. Brooks is still sucking up to the Bush administration for a job in the post-Rove White House.

On Dec. 31, 1986, Robert Novak and Rowland Evans wrote a column with the headline “The Reagan Presidency Is Dead.” Halfway into its second term, the Reagan administration was beset by the Iran-contra scandal. Its legislative agenda was in tatters. Morale was low, and the decision-making process was in chaos.

Ronald Reagan had to decide whether to hunker down in the storm or break out of it. Pat Buchanan, who was the communications director, recommended that the president bring a special counselor into the White House to handle Iran-contra and bring an objective perspective to the administration’s troubles.

Reagan agreed. David Abshire, then the ambassador to NATO, was hired and given complete autonomy.


The Bush administration is not in quite the same bind the Reagan administration was in. There is no one big scandal (sorry, Plamegate is not it). But at key moments – Social Security, Katrina, Harriet Miers – the president has been uncharacteristically out of step with the American people. Second-term-itis is setting in.

Remember, every president since Grant has had a miserable second term. Eisenhower called his sixth year in office the “worst of his life.”

There are many causes: one’s own party gets fractious; management failures that have festered over the years blossom into scandal; people who have failed inside the administration snipe from the outside. But the primary cause is psychological.


It is thrilling to work in a White House, but it is also psychologically corrosive. In a disciplined White House, one cannot really talk with people outside. There is a tendency to curl inward under the barrage of criticism, much of it ill informed. The sheer busyness of life becomes enveloping and isolating, and slowly an unearned disdain builds for those who are not in the bubble.


Reagan broke out of the bubble and second-term-itis. It’s still possible that Bush, learning from Reagan, can, too.

Actually, I think David has all the qualifications to serve in the Bush White House. He knows how to minimize treason by saying the Plame leak isn’t a scandal. (He’s right — it’s a felony.) He pushes all the right buttons by invoking Ronald Reagan, citing David Abshire as the savior of the second term (and promoting his new book on sale in the lobby as you leave the theatre), and not trashing James Baker in print.

All David needs is a blue dress and his trousseau would be complete.