April 26, 2006
The White House Shifts GearsBy Thomas Lifson
Gears are shifting at the White House. We are moving into election mode. Expect the national conversation to change.
The White House has a new spokesman, Tony Snow, whose appointment is being confirmed by his former employer, Fox News. He will be doing a very different task than his predecessor. Scott McClellan's job was to absorb press abuse and communicate the message given him.
Tony Snow's new job will be to grab hold of the narrative framework, and change it. His long service in the DC press corps and his inherent qualities of intelligence, articulateness, and sheer likability equip him superbly for this job.
And there is an entirely new subject likely to become a major topic of conversation, whether the media heavyweights want it or not. CIA officials who have violated their legal obligation to protect classified information and harmed the national interest are under investigation, and one of them has been let go.
The firing of Mary O. McCarthy has unleashed a torrent of data—gathering and speculation, some of it highly informed, on the existence and extent of ties among enemies of the President. The torrent of speculation exactly corresponds to the torrent of leaks which have bedeviled Bush presidency. Nothing is yet proven, but McCarthy served in the Clinton White House and then took a curious job in the Bush administration, in the Inspector General's Office of the CIA.
Such a move is not explicable by careerism. This is an Internal Affairs dead—end sort of job, one that wins enemies not friends. But it is a job in which complaints about irregularities (justified or not) come across the desk with regularity.
Career suicide, but perfect for a would—be leaker intent on undermining a presidency and getting the opposition party candidate elected president. If there was planning to this, who was involved?
Many observers noticed at the time President Bush took office that a coterie of Clinton appointees remained in the bureaucracy. An unusually large number converted from political appointee status to bureaucratic status. Mary O. McCarthy was one of them.
Is there a ring of leakers infesting the national security apparatus? Hard evidence is lacking right now. As far as the public knows. We have been told that many other investigations within the CIA are underway. There are serious criminal penalties associated with leaking classified data, so once caught, there are incentives for leakers to implicate others who might be known by them to be engaging in violations of national security regulations.
We still don't know if others will be charged, but meanwhile there is one aspect of McCarthy's previous responsibilities well worth noting. Working in the CIA's Inspector General's office, she must have been involved in the bizarre referral of the Valerie Plame case to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation. Clarice Feldman has demonstrated that leaking of Plame's name could not have been a criminal act.
Yet the CIA made the referral, after which there was no option but to proceed. To do otherwise would have caused howls of protest over a cover—up. Did McCarthy set—up the whole unnecessary investigation, resulting in the indictment of Scooter Libby?
The Libby case, which came from the referral, resulted in the jailing of a New York Times reporter, and the general approval by much of the press of the process of tracking down leaks, and getting aggressive with reporters. These tactics can and will be used to track down other leakers in the CIA and elsewhere — who may not be all be Republicans this time around.
Funny how that is working out. The press made a bad bet.
Other new appointees are joining the Bush team. They can be expected to help change the tone of politics as well. But change starts at the top. George W. Bush is shifting his own mode of politicking. He has done this before with great success.
The two modes of George W. Bush
There are two distinct aspects of President George W. Bush's persona. Measured against his immediate predecessor, who obsessively managed his daily standing in popularity polls, President Bush appears indifferent, isolated, surrounded by cronies, and even hapless, mired now in the low thirties in the polls. But when elections loom, when voters pay closer attention, and when popularity really matters, he becomes a shrewd poker player, who has lured his enemies into betting on weak hands.
I have nicknamed the second persona 'The Crawford Kid.' It is an identity the President probably would never embrace, because keeping it secret keeps his opponents unwary. But they will never learn. Contempt for the President and their own ego—maintenance demands will not let them recognize reality when they are outsmarted.
The Crawford Kid doesn't swagger, pal around with floozies, or behave like most of the screen versions of a successful itinerant poker player. The Crawford Kid learned long ago that his enemies' greatest weakness is their inflated self—regard, lethally combined with withering contempt for him and his embrace of evangelical Christianity and Texas.
I have always seen George W. Bush in a different light than almost all of his opponents, and even many of his supporters. He is a trained strategist, an MBA graduate of Harvard Business School, where he learned that the point of having a strategy is to win when it counts, not just to feel good about yourself at every moment of the process.
When it counts, right at election time, Bush tends to come out much better than his enemies assumed he would. The positions they embraced when they thought he was down and out turned out to be not such a winning hand
Over two years ago I identified the pattern:
The Democrats, the leakers, the drive—by media, and other enemies of George Bush have been congratulating themselves over the prospect of victory in November. Maybe just a bit too soon. For they have overplayed the hands dealt them, and bet on Bush spiraling downward.
The Crawford Kid is getting set to walk through the door, sit at the table, maybe look worried as he glances at his cards. Then he will see their bet and raise the stakes.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.