When the Worst Defense Is No Defense

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Nov 24, 2008 11:00 PM
Howard Kurtz writes of the difficulties encountered by White House press secretary Dana Perino, who "tried to follow [President Bush]'s orders not to defend him from the verbal assaults of the campaign to succeed him," as Kurtx puts it.

How difficult has Ms. Perino's job been?  One can only imagine.  But it's worth taking note of President Bush's insistence that he not be defended.

It seems clear that, at some point, President Bush made the decision that he wasn't going to worry about his popularity numbers -- he would do what he believed to be right, and wait for the verdict of history.  I'm grateful for the President's tenacity when it comes to Iraq and fighting the war on terror more generally -- and I believe that history will treat him kindly, on the whole, as it has Harry Truman (who was similarly despised upon leaving office).

But there's a problem when a President simply refuses to engage -- not perhaps for himself, but certainly for other members of his party.  The President's willingness to serve as a punching bag shows real strength of character on his part, but it also allowed Democrats to damage the Republican brand -- and do much more harm than if the President had allowed legitimate defenses of his policies and his record to be made. 

In the public mind, silence is too often equated with assent.  And so when The White House has remained silent in the face of vicious and often dishonest criticism, voters -- who do, after all, have other things to do than follow every twist and turn in government and politics -- have reasonably assumed that the criticisms have merit.  In turn, that has hurt not just the President, but the entire GOP.

Again, this isn't to join in the gang pile-on of the President.  But it is a lesson to his successors: If they care about the long-term success of their party, they'll defend themselves and their records, whether they want to or not.