web counter Media Lies: Bush the boss

Sunday, January 16, 2005

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Bush the boss

There's been a great deal said in the past four years about Bush's lack of involvement in his Presidency, his inability or disinterest in reading, Karl Rove's or Dick Cheney's pulling of his strings, his unwillingness to admit mistakes and so forth and so on. As someone from Texas who has observed him over time, I know these charges to be false. Bush is a man who will make the hard decisions, the politically dangerous decisions, the right decisions and take responsibility for them as well.

Now Newsweek has apparently been given access to his staff and files a report that turns conventional "wisdom" on its head. Frankly, I'm a bit shocked to read such an article in Newsweek

With regard to Bush's willingness to deal directly with personnel issues, Newsweek reports
It was time to clean out his cabinet. The top jobs in his administration, President Bush decided last fall, had left people burned out and too beholden to the perks of high office. Besides, he was planning a big new agenda for his second term and wanted fresh legs to power it through. When asked how many cabinet officials he would fire, Bush told one close friend: "Basically everybody." The official story was that many of the cabinet officials were ready to move on; members would volunteer their own resignations. But as the election neared, several began to waver; it became clear they'd need to be shown the door. Other presidents might leave the tough stuff to subordinates, but Bush wanted to do the job himself. When it came time to say farewell, the exchanges in the Oval Office were surprisingly emotional. "They were shocked and really hurt, and that hurt him," says one confidant.
It speaks highly of a man who will handle firings and personnel changes himself rather than avoiding the most difficult task a manager must tackle.

Turning to the issues of his willingness to involved in decision making and then take responsibility for those decisions, the author writes
As he starts his final four years in the White House, President Bush is by far the biggest agent of change in his own cabinet. Whether he's remaking his team or plotting his second-term policies, Bush's leadership style belies his caricature as a disengaged president who is blindly loyal, dislikes dissent and covets his own downtime. In fact, Bush's aides and friends describe the mirror image of a restless man who masters details and reads avidly, who chews over his mistakes and the failings of those around him, and who has grown ever more comfortable pulling the levers of power. Of course, those closest to Bush have a vested interest in singing his praises. But they also make a compelling case that the president is a more complex and engaged character than his popular image suggests. And that he—not Karl Rove, Dick Cheney or anyone else—bears the full weight of responsibility for the ultimate successes and failures of his reign.
Despite the unearned reputation, Bush seems to be quite a prolific reader.
Another popular misperception: that Bush doesn't read. Aides describe numerous debates inside the Oval Office, where the president digs deep into his briefing books. "I've seen it time and time again," says Rove. "We all get the briefing papers the night before, we've all read them, and he'll inevitably have thought about three steps ahead of anyone in the room." And he's not just poring over white papers. Friends and aides speak of his passion for novels, including Mark Mills's "Amagansett" (a murder mystery set in postwar Long Island), and Tom Wolfe's racy college tale "I Am Charlotte Simmons." Bush has also adopted Natan Sharansky's "The Case for Democracy" as his own manifesto in the Middle East—a tome he recommends to all comers in the Oval Office.
Another complaint of the critics is that Bush surrounds himself with yes men. In reality, the opposite is true.
Judging from the press coverage of his new cabinet, you'd think Bush's guiding principle was to put yes men in positions of power. But Bush draws a sharp line between people who can get things done, and those who simply agree with anything he says. His style in policy briefings is to narrow the debate with a series of questions, crystallizing the competing opinions and exploring the disagreements between his staff. Those debates also require a rare quality in Washington—the self-discipline of his staff to keep their disputes behind closed doors. With the notable exception of his foreign-policy team, Bush has succeeded in staunching the leaks that plagued his predecessors—leaving the impression that there are no arguments within the White House walls. "People seem to be fascinated by this administration in that people don't walk out the door after losing an argument and complain about it," says Nick Calio, Bush's former congressional liaison. "Just because nobody complains publicly about losing an argument doesn't mean they haven't disagreed with him." (That discipline will be harder to maintain as Bush steams toward lame-duck status.)

To hear his friends tell it, Bush hates toadies, and loves to mock sycophantic remarks with his trademark reply: "My, Mr. President, that's a nice-looking tie you're wearing today." "If anyone is too much of a suck-up, the president is the first one to call them on it," says Card. "That's not a label you want to have in a meeting, because then he discounts everything you're saying." Flying back to Washington after his second TV debate against John Kerry, Bush asked his strategist Matt Dowd for an honest assessment of the first showdown. "It wasn't your finest hour," said Dowd. "What do you mean?" Bush shot back. "You got your a-- kicked," Dowd explained. Bush frog-marched his aide through Air Force One, repeating Dowd's assessment. "He said I got my a-- kicked," Bush told his staff. "And you all said I won."
I've said it before, and I'll say it again.

Bush may turn out to be one of the greatest Presidents this country has ever had. (Hat tip to Pejmanesque.)