Robert Novak

 The number of unfilled Pentagon positions now rivals those at Treasury. Since Paul Wolfowitz had been earmarked as World Bank president for some time, it might be supposed that his successor as deputy secretary of defense would be standing beside him when he was named. But that is not the way the Bush White House works.

 Indeed, it sometimes seems more interested in who is kept out of office than who is ushered in. The most celebrated recent incident, talked about in wonder throughout Washington's Republican circles, concerns the new secretary of commerce, former Kellogg Co. CEO Carlos Gutierrez. As first reported by Washington Post columnist Al Kamen, Gutierrez's desire to bring his longtime Kellogg associate George Franklin to the capital as his only personally selected aide was rejected. Franklin had rented a townhouse, but he was sent home because of his associations in the John McCain wing of the Michigan GOP.

 Franklin was a man of prominence back in Michigan, but the Bush White House's icy hand does not discriminate between the mighty and the meek. One presidential appointee ran into trouble because he retained a young clerical employee who was a holdover from the Clinton administration. Every two weeks the official would get a call from the White House asking when this worker would be removed.

 Even though these stories are commonplace in Washington today, the argument can be made that this president has passed major tax and education bills, pacified Afghanistan and removed Saddam Hussein from power, all while defeating recession. So what if his administration looks dysfunctional? In basketball, it is called winning ugly. The trouble is that a team that wins ugly sometimes starts losing.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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