Note: This was put up under the wrong byline. Since it’s already on the web we’ll leave it and put the byline under this.
By Joe Gandelman
You know a Presidency is in trouble with former — and trusted — aides begin to break prominently from their former boss. Particularly if they break with the boss in the New York Times.…and that’s what is being pitchforked into the old media and new media news cycles right now:
In 1999, Matthew Dowd became a symbol of George W. Bushâ€™s early success at positioning himself as a Republican with Democratic appeal.
A top strategist for the Texas Democrats who was disappointed by the Bill Clinton years, Mr. Dowd was impressed by the pledge of Mr. Bush, then governor of Texas, to bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington. He switched parties, joined Mr. Bushâ€™s political brain trust and dedicated the next six years to getting him to the Oval Office and keeping him there. In 2004, he was appointed the presidentâ€™s chief campaign strategist.
Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced.
In terms of political significance, this is similar to the watershed moment when it became clear that former Secretary of State Colin Powell and a host of other Bush 41 administration bigwigs were not pleased with George Bush 43. And Dowd’s comments become even more damaging — because he articulates what many independent voters have already concluded (look at the polls) and some Republicans as well:
In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bushâ€™s leadership.
He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a â€œmy way or the highwayâ€? mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.
That about summarizes the many questions that have arisen over the quality of Bush’s management and his ability to sift through different options and then coolly choose one that seems most effective, rather than starting out with a viewpoint and sticking to it no matter what (note Alberto Gonzales’ continued tenure despite bipartisan sentiment for him to step down).
â€œI really like him, which is probably why Iâ€™m so disappointed in things,â€? he said. He added, â€œI think heâ€™s become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in.â€?
The Times notes that Dowd is the first member of Bush’s inner circle to “break so publicly with him.” And who does he like now? According to the Times, the only candidate the Dowd (who also worked for California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger) really likes now is Democrat Barack Obama.
And the most DEVASTATING part of the piece is this:
He said his decision to step forward had not come easily. But, he said, his disappointment in Mr. Bushâ€™s presidency is so great that he feels a sense of duty to go public given his role in helping Mr. Bush gain and keep power.
Mr. Dowd, a crucial part of a team that cast Senator John Kerry as a flip-flopper who could not be trusted with national security during wartime, said he had even written but never submitted an op-ed article titled â€œKerry Was Right,â€? arguing that Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate, was correct in calling last year for a withdrawal from Iraq.
â€œIâ€™m a big believer that in part what weâ€™re called to do â€” to me, by God; other people call it karma â€” is to restore balance when things didnâ€™t turn out the way they should have,â€? Mr. Dowd said. â€œJust being quiet is not an option when I was so publicly advocating an election.â€?
There is a momentum in politics — one that goes beyond the “Big Mo” of primary front-runners….it’s kind of like a Big Mo of history.
It’s a moment that seems to to build at breakneck pace due to policy failures, political missteps, poor media coverage, the isolation of the given politico from members of his/her own party plus the emergence of a common-wisdom media narrative that causes more political allies to discreetly (and later not-so-discreetly) put distance between themselves and the person on the descent.
Dowd’s interview is one more step in the narrative you can call The Isolation Of The President. Bush and his advisers continue to paint opposition and criticism as coming from the Democratic camp. But, in reality, opposition and concern is coming from all quarters now, including his own party and some of his once-closest associates.
So is the political evolution of Dowd for real? Here is a KEY QUOTE:
He said that during his work on the 2006 re-election campaign of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, which had a bipartisan appeal, he began to rethink his approach to elections.
â€œI think we should design campaigns that appeal not to 51 percent of the people,â€? he said, â€œbut bring the country together as a whole.â€?
Perhaps his thinking is increasingly shared by many in the country…
SOME OTHER OPINIONS ON THIS DEVELOPMENT (These are only excerpts so read the entire posts):
–The California Majority Report: “Now I don’t wish to shortchange Obama’s unity message, but in all fairness to the president and his ex-strategist, the country has been fairly unified in opposition to his leadership for quite some time. Nevertheless, later is better than never, and Dowd will make a welcome addition to our two-thirds of America.”
–TPM Cafe: “Another valiant Republican rejects Bush…too little, too late.”
–Lonewacko: “In what might turn out to be an April Fool’s Day joke, the New York Times offers “Ex-Aide Details a Loss of Faith in the President” about former Bush chief campaign strategist Matthew Dowd becoming disenchanted with Our Leader…Of course, there’s the possibility that this is just a Dowd – or even Karl Rove – scheme, with Dowd going to work for a Bush-friendly candidate who’ll reach for the center, with kindness, corporatism, gentleness, corruption, hugs, and massive immigration for all.”
