A new book by one of America’s most prominent conservative journalists gives President Bush high marks for his leadership, just as his poll numbers are at an all-time low. Fred Barnes, the author of Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush, reveals how the President operates, why he is willing to buck conventional wisdom, and what his legacy will be.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of the Weekly Standard and co-host of The Beltway Boys on Fox News Television. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Mr. Barnes said he thinks there may be more staff changes in the White House, beyond the replacement of the President’s chief-of-staff Andrew Card by budget director Joshua Bolton. Fred Barnes said personnel changes by the President are necessary both to “revive his own administration” and to be “daring” so as to attract the attention of the press and the Washington political establishment. Although Mr. Barnes rates President Bush’s first term as very successful, he suggested that in 2005, the first year of his second term, there were extraordinary challenges – for example, his inability to push through Social Security reform, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Myers, and some serious setbacks in Iraq. If some of the necessary changes are to take place, Mr. Barnes suggested, the President may need to set aside his extraordinary “loyalty to his staff.”
Fred Barnes said the 9/11 attacks “revolutionized” U.S. foreign policy and gave President Bush a “completely different agenda” than his original emphasis on domestic policy. From that period on, the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and the push for democracy around the world became central to his presidency. Mr. Barnes noted that Mr. Bush rejected 60 years of American policy that had supported autocracy in the Middle East in the pursuit of U.S. national interests.
On the domestic front, Mr. Barnes said he believes the President will be able to recover from the negative criticism on the government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. But he thinks the President should have gone to New Orleans the day after the disaster as a “symbolic act” of support. On the international front, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq has not changed the President’s conviction about his decision. According to Fred Barnes, he is unwilling to change policies he believes in to gain popularity among the electorate. Mr. Barnes said that 2006, in which there are congressional elections, “does not look like a great Republican year,” although he thinks Republicans will hold on to the House and the Senate, despite losing seats in both of them.
Fred Barnes described his exclusive interviews for the book with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. For example, he recalled how the President mused on how history would judge his presidency and wondered if future generations might think he had been “too optimistic.” Mr. Barnes said that the judgment on Mr. Bush’s presidency would depend above all on Iraq. And despite the strong influence of Vice President Cheney in foreign policy, Fred Barnes said, President Bush is “truly in charge.”
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.