Right Hook

Conservatives cheer Condi, scratch their heads over Colin, and see bright days ahead for Bush's faith-based team. Plus: Rich Lowry cackles with glee over the prospect of more blacks voting Republican.

By Mark Follman
Published November 18, 2004 12:42AM (UTC)
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Some are calling it the great Cabinet shake-up; others are trying not to yawn. But most conservatives seem to agree on one point: President Bush is making all the right moves.

The mixed eulogies for Colin Powell this week, alongside near-unanimous praise for Condoleezza Rice's appointment as secretary of state, have stuck to a theme quite popular on the political right these days: In troubled times, it's best to do away with dissent.


"Powell is one of the great public servants of our time, a man who served his country in war and peace with extraordinary honor as a soldier and a statesman," wrote John Podhoretz in the New York Post, adding that while "many conservatives are privately cheering Powell's departure," their harsh judgments of his character and record are "remarkably unjust."

Even so, Podhoretz served up some pretty stiff criticism himself for the departing secretary of state.

"Powell is supremely competent and effective. But he is not imaginative, and it's not surprising that his constant expressions of caution did not hold sway during the first Bush term. Caution is not a foreign policy...


"The administration has had plenty of visionaries. Powell played a different role. It was the role that actually suited him best. The great irony is this: He would have been a terrible failure as secretary of state if the president had listened to him more."

Retiring New York Times columnist William Safire took the occasion to do some chin-scratching over Powell's choice of language.

"Lord knows I have tried, over the years, to keep Colin Powell on the grammatical strait and narrow. And yet, announcing his resignation, the departing secretary of state said that after the president and he had 'fulsome discussions on it, we came to mutual agreement...'


"Fulsome means 'offensively excessive,' and when two people agree, it's always mutual. This otherwise good man is incorrigible."

Safire offered a few words of praise, too:

"I came to admire some of his actions at State -- especially the way he spun Pakistan's prime minister around on a dime after 9/11, which helped us defeat the Taliban."


And some thoughts on a tell-all perhaps to come from the dissenting soldier:

"I apologize for having quoted colleagues of Colin's deputy, Richard Armitage, as saying he was 'better neckless than feckless.' Armitage is leaving, too, presumably to help Powell write his next best seller, 'The Secret Thoughts of Bob Woodward.'"

Hudson Institute fellow and New Republic senior editor Lawrence Kaplan says that Bush has made the right moves to shore up a fully faith-based community of White House lieutenants.


"President Bush, as evidenced by his remarks last week on democratizing the Middle East and pacifying Iraq, genuinely believes -- and, indeed, clings religiously to the belief -- that only the vigorous assertion of American power and ideals will make the world a better place. Chalk it up to his evangelical faith, his brainwashing at the hands of a sinister cabal, or his Manichean conception of the international scene: When it comes to the broad foreign policy questions of the day, Bush no longer needs advisers to tell him what to think. He needs them to translate his thinking into policy. For that to happen, Powell had to go."

Indeed, if trusting the president to handle all the big thinking is the best way to go, Kaplan says Rice is the ideal soldier.

"With Condoleezza Rice at the helm -- and, in all likelihood, with Undersecretary of State John Bolton as her deputy -- the State Department will now be run by a team known for its rigid loyalty to the president. They, more than any other administration officials, represent authentic expressions of Bush's foreign policy -- more realistic than the Bush team's neoconservatives but far more aggressive than its self-described 'realists.' Rice, to be sure, is neither a great thinker nor a great manager. But she is a great lieutenant -- that is, someone who can be relied on to convey and translate the president's inclinations into official policy."


Syndicated columnist and blogger James Lileks applauded the choice of Rice, whom he sees playing tougher in the Middle East. "The cabinet shakeup is interesting. Yay, Condi Rice. I want her to go to Saudi Arabia, and I want her first words upon getting off the plane to be 'Ill drive.'"

InstaPundit's Glenn Reynolds sees "a lot of advantages" to the Rice move. "President Bush is obviously very comfortable with her and with her judgment, and she's undoubtedly up to speed on events. And they're used to working together in secrecy."

Et tu, Rummy?
With Condi headed for State rather than the Pentagon, what are the chances that Donald Rumsfeld -- perhaps the most reviled by Bush's first-term critics -- will bow out? "My guess is that he won't," says Andrew Sullivan. "Now that Powell has gone, Rummy will see it as a matter of cojones that he stay for a while, if only to prevent sufficient manpower being deployed to win the war in Iraq, and to let memories of Abu Ghraib fade. (Sorry, Rummy, but mine won't.)" (Sullivan's memory of his disdain for Bush does seem to have faded, though; he once also held President Bush responsible for the disastrous handling of the war -- but now it appears Rumsfeld is solely to blame.)

Sullivan also says the Cabinet shake-up is no shake-up at all with regard to U.S. foreign policy. But he does see a wily kind of affirmative action on Bush's part -- a change in window dressing that will have a longer-term strategic payoff.


"So: no change with the appearance of real change. In fact, the likelihood of any new tack in foreign affairs just collapsed. But the real genius of the Rice appointment is domestic. She will become the second most powerful African-American woman in America. [The first being, he clarified in a later post, Oprah.] And she will become that as a Republican icon. That has to have an impact on the way at least a small minority of black voters will view Bush (and not a few other minority voters). Add in Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court Chief Justice, and you have a diversity record in top appointments that puts every previous Democrat to shame. That's partly what Bush is doing. He won't admit it, of course. But then it only works if he doesn't."

National Review editor Rich Lowry also has a few deliberations to share on the future of America's black vote.

"2004 might turn out to be the year when blacks began their journey in the liberal imagination from perpetual victims of bigotry to 'bigots' themselves. The Left has always forgiven the black community a lot -- its religiosity, with which Jerry Falwell could feel comfortable; its retrograde views on abortion and school prayer; its hostility to gay rights. But now blacks just might have gone too far: They've started to vote Republican.

"A pre-election survey by the well-respected Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies had President Bush's support among black voters going from 9 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2004. In that survey, Bush's support among black self-described evangelicals hit a stunning 36 percent. 'We haven't seen a number like 36 percent anywhere in the black community in a generation,' says conservative activist Richard Nadler, who has made it his business to win blacks to the GOP through targeted advertising and outreach."


Lowry notes that those numbers in fact fell off quite a bit in the actual Election Day results. But now that blacks are freed from the yoke of history, he says, they'll be able to wear their true social conservatism with pride.

"For understandable historical reasons, blacks have long kept their social conservatism separate from politics, voting for liberal Democrats. If a significant number of blacks now join their fellow moral traditionalists in Red America in voting for the GOP, they will experience the sort of elite scorn heaped on all other opponents of social liberalism. Blacks will be the new 'bigots.' Their consolation will be having a seat at the table of the nation's new majority party."

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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2004 Elections Donald Rumsfeld Paul Shirley Pentagon