–David Kuo: “I know of what he speaks. Even now when I say or write things that are critical of President Bush or the administration it is from a sense of sadness and not from anger. It is the sort of thing I hate doing because it is the sort of thing I simply don’t want to be true. But these things are true and Matthew Dowd deserves nothing but empathy, respect, and credit.”
–The Impolitic: “I’ve often wished that we would all live to see the karmic kickback for the remorselessly vile ways that Bush and his minions like Dowd have betrayed us. To see Dowd so frantically trying to distance himself from the administration now leads me to think we may yet see this whole gang of thugs and cutthroats go down in shame and disaster.”
Dowd’s disavowal of Bush is likely to strike many as just so much political opportunism–seeing the national tide turning against not only Bush but the kind of vicious, hyperpartisan politics that Dowd helped engineer to get Bush into office, he’s looking at how to save his own political skin and future prospects.
Perhaps so, but he’s burning a lot of bridges to do so and this very public break with this president is significant. What’s more, regardless of motive, Dowd’s right. Our leaders do have to understand what the American people want. And that’s getting us out of Iraq, the sooner the better.
–The Gun Toting Liberal: “I have previously argued that Colin Powellâ€™s treacherous actions aiding in the building of consensus, grounded in false realities, for the Iraq Civil War must never be forgiven; however, I praise Mr. Powellâ€™s public chastisement, etc. of Mr. Bushâ€™s current policy. I extend similar, albeit constrained praise, for Mr. Dowdâ€™s entrance into the light.”
I suspect a lot of people who voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004 are feeling similarly disappointed; I imagine they feel similarly conflicted for similar reasons: They like President Bush, just not his policies. And thatâ€™s why things are messed up in America today. People have to stop making world-changing decisions â€” such as, whom to vote for â€” based on whether they â€œlikeâ€? the person. Itâ€™s a stupid instinct left over from days when your social circle was the other 20 semi-evolved primates with whom you hunted. In an age of nuclear bombs and anthrax postage, itâ€™s outmoded and dangerous….
…..It boggles the mind. It literally boggles the mind. This ancient and useless primate instinct launched us into a war of choice and a simultaneous assault on the very fundamental principles of justice and democracy that constitute this Republic. Why? â€˜Cause President Bush was likable. God, please give us someone more awkward but less inept!
–Office of the Independent Blogger: “This is a man who became a Republican specifically for George W. Bush. He became a Republican to help him run, he was drawn in by Bushâ€™s pledge to be a cooperative President with Democrats, and I say, If you could be drawn in by something that was so clearly [b.s.], by a man so undeniably dumb, then you deserve the fate youâ€™ve got. Itâ€™s only a shame that itâ€™s a fate he gave to the rest of the country, too, for eight years. The curse of George Walker.”
–Andrew Sullivan is another person who broke with Bush and he MUST be read IN FULL but here are some of his most important points:
For me, the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, the complete lack of planning, and the refusal to budge was the clincher. But Abu Ghraib – and the non-response to Abu Ghraib – made me realize that Bush was a danger to America, not an asset. The Federal Marriage Amendment obviously hit me in the solar plexus as well. It felt like a gratuitously vicious attack on a minority and a violation of conservatism. I knew my relationship with this president was over by the beginning of 2004. Some of us were mocked for backing John Kerry that year, and I can understand the mockery. Kerry? But yes, Bush really was that bad, that incompetent and that dangerous.
…But what strikes me about the more thoughtful Bush alums – Matthew Dowd and David Kuo spring to mind – is their yearning for spiritual atonement. I think that for many the reckoning with these past few years may take longer to arrive. But there will be a wider reckoning. And it won’t be pretty.
–Ed Morrissey also has a major post that needs to be read in full because he met Dowd and is unimpressed with this conversion. A short section 4 U:
As much as I like Dowd, and he is a very likable man in person … boo hoo. I can’t believe this Dowd is a grown-up. I think there are plenty of issues on which one can disagree with the Bush administration, but don’t blame the Bush administration for sticking to policies that one has spent most of his term supporting. Bush hasn’t changed direction during his terms in office, and as close as Dowd was to Bush, it’s not like he didn’t understand who Bush is.
So Bush didn’t act as a uniter. Neither did the Democrats, who spent most of the first term calling Bush the “Commander-in-Thief”, constantly undermining his authority. Bush, one should recall, tried reaching across the aisle on legislation like No Child Left Behind and expanded discretionary spending on a wide scale, attempting to find common ground with the Democrats….Dowd engages in one long, petulant rant, consumed by his disappointment at Bush’s failure to change when Dowd changed. I’m sorry for Dowd’s disappointment, but this says much more about Dowd’s emotionalism than it does about the Bush administration..