Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bush's Big Bluff

I was stunned, yes, stunned, to see Scott McClellan, chief White House press secretary, had resigned this morning. But why should I be surprised? His was the unfortunate honor to spin the president’s disasters, one after another, like a frantic cartoon character placing buckets under so many leaks pouring water in the galley of a ship.

So, he’s out.

And Rove has been demoted.

Yeah, that too. New Chief of Staff John Bolton has wasted no time asserting himself by going after the Master himself, and reassigning him to do what he does best: mastermind an election campaign rather than tinker with policy development.

Both of these moves are seen by experts as a move to circle the wagons for the 2006 election defense.

Meanwhile, Donald “Call me Don” Rumsfeld is still in. This doesn’t surprise me one bit. I’m willing to bet he will be there until the fall of the empire. Why? Because he is one of the inner circle. He was on the “right” side of the administration during the run up to the Iraq invasion. Remember that guy Colin Powell? He was on the wrong side. Condi Rice: right side. She is now Secretary of State and potential presidential candidate.

And it all comes back to Bush, the head cowboy, locked in a winner-take-all game of poker in-which the lives of our military, our economy, the face of the Middle East, and the War on Terror (or whatever it’s being called now) hang in the balance. And do you think Bush is going to fold or change tactics in any way? That is just not his playing style.

The stakes keep getting raised, and Bush keeps getting dealt bad cards. We have the botched pre-war intelligence on Iraq, the misleading justification for war, the bungled post-victory occupation involving-among other things-inadequate troop armor, terrorism where there was no terrorism before, FEMA, a rising deficit, Plamegate… and still the President is holding onto the belief that the next card dealt will complete that royal flush he has been waiting for.


And, you know what? Sometimes you get lucky in poker. Sometimes that missing card is dealt to you and you just can’t lose. But, it’s usually not a good policy to bet on cards you don’t have. That’s just a general rule of thumb of course. Gambling types with a lot of faith, people like the President, are above such rules. We’ve watched as he has stridently pushed all of his chips into the middle of the table and declared “I’m all in, bring it on.”

And “it” has been brought.

Don’t expect Bush to back down, or change playing style in any way. He’s “the decider” like he said yesterday, and he loves every minute of it. He stands in no man’s shadow anymore and he is center stage in one of the biggest games in history.

This game is played according to unwavering principles that will not change even if situations call for it. His is not an on-the-fly strategy, like a chess player or a quarterback. It’s more like a pre-game plan that will not be deviated from. And while that style might make for some exciting television, it may even generate lots of votes, the results are often disastrous.

Those who can’t bend usually end up breaking things and blowing it. I have to admit, if it were me holding those cards I would be worried. I guess I just don’t have ice flowing through my veins. Playing a game is as much about adapting to the situation as it is to following your pre-game strategy. We, of course, have seen no such hindsight over the last six years.

I suppose that’s probably another reason why Bush is so compelling for some. What you see is exactly what you get. That’s why I’ve always been mystified by those who are undecided about the man. What are you confused about? Either you like the “all in” and “never fold” strategy, or you prefer a more reasonable and less zealous approach to policy. But, like poker, most people talk a good game, they think they want to play tough, until their faith is wiped off the board by sloppy playing. Personally, I think it’s better to play smart and keep your chips then end up in a terrible position due to sloppy play.

This is a game never stops. When the president is done playing he can ride off into the sunset and someone else will take over, much like it will be someone else’s responsibility to handle Iraq and the deficit and other legacies. And the President thought this was a game for two: him versus terrorism. But look who just sidled up to the table, it’s that rogue, Iran. And he has a big bag of money and wants to play for keeps too. Well? Bring it on, right? I guess we’re all in.

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