Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 2005 / 17 Tishrei,
Too many yes-men
We need a fool in the White House. No, I've not joined the
leftist Bush-is-an-idiot crowd. The president is a smart man, but he's in
deep trouble. And no one in the White House seems willing to tell him why,
which is where an official fool or White House jester, if you prefer
would come in handy. In the Middle Ages, the court fool was often the only
person who could point out the king's foibles and live to tell about it. No
less than some medieval castle, the White House can become a haven for
yes-men (and women) in any administration. Toadyism is an occupational
hazard in such a rarified environment, and few are willing to risk their own
status and power to tell the boss he's making a big mistake. The latest flap
over Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers is a perfect example.
Apparently no one stepped forward to warn the president what a
monumentally bad idea he'd come up with when he selected Miers over dozens
of other, better-qualified candidates. Karl Rove might have done so in the
past, but he's too busy worrying about his own fate in the Valerie Plame
leak investigation and may even have lost some of the president's confidence
for not admitting his role in the leak earlier. Mrs. Bush might have sounded
a cautionary note about the Miers nomination except that, according to
some sources, she was the one who suggested it in the first place. White
House chief of staff Andy Card has the president's trust, but he has never
demonstrated a willingness to challenge his boss, not least when the
president asked him to vet the Miers nomination. So that left the president
on his own, to go with his gut and never look back. And one thing we know
about this president is that he doesn't like to admit a mistake.
Instead of listening to what conservatives are actually saying
about the Miers nomination, the White House strategy is to attack the
critics. We are suddenly the enemy: elitists, sexists, disloyal, and don't
really represent anyone anyway. There is no one in the White House who has
the nerve to tell the president that he should be worried when Democratic
Sen. Harry Reid is more enthusiastic about his nominee than the editors of
And it's not just the Miers mishap. This White House seems more
isolated from the larger world than most. The president brags he doesn't
read newspapers. The initial response to Hurricane Katrina suggests he
rarely watches television news either. When the president ventures out of
the White House bubble, it's usually to return to Crawford or to address a
safe, administration-friendly audience. With Republicans in control of both
Houses of Congress, the president doesn't even have to meet regularly with
members of the opposition party. President Reagan, for example, forged a
friendly relationship with one of his chief adversaries, House Speaker Tip
O'Neill, but you get no hint that President Bush has done the same.
Admittedly, the political atmosphere in Washington has grown more toxic in
the last 20 years and Democrats are, I believe, largely to blame.
President Bush came to office promising to change the climate, but quickly
gave up, simply insulating himself from having to deal with it.
It is one thing to cut yourself off from people who don't share your values and aspirations, and quite another to push aside your most faithful allies because you don't like what they have to say on an important issue. The president has surrounded himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear. It's a dangerous practice. As the Fool reminds King Lear in Shakespeare's play:
"That sir which serves and seeks for gain,The president faces rough seas in the days ahead. He'd be wise to heed the Fool's warning.
JWR contributor Linda Chavez is President of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Her latest book is "Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)