Nitpicking the Cabinet
1/5/2001 12:00:00 AM - Brent Bozell
If George W. Bush hopes to create a more successful presidency than his father's, he will begin his term by recognizing the immutable Washington reality that there is no reliable way of gaining love and praise from the liberal media if you don't share their ideological bent. You could, of course, surrender your principles (see Bush the First's disastrous read-my-flips, tax-raising 1990 budget deal). But as that proved, it will do you exactly zilcho good at re-election time.
The new Bush administration may appear to many Americans to be an opportunity for a fresh political start, but there is no way the media elite will find anything refreshing or exciting about the Republicans coming to town. Instead, they will find a way to criticize the new team any way it can. When Bush began with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the media yawned, since Bush had signaled their appointments months earlier. Besides, since neither of these is tarred by an association with the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, not much would have been fussed about in any event.
When Bush followed that with a slate of Dick Cheney's Ford administration colleagues, the mood changed swiftly. Out came the usual pundits, making jokes about Bush being Cheney's No. 2, and accusing the picks of being an old and utterly boring set of retreads. (Couldn't all this previous experience in government be a plus after eight years of the likes of county prosecutor Janet Reno?) Clearly, media naysayers like Bryant Gumbel insisted, Bush is signaling he's a weak leader who will allow his cabinet to run the government.
But then Bush named Sen. John Ashcroft as his Attorney General designate, and all media hell broke loose. How dare Bush nominate a ... a ... conservative! The pro-aborts were ushered quickly on to the news sets to declare that Ashcroft wouldn't enforce the laws protecting their abortion businesses. Black leftists were given the microphone to portray Ashcroft as Missouri's answer to David Duke. Journalists jumped in. Time's Jack White called him an "extremist" whose "positions on civil rights are about as sensitive as a hammer blow to the head." It "raised questions about the sincerity of Bush's attempts to reach out to blacks." Naturally, White said nothing about the sincerity of black leaders after they put out a TV ad calling him a murderer and compared his Florida forces to the racist cops who pummeled black protesters at Selma, Ala., in the sixties.
When Bush named Gov. Christie Todd Whitman to run the Environmental Protection Agency and former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton to run the Interior Department, the media awarded Bush no points for placating moderates or pro-abortion Republican women. (The New York Times headline noted "Conservative Ashcroft" would be nominated but didn't balance that by referring to "liberal" or even "moderate" Whitman in the same headline. She was just "Whitman.")
At the same time, Norton was portrayed as a frightening "James Watt protege." Forget that the media never feel the need to accept that no, we somehow failed to all get lung cancer and die during Watt's allegedly horrid reign in the Reagan years.
Why is ideological guilt by association so acceptable when it's Republicans, but never an issue with the Democrats? Were any of Bill Clinton's nominees (or unconfirmed relatives) connected to their liberal mentors? Was Hillary scarily described as a "Marian Wright Edelman protege"? Would her summer of work for communist lawyer Robert Treuhaft make her a "communist protege"? No. Instead, leftists like Donna Shalala were cast as centrists: Al Hunt hilariously insisted Shalala was "no lefty" since the University of Wisconsin football coach didn't want her to leave her college presidency. When Hillary's leftist pick Lani Guinier was dumped, Newsweek called it "A Hard Right Turn."
While some reporters noted the cabinet nominees are far more pragmatic than dogmatic, others, like Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank, found the entire Bush gang to be "a firmly conservative Cabinet," exempting only Whitman. Nobody in the press corps noted how Clinton assembled "a firmly liberal cabinet."
Will this new administration be dominated by conservatives driving an ideological agenda? That certainly remains to be seen, but the odds don't favor this at all. Cato Institute budget guru Steve Moore depressingly predicts: "Now that the Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House, the federal budget is going to go through the roof -- rising much faster than it did even under Clinton."
The media aren't predicting the future here. They're just recycling the press releases of liberal activist groups as they unload their opposition research files on the Bush picks. The activist groups and their media friends don't really expect any of these cabinet picks will be dumped. It's just a GOP administration, and it's their shared mission to make them scary and unpopular.