Presidential Dilemma

Speculation continues apace about what President Bush can do to get his pre-Libby, Miers, Katrina, Social Security, budget deficits, Iraq insurgency and WMD mojo back.

One consensus is that he has to “reconnect” with the American people. As a generic strategy, it means getting back to basics and reminding the electorate of who you are and what you were saying when you were initially elected. Ronald Reagan is often cited as a precedent in his recovery from Iran-Contra.

Only one problem. The scenarios couldn’t be more different.

At his core, Reagan was a pleasant fatherland figure and personally liked even by ideological adversaries. From the start, he waxed on about “morning in America.” The nostalgia card played well.

He also had the perfect partner, Mikhail Gorbachev, in sun-setting the Cold War. And Reagan was juxtaposed to the malaise-connoting Jimmy Carter, hardly a tough act to follow.

Bush’s presidential roots hearken back to the embittering, divisive controversy that was Bush-Gore. We’re also reminded that George W. Bush was a self-defined “uniter, not a divider.” Moreover, he would see to it that “honor” would be restored to the White House. And his administration would be “open,” with a focus on what was “right,” not just what was “legal.”

Bush, of course, is not avuncular, which is not a problem. But neither, alas, is he presidential. He still has his frat boy, “Heckuva job, Brownie” moments when he goes off script.

We also know that before “neo-con” became part of the political parlance, Iraqi “regime change” was on the table – well before Sept. 11, 2001.

Not that there isn’t nostalgia.

We do remember Colin Powell before he was a kept man and Condoleezza Rice before she was steamrolled into irrelevance by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. And recall wistfully when Karl Rove was merely “Bush’s brain” – not his moral compass.

Then there’s the other consensus. It calls for a Reaganesque shake-up of Bush’s inner circle. Perhaps a latter-day Howard Baker will appear to keep the political hordes at bay and buy some time and credibility. But that seems a long shot. Washington is deus ex machina -challenged these days.

Unless Patrick Fitzgerald would be interested.

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