Memo To: Website browsers, fans, clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Not a Bad Line-up
If you have been around this website for any length of time, you know I an not an apple-polisher. So when I tell you that I am favorably impressed with the team that President George W. Bush has put together thus far, I hope you will take that opinion at face value. Looking back over the last three years, since Governor Bush first let us know he seriously was considering a run for the White House in 2000, I have been all over the lot in judging his competence. It was because of the people I saw him pull into his team two years ago that I decided instead to advise Dan Quayle -- until he had to withdraw when his campaign ran out of money. I even responded to a request for help from Pat Buchanan in September 1999 and wrote him a batch of memos, thinking Pat and I were closer on National Security issues than I was with the Texas Governor. It soon became apparent, though, that Pat was not really interested in my advice and was going his own way, so I sent him a nice note telling him “I quit.” In the last year, I’ve just sat back and watched, and truthfully have to admit that things have gone pretty well without my direct assistance. I’m even thinking about playing more golf this year.
1) I worried most about Treasury. Without a good Treasury Secretary, chances of success must rely upon “luck.” Mr. Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Bob Rubin, was honest when he said the other day that his success could be attributed to “luck.” Bush will need more than luck because the economic problems the Clinton administration have left him require expertise. Naming Paul O’Neill of Alcoa to the job was not reassuring, as I remember him as being a very conventional corporatist, interested mainly in bean-counting and balancing the budget. By picking Ken Dam of the University of Chicago Law School as his Deputy, this assessment of O’Neill gave me pause, as Dam is no bean-counter, but a dynamic fellow who was a friend of the early supply-siders in his previous incarnation as deputy budget director in the Nixon administration. I thought I must be wrong when I read the accounts of O’Neill’s confirmation hearings in the major papers, especially the NYT. There was the old bean-counter. But I forced myself to watch the O’Neill hearings not once, but twice, on the C-SPAN Internet channel, and found myself agreeing with everything he said. I quickly alerted my clients to pay no attention to the press accounts, as the reporters cannot pick up the little differences that stand between success and failure. I now think O’Neill has the potential of being a sensational Treasury Secretary, because he knows how to simplify, which he did at Alcoa, and has clearly drawn a bead on our tax system, which badly needs simplifying.
2) National Security is in balance. I’d worried that Bush would be talked into making Paul Wolfowitz his Defense Secretary. Wolfie is a “bomber,” I’m afraid. Instead, he picked Donald Rumsfeld, an old political friend of mine, who also tends to be a “bomber,” to use Colin Powell’s descriptive phrase of one who shoots first and asks questions later. But Rumsfeld does not have an itchy trigger finger and likes to substitute tough talk backed by an obvious ability to follow through with weaponry. He made Wolfowitz his deputy, which is okay, as long as Colin Powell is at the State Department and has a clean line of access to the Oval Office. The papers thus far give the edge to Rumsfeld, but I’m satisfied that President Bush will be well-served because Cheney, who is definitely not a “bomber,” but is an old Rumsfeld ally, will bring sufficient balance to this equation. Cheney is incredibly important in the equation because, for the last several years at Halliburton, the oil-service company, he has gotten to know all the Arab kingpins. The Arab/Islamic world knows it has an ear in the Veep’s office, while Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz have their pipeline to Tel Aviv.
3) Energy. Former Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham, defeated in his re-election bid, is Lebanese by national background, which is why it made sense to make him Energy Secretary. The Arabs control the marginal energy supplies for the planet. I’m not sure Abraham is up to speed on the issues involving the nuclear laboratories. Clinton’s energy secretaries, Hazel O’Leary and Bill Richardson, were plain awful as far as I was concerned. There is more danger now from “loose nukes” than there was eight years ago.
4) Attorney General. Former Sen. John Ashcroft turns out to be the most controversial of the Bush appointees, where at first it was said he would zip through the confirmation proceedings because he was a) So gracious in conceding the seat to the widow of the man he was running against and b) Was known to his Senate colleagues as a man of impeccable honesty and integrity. I’d thought so myself and believed Ashcroft would soon step up to be a Supreme Court Justice, perhaps even Chief Justice. He has been roughed up sufficiently over the Ronnie White matter that the odds have changed. He’ll almost certainly be confirmed, but now a SCOTUS seat seems far less likely. He will have to earn his way back at the Justice Department.
5) Health and Human Services. Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson is a man who has always known how to get along with Democrats and liberals and still run a basically conservative shop. He did not seem to want the HHS job, but I’m glad he finally accepted.
The other posts are not necessarily of less importance, but they are of less interest to me, so my opinion is not informed enough to be of any value here. Perhaps I will do this again in a few weeks when the subcabinet posts are filled out. Otherwise, I do think GWB has pleasantly surprised me with his selections. Vice President Cheney obviously has helped him greatly.