"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

'Excellent at politics and spin, not very good at governance'
Joe Klein
October 9, 2005

As the Harriet Miers burlesque unraveled last week, adding to a cacophony of presidential woes, I happened to check the calendar: it was only the first week of October 2005. George W. Bush's second term was less than nine months old. He has about 1,200 days left in office, a span greater than the entire length of John F. Kennedy's presidency. Time sure flies when you're having fun.

What an awful year for the President and the country. There was the failure of Social Security reform, a good idea that was misplaced as the Administration's top priority. There was the shameless political grandstanding in the Terri Schiavo case. There was Katrina. There is the stench of corruption rising from the Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff scandals and the appointment of so many hacks and cronies to positions of power. There is the possibility that Karl Rove and other top Administration officials will soon be indicted in the Valerie Plame leak case. There was, and is, the failure to deal head-on with the Iraq war and make the necessary adjustments—more troops, more pressure on the corrupt and Iranophilic government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari—that might secure a better outcome. The higher gasoline prices portend a very expensive home-heating winter. About the only thing that went well for Bush was the nomination of the indisputably excellent John Roberts to the Supreme Court.

Well, only 1,200 days to go—which means, of course, that Bush has plenty of time to resurrect himself; in fact, he will probably survive several boom-and-bust cycles before Jan. 20, 2009, rolls around. The ways of presidential resurrection are many. We've seen sagging Presidents revive their fortunes in a trice. In 1995 Bill Clinton had to insist that he was "still relevant" in a city that had fallen in love with Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution. But a few days later, he was a hero again after his eloquent handling of the Oklahoma City tragedy. George W. Bush's own presidency was limping along until it was transformed on Sept. 11, 2001. But you can't order up an act of God—and even another terrorist attack on American soil might only serve to reinforce the doubts about Bush's leadership that Iraq and Katrina have raised.

A more likely way to regain footing would be a Grand New Policy Proposal. All of us high- minded pundits would just be thrilled if the President decided to launch an energy-independence Manhattan Project to help extricate the nation from the thrall of the oil sheiks. Bush has been touting Jimmy Carter- like conservation pinpricks in recent weeks; the air conditioning in the White House has been turned down. But it would be very un-Bush to call for the 50(cent)-per-gal. gasoline tax that even some conservatives are supporting. In fact, it's far more likely that the next Grand New Policy Proposal will be another tax cut gussied up as tax "reform," perhaps even the abolition of the progressive income tax, replaced by a sales or flat tax. But that sort of thing would probably meet the same fate as Social Security reform. Congress has turned balky. The public may be skeptical of huge tax blowouts so long as more pressing problems—like Iraq, the federal deficit, the economic iffiness caused by high gasoline prices-- are untended.

A Republican Senator proposed a third route privately last week.

"This Administration has been excellent at politics and spin," he told me. "It hasn't been very good at governance. Perhaps it's time for Bush to do what Ronald Reagan did to shore up his White House in the final years—bring in a team of terrific managers, people with credibility from Day One." Faced with the Iran-contra scandal, Reagan brought in Howard Baker and then Ken Duberstein as chiefs of staff, Frank Carlucci and then Colin Powell as National Security Advisers (Powell told Reagan, in no uncertain terms, that Lieut. Colonel Oliver North, who was running an illegal war from the White House basement, had to go). President Bush confronts nothing so threatening to his Administration as Iran-contra. But it's probably time to renovate the West Wing staff under new leadership. And there aren't three people in the Pentagon who can understand why Donald Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense after presiding over one of the great debacles in American military history: the failure to prepare for the Iraqi insurgency.

It was interesting to watch Bush return again and again to New Orleans after Katrina—each visit more desperate and incredible than the last, each serving only to reinforce the public notion that he was trying to talk his way out of a situation that he had failed to manage properly. Bush's bold ideas and soaring rhetoric have come to seem a dodge, a way to avoid the serious scut work involved in actually running the country. "Maybe he should give his dad a call," the Republican Senator said, referring to Bush the Elder's meticulous foreign policy, "and find out how to do it."

The irony is TIME helped push the illusion that Bush had what it takes. If Bush's poll numbers were still high they'd be kissing butt as they have since well before his first election. TIME has become a right wing rag and nearly worthless.