Inside Report: George W.'s ghost

Posted: Feb 09, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Presidential speechwriter David Frum, embarrassed by his wife's bragging to friends that he authored the "axis of evil" phrase in President Bush's State of the Union Address, did not exactly write those words. According to White House sources, Frum proposed "axis of hate" to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Chief speechwriter Michael Gerson changed "hate" to "evil," these aides said. Frum's wife, writer Danielle Crittenden, sent e-mails to friends saying, "my husband is responsible for the phrase" and expressing "hope you'll indulge my wifely pride." High-level presidential aides said Frum, a prominent Canadian journalist before entering the White House, was not in trouble. But self-identification of language by a presidential ghost is strictly forbidden. "I'd be mortified if I were him," said one aide. Another staffer described Frum as "very embarrassed." GREENSPAN'S CRITICS Federal Reserve staffers and even some members of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), who normally gush over Chairman Alan Greenspan, have been highly critical in private about his recent performance. The internal critics complain that the chairman yielded to his aides in removing optimistic language from his Jan. 11 speech in San Francisco. That resulted in an unrealistically pessimistic assessment of the economy that roiled financial markets. It was not until his Jan. 24 testimony to the Senate Budget Committee that Greenspan corrected the false impression. The result, say the critics, has been the Fed making markets shakier than necessary. None of this is being said publicly or even to Greenspan's face, but such criticism is extraordinary at the central bank. MARK THE KNIFE Newly elected Republican National Chairman Mark Racicot had hardly settled into his new job when he ordered an unannounced 20 percent budget cut at the party's national headquarters, causing an unspecified number of job layoffs. That responds to White House grumbling that too much of Republican campaign contributions has been wasted on bloated staff and exorbitant outside contracting. Jack Oliver, inherited by Racicot as deputy chairman at the Republican National Committee (RNC), offered to distribute the pink slips to the sacked employees. But Racicot insisted on performing the chore personally. Racicot is also terminating contracts with political consultants, including an arrangement with veteran Republican strategist Joe Gaylord (longtime adviser to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich). GOP DISCORD The national Republican establishment's plans to elect moderate Rep. Greg Ganske to the Senate from Iowa may face a serious challenge from the supply-side Club for Growth, which is helping finance an unknown conservative in the GOP primary. Three-term liberal Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin is a prime 2002 target of the Republicans, and private polls give Ganske a reasonable chance against him. Consequently, national GOP strategists are distressed by new backing in the primary for Bill Salier, a 33-year-old hog farmer from Nora Springs, Iowa. The Club for Growth began financing conservative candidates in Republican primaries during the 2000 election cycle, often to the distress of party leaders. Steve Moore, the organization's president, contends that Ganske also will fall short just as previous challenges to defeat Harkin with non-conservative candidates failed. Ganske has won national attention by joining Democrats in HMO regulation ("patients' bill of rights"). NO-SHOW BUSHIES (II) This column reported two weeks ago that while Attorney General John Ashcroft was barred by ethical considerations from attending last weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the Justice Department's third-ranking official -- Solicitor General Theodore Olson -- would be at the head table. In fact, he was not. Justice Department officials ruled that Olson, like Ashcroft, could not appear at a partisan political gathering. President Bush and Vice President Cheney did not attend, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also said no. The late scheduling of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice kept the annual gathering of grass-roots conservatives from being totally devoid of Bush administration celebrities. But it was the thinnest speaking roster ever for a CPAC held when Republicans are in power.