Thursday, April 20, 2006

Things Change, and Stay the Same

The New York Times
Things Change, and Stay the Same

President Bush wants to show the nation he's shaking things up in his administration, but it is clear that the people who messed everything up will remain in place. The press secretary goes; the political-and-domestic-policy adviser is losing half his portfolio. There's a new White House chief of staff. But the folks at the Defense Department are still on the job, doing ... what they've been doing.

Metaphors about deck chairs abound.

It's too soon to say how history will judge this administration, but it does look as if the first thing this president will be remembered for is the disastrous way the war in Iraq was conducted under Donald Rumsfeld, who, of course, isn't going anywhere. If there's a second thing we think history will shake its head over, it's the administration's cavalier disregard for the civil liberties of American citizens and the human rights of American prisoners. Needless to say, nobody's being replaced at the Justice Department.

The third great disaster of the Bush administration is a fiscal policy that has turned a federal surplus into a series of enormous budget gaps and an economy that depends on loans from China to pay its bills. The administration is changing the fiscal team, but doing everything possible to send the signal that there are no new brooms in this venture — just the same old faces with new labels. Rob Portman will morph from being the trade representative into being the director of the White House budget office. Mr. Portman, a longtime Bush loyalist, used his nomination acceptance speech to champion all the policies that wrecked things in the first place. More tax cuts will be forthcoming, he vowed, and budget cuts will make things balance out in the end.

President Bush has been slicing away at federal revenues by encouraging Congress to pass tax cuts for wealthy Americans. That usually isn't hard to do. The fact that there's been so much difficulty getting the latest round through the Republican-controlled Senate is a measure of how irresponsible the plans are. And everybody is well aware that the proposed spending cuts wouldn't go far enough to make up for lost tax dollars. Even budget cuts that are doable are anathema to an undisciplined legislature that is used to being allowed to spend whatever it wants by a feckless presidency.

The sudden exit of Scott McClellan, the press secretary, would be meaningless under normal circumstances. But in the current context, it really does send an important message. The president is like one of those people who pretend to apologize by saying they're sorry if they were misunderstood. He doesn't believe he's done anything wrong. It's our fault for not appreciating him.

Blame the victim.