Bruce Bartlett

Regular readers of this column know that earlier this year, I published a book highly critical of George W. Bush for his deviations from conservative principles, which got me fired from an intellectually bankrupt think tank. Since publication of that book, however, Bush has actually fixed some of the problems identified in my book. It almost makes me think that someone in the White House read it very thoroughly and took its message to heart.

The first big improvement was installation of Joshua Bolten as White House chief of staff. Although he has been known to snub me at social events for my criticisms of the president, nevertheless I believe that he is far better than his predecessor, Andy Card. From what I could see, Card thought his function was to nod vigorously and agree with every word that came out of the president's mouth, never questioning his judgment or actions in any way whatsoever.

But a good chief of staff in the White House or any other organization must challenge his boss from time to time. His main job is to make certain that the boss gets all the facts, information, analyses and opinions necessary to make decisions. Since this is not something that comes naturally to Bush, who prefers to talk only to those he knows will agree with him, it is absolutely essential that he have a chief of staff who will make sure that dissenting voices are heard and that the president doesn't exist in a bubble, hearing only what he wants to hear.

Bolten seems to be doing a better job of this, at least on the domestic side, where he has brought in a number of new staff people who are noticeably superior to their predecessors.

The best known of these is Tony Snow as press secretary. I think I speak for every person who ever watches White House press briefings in saying that the day he took over, there was a very significant rise in the quality of these events. Even when Snow is dissembling, as all press secretaries necessarily must do, he does so in a way that doesn't sound as if he is merely giving us rote repetition of White House talking points, as his two predecessors usually did.

Furthermore, I know that Snow is not just advising Bush on public relations strategy, but on policy as well, which is all to the good. As a columnist before becoming press secretary, Snow often criticized Bush for the same things I did in my book. For example, in February, Snow called Bush's domestic policy listless. In March, Snow excoriated Bush and the Republican Congress for losing control of the federal budget.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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