E.J. Dionne has a rival

for the lamest discussion of President Bush’s woes. It’s his fellow Postman Sebastian Mallaby, who writes:

Today the signs of a political crackup are all over Washington. Within the administration, the White House chief of staff is going, the Treasury secretary is rumored to be going, and the defense secretary argues publicly with the secretary of state about whether he made “tactical errors” in Iraq. The president’s domestic policy has shriveled to pleas for expanded health savings accounts, whose shockingly muddled design speaks volumes about the administration’s lack of economic talent. In a mark of desperation, Bush has gone off script to take questions from journalists and citizens. At a forum in North Carolina on Thursday, he confessed that the torture revelations from Abu Ghraib had been “disgraceful.”

Let’s consider each item. At any point after, say, the second year of an administration there are always players coming and going, and often players whose disagreements become public. Indeed, it’s far from clear that the gap between the State and Defense Departments is greater now than it was in Bush’s first term.

The fact that the president favors a conservative approach to health care reform is hardly a sign of a crackup. The claim that the administration lacks economic talent is inconsistent with the state of the economy — solid growth and low unemployment. Was Mallaby writing of a “shriveled” economic policy in Clinton’s second term? If not, what significant domestic initiative had Clinton launched at that time? Finally, Bush’s statement that the Abu Ghraib scandal (from early 2004) was “disgraceful” reflects the administration’s position since day one.

There really isn’t any mystery to the president’s slide. It has nothing to do with his unwillingness to embrace radical health care reform proposals, with a general lack of ideas, or with staffing issues. He has lost swing voters because our action in Iraq is perceived not to be going well enough, and he has lost some conservative support because he’s not acting as many conservatives would like him to on important issues like spending and immigration. It’s just about that simple.


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