Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bye-bye Scott?

Washington is awash in rumors of more changes within the Bush White House. One version has Treasury Secretary John Snow being replaced, while another envisions the departure of Press Secretary Scott McClellan. According to several press reports, McClellan would be replaced by senior presidential counselor Dan Bartlett. Michelle Malkin refers to these proposed changes as "deck chair shuffling;" I'll be more charitable and say the White House stables still need some degree of mucking out, to get the administration back on message and consistently o course.

I won't get too worked up if Snow stays or goes, but I believe McClellan's "resignation" would be a step in the right direction. Last week, I had an extended conversation with an acquaitance who is a senior GOP staffer in the Senate. The staffer tells me there is great frustration with McClellan among Senate Republicans; they view him as symbolic of the White House's halting (and often inconsistent) efforts at message management. After viewing one of his recent press briefings, the staffer (who has impeccable media credentials), described McClellan as "unwatchable." Ouch.

In fairness, I think McClellan has the toughest job in D.C., facing an overwhelmingly liberal White House press corps that is literally out for blood. But unfortunately, McClellan spends most of his time in a defensive crouch, and often appears to be a step behind his inquisitors. by comparison, former press secretary Ari Fleischer proved much more agile (and in command) during his daily briefings and other exchanges with the press. Fleischer has plenty of detractors in GOP circles as well; I'm not saying that Bush should bring him back but anyone would be an improvement over McClellan.

As far as Bartlett is concerned, I'm hardly convinced that he's the right guy for the job. In his present position, he oversees strategic communications efforts for the White House, and Mr. Bartlett has, IMO, failed miserably in that task. When the Democrats went on the attack on Iraq last spring, the White House essentially remained silent, mistakenly believing that the issue would "blow over." White House counter-attacks on the war, the response to Hurricane Katria and other issues have been inconsistent, at best, and punctuated by periods of inactivity. Remember President Bush's masterful press conference a few weeks ago? In the course of an hour (or so), he articulated a forceful case for his agenda, and made the White House press corps look petty and foolish to boot. Vice President Cheney also went on the offensive during that period.

So what happened? After a couple of days, the White House fell silent again, and the liberals began filling the information vaccum with their own talking points. In politics, that kind of inconsistency drives down poll numbers and loses elections. Sticking to your principles is admirable, but you've got to articulate them clearly and repeatedly, to have any traction in the media (and I'm not necessarily referring to the mainstream press) and the public.

Here's a better idea: get rid of McClellan and Bartlett. Their loyalty and long service to the President is commendable, but in their current capacities, they're not getting the job done.

No comments: