The White House shake-up that wasn't

What, exactly, was Bush hoping to accomplish?


Tim Grieve
March 28, 2006 10:55PM (UTC)

If George W. Bush were serious about making the sort of course change that events in Iraq and his poll numbers back home seem to require, he might have announced today that he was firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He didn't do that. He might have announced that he would replace White House chief of staff Andy Card with an outsider who could help bring fresh energy and perspective to the White House. He didn't do that, either. Instead, he replaced one White House insider -- Card -- with another -- Josh Bolten -- in a move that invited New York Sen. Chuck Schumer to make the inevitable "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" analogy.

What, exactly, was Bush trying to accomplish?

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That's the question we've been pondering this morning, and it's one that the president doesn't seem particularly interested in answering. After all these years of intransigence, nobody should be surprised that Bush isn't making a real change now. What's a little surprising -- or maybe not, given all that we've seen -- is that Bush isn't even trying to offer the appearance of such a change.

Andy Card doesn't exactly loom large in the minds of most Americans, and we doubt that many folks can make connections between specific Bush policies or actions and the man who's leaving now. You dump Rumsfeld if you want to make a statement about the way the war is going. You dump Michael Chertoff if you want more distance from Katrina. Dump Michael Leavitt for the Medicare prescription drug debacle; dump Alberto Gonzales for warrantless spying; dump Karl Rove to make a show on Social Security and partisan nastiness. But what does dumping Card get you in the public's eye?

Maybe we'd have a better understanding if we got ourselves invited to one of those private chats with the president. But Bush's public pronouncement on the question isn't shedding a whole lot of light. Bush made a live television splash this morning by announcing the news that Card is leaving and that he's replacing him with Bolten, but he didn't use the moment to make any kind of point at all. Will we see a new direction, a new focus, a new effort to reach out, a new anything? "Earlier this month, Andy Card came to me and raised the possibility of stepping down as chief of staff," Bush said. "After five and a half years, he thought it might be time to return to private life, and this past weekend I accepted Andy's resignation."

That was pretty much it. Card is leaving, Bolten is moving up. That's the message we heard, and maybe -- all the talk of a "shake-up" notwithstanding -- that's the message Bush wanted to deliver. The band plays on.


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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