Icarus in the Oval Office?

By Mark Follman
Published November 20, 2004 12:10AM (UTC)
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The big news of the week was Bush's second term Cabinet shakeup, and most of the president's supporters have been pleased as punch with the consolidation of power toward a fully faith-based White House.

In today's New York Times, David Gergen, a former adviser to four presidents including George W.'s father, weighs in on the reshuffling of the deck in Washington.


"By sending members of his White House staff to run three of the most important departments in the government -- with perhaps more such appointments in the offing -- Mr. Bush is centralizing power in the White House in ways not seen since Richard Nixon. ... The president apparently intends no less than to overhaul government, achieve long-term Republican hegemony over American politics and ensure long-term American hegemony over the world."

Gergen notes that Bush is acting well within his purview as president. "As long as he doesn't name his horse as proconsul, a president is traditionally accorded the right to choose anybody he wants in his cabinet, including members of his White House staff." But, Gergen adds, "the fact that Mr. Bush is acting within his rights does not mean that he is also right. Critics mostly worry that the reshuffling of the national security team signals an even harder, more militaristic line toward the world."

Because of a desire to concentrate on its sweeping domestic agenda, the administration, Gergen speculates, probably isn't cooking up plans for military action against Iran or North Korea anytime soon.


"The more immediate danger," he writes, "is that Mr. Bush and his troika are falling into a trap facing other re-elected presidents: hubris. When presidents win their first elections, they and their teams think they are king of the hill; when they win re-election, they too often think they are masters of the universe. As Richard Neustadt pointed out, even the best of modern presidents, Franklin Roosevelt, fell into the trap when he was first re-elected in 1936. He immediately started overreaching, as he tried to pack the Supreme Court in 1937 and tried to purge Southern Democrats in 1938. F.D.R. nearly did himself in during his second term.

"In Mr. Bush's case, his administration has already shown ominous signs of 'group-think' in its handling of Iraq and the nation's finances. By closing down dissent and centralizing power in a few hands, he is acting as if he truly believes that he and his team have a perfect track record, that they know best, and that they don't need any infusion of new heavyweights. He has every right to take this course, but as he knows from his Bible, pride goeth before. ... "

Mark Follman

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

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