Thursday, November 25, 2004

Bush Doesn't Kowtow to the Washington Establishment

Bush the Insurgent
From the November 23, 2004 Wall Street Journal: He's a president who won't kowtow to D.C.'s establishment.
by Fred Barnes
11/24/2004 12:00:00 AM

THE SCHEMING in Washington as President Bush prepares for his second term is easily explained. It's the insurgents versus the Washington establishment, and the insurgents are winning.

Bush finds himself in the unusual position--for a president, anyway--as leader of the insurgents. Unlike other presidents who came to Washington with bold plans, Bush has not been housebroken by establishment forces. Even Ronald Reagan made peace with Washington. Bush hasn't. He wants to impose a breathtakingly conservative agenda in his second term, one that has prompted cries of protest from establishment figures like David Gergen, aide to four presidents, and the voice of the Beltway, the Washington Post.

Contrary to the doubters, the establishment does exist and does throw its weight around. It consists of the permanent bureaucracy, much of the vast political community of lobbyists and lawyers and consultants, leftovers from Congress and earlier administrations, trade groups and think tanks, and the media. The establishment can and does shape the zeitgeist in Washington and, importantly, a huge chunk of the Senate is establishment-oriented and dozens of senators themselves members of the establishment. It's become more Republican in recent years but is still center-left in ideological tilt. But it's liberal in a reactionary way, passionately opposing conservative change.

In the eyes of the establishment, the Bush tactics, the Bush agenda, and Bush himself are over the top. The president is girding for battle. He's aiming to consolidate control of his administration, drive out recalcitrant (read: establishment) elements, and make the permanent government heel, especially at the
CIA and State Department. He's kept his White House staff intact, from political adviser Karl Rove to speechwriter Mike Gerson to budget chief Josh Bolten, as a kind of headquarters cadre. The White House aides who've departed, such as national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and counsel Alberto Gonzales, were dispatched to take over Cabinet agencies.

Bush's agenda is post-Reagan in its conservatism, which means it's more far-reaching and thus more threatening to the establishment. Bush would not only reform Social Security and allow individuals to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in financial markets, he would also revamp the entire federal tax code and fill the Supreme Court with judicial conservatives. And those are only his domestic plans. In foreign affairs, Bush would make aggressive efforts to spread democracy around the world the centerpiece. The foreign policy élite is aghast.

From the start of his first term, Bush has been immune to the blandishments of the establishment. When Reagan came to Washington in 1980, he made a point of attending a welcoming party at the home of the late Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post. It signified his desire for cordial relations with the establishment. Reagan mostly got along fine, while still pursuing policies (tax cuts, fervent anti-communism) frowned on in Washington. His wife Nancy became his ambassador to the establishment. If Bush had an ambassador, it was Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he's leaving the administration.

By Washington standards, Bush is a misfit. He's different. He barely socializes at all and on weekends and holidays makes a beeline for Camp David or his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He'd rather invite Christian musician Michael W. Smith and his wife to the White House for dinner than eat out. If Bush really wanted to soothe establishment types, he'd invite them to state dinners at the White House, after which their names would be in the paper. But he's held fewer state dinners than any president in memory.