Belatedly, here is my full take on the “shake-up” at the White House: It’s a good thing that there is a mild, evolutionary change there, and it would have been bad if there had either been no change or a huge, revolutionary change. (The Post, by the way, used the evolutionary/revolutionary contrast in its headline, but I had already used it in my interview with the Post‘s Peter Baker and other interviews yesterday.) Andy Card was not the problem, but having him step aside, after good and faithful service, might be the beginning of solving the problem. Aside from Card’s rumored responsibility (in large part) for the Miers nomination fiasco, I know of no other reason to believe that he was anything other than an honest broker who was well organized (although EVERYBODY’S competence was called into question by Katrina) and well liked.
So why is it good, then, that Card is leaving? Because this White House DOES deserve its reputation for arrogance and insularity, at least in some areas, and because ANYthing that changes top staff who deal with the president every day has the potential to open up the White House to new ideas/perspectives/approaches. For all I know, Josh Bolten and Andrew Card might check the same box 100 straight times on a list of policy choices, but that doesn’t mean Bolten will present the ideas/issues to Bush the same way that Card did, and it doesn’t mean that Bolten wouldn’t mention other ideas or outside suggestions to Bush that Card never heard of. Every time there is a change in personnel, there is a change in the interpersonal dynamics around the Oval Office and the West Wing generally — as happens in just about every office situation in America. So, even without being at fault for anything in particular, Card may have fallen into routines or habits that, by the unpredictable alchemy of personal relationships, might not any longer serve the president as well as will Bolten’s routines or habits. It is therefore no knock on Card to say that his departure can help the White House get out of the doldrums.
And make no mistake: This White House needs help. Its relationships with Capitol Hill have been poor, its relations with the conservative movement have been spotty, and its communications to the American public at large have been ineffective.
So why, then, would it not be better to have an even BIGGER shake-up than a mere change from insider Card to insider Bolten? Because this isn’t, overall, a failed White House, but it is a hobbled one. In some ways, operationally, this White House works well — indeed, its discipline, while it is arguably taken to lengths so great that it becomes stifling and thus counterproductive, is nevertheless a virtue that many previous administrations (esp. Clinton’s) would have almost sold their collective souls to achieve. So what was needed wasn’t a revolution to upset every apple cart in the West Wing (to fall into cliches, unfortunately; please forgive me), but instead a turnover to a new chief who is nevertheless already familiar with the president’s personality, desires, rhythms, etc.
All of which is to explain why I really meant to say “good riddance” to Card, in that it is good that this overworked public servant is leaving, but only in a “friendly” way, as in “You’ve done your job well; now go get some rest so others can carry on.”
By the way, all four print reporters who interviewed me yesterday are almost certain to confirm that this is what I told them, too.
Finally, let me say that I do hope other small but significant changes at the White House are in the offing as well. Obviously, I have been a critic of its Katrina response, its spending habits, and often its communications. But its heart and mind both are largely in the right place, and a pint or two of new blood might go a long way towards making the whole body of the administration more effective at carrying out the intentions of its heart and mind.