Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The W Legacy . . .the Reagan Legacy and Presidential Legacies, in General

There is a story that, after the inauguration of John Kennedy on January 20, 1961, Dwight Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, thanked the White Staff, got into their old station-wagon (stuffed with suitcases and souvenirs) and drove home to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I like the idea of the old general and his wife just driving home.

However, legacies are more complex. I'll give away my plot here:
  • Reagan didn't plan for a successor; I don't think he cared, but Daddy Bush was there to pick up the opportunity.
  • Clinton thought he would go on in power forever, in one form or another.
  • Baby Bush didn't plan for a successor; he didn't care, either.
  • Obama came into office thinking he, too, would go on forever; we'll see how he changes when he realizes he won't.
I like Baby Bush for the villain of this particular blog, but you'll have to read
down to find out how and why.

Ike left Richard Nixon in the wings, but between the stuffed ballot boxes in Illinois and Nixon deciding to lose, rather than make a fuss,there was JFK . . .and then the assassination and LBJ's disastrous application of legislative prowess to the executive branch . . .and then Nixon's return, disgrace and resignation, leaving Gerald Ford . . .and then the un-Republican Carter . . .and un-Carter Reagan and his VP, H.W. "Daddy" Bush . . .then the un-Bush Clinton elected because of Perot's third-party candidacy . . .and "Baby" Bush . . .and Obama.

I'm reminded of H.L. Mencken's statement: The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.

However, all of this is a digression. Today I am contemplating legacy in terms of staff and leadership. In Biblical terms:
  • Ike begat Dick and Dick begat Ford.
  • JFK begat LBJ.
  • Reagan begat Daddy Bush and Daddy Bush (with an interruption) begat Baby Bush.
The discontinuities here are Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama.

Legacies take several forms:
v The received legacy – talent that occupies the upper echelons of an administration
o The non-political appointments of the preceding administrations which are held over. Federal judicial appointments are the clearest example, but there are many.
o The pool of talent of the incoming party, from which political appointments will be made. For example, Dick Cheney was chief of staff for Ford, Secretary of Defense for H.W. (during the 1st Gulf War) before he was BabyBush's Vice President.
v The bequeathed legacy – what is left behind as an administration exits the Executive Branch
o The political talent that is permitted to develop and is bequeathed to future administrations.
o The non-political appointments which are made. Again, judicial appointments and inspectors-general are good examples.
o The identity that the administration and party leave in popular opinion when that administration departs. These days, this is called “branding.” BabyBush's bloated budgets and erratic leadership bequeathed no coherent branding. The Anointed Won's brand is "Change we can believe in," if you can continue to believe it.
o The issues that are dealt with – resolved or kicked far enough down the road that the subsequent administration does not have to confront them, if they choose not to. Examples of this type are difficult to recall.
o The issues that it fails to deal with, which are then passed on to the next administration. Iraq and Iran are two of many examples. Social Security is another.

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