The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, June 07, 2002  

Andrew Sullivan, Easy “A”

When we were in school there were a few professors whose course load included one that earned the appellation “easy ‘A’.” The easy-A courses were highly sought after by aspiring business majors, the less academically inclined athletes, lazy fine arts majors, and first-semester seniors searching for a quick pre-graduate school application boost to their grade point averages.

The easy-A professors might have been known among the student body for their sense of humor, daft opinions, scatterbrained personality traits, but they were rarely, if ever, genuinely respected.

Which takes us to Andrew Sullivan.

Sullivan, who protests the label “toady,” had this to say about President George W. Bush’s address to the nation last night:

THE SPEECH: A B grade, I’d say. He’s still awful at these stand-ups in front of the camera. The phrases were a little wooden; and no president should start talking about how federal agencies interact. On the bright side, Bush didn’t seem defensive or political (although he’s being both those things, of course); the plan seems a no-brainer to your average guy; he’s still likable and real. But this is the last Karen Hughes guided speech. If Andy Card’s deranged mutterings to Esquire are any guide to his political skills, it’s all downhill from here.”

A “B”? Only a Harvard graduate would inflate last night’s string of sentences -- a “D-minus” speech from a “C-minus” President -- into a “speech” earning a “B.”

Even the reliably partisan John Podhoretz “got” the speech. Here’s Podhoretz in today’s New York Post:

“Last night, the president laid a rhetorical egg. His nationally televised address on his proposed Department of Homeland Security was a stinker.

“It was so poor, in fact, that Democrats who believe Bush’s historic announcement was ginned up rapidly to wrest national attention away from yesterday’s flashy Senate hearings on intelligence failures might actually have a point….

“[H]e did almost nothing to explain why the creation of a massive new Cabinet department with authority over 170,000 people was so vitally important to the American people, to homeland security -- or even to him.

“The only specific new task he mentioned for the department was to produce a daily terrorist threat assessment for him -- and this came after he had just told us that he gets a daily terrorist threat assessment already….

“It was not a performance worthy of this president -- though as a political gambit to change the subject from the Senate hearings, it sure did do the trick.”

We find ourselves in odd agreement with Podhoretz, though we would add one more point.

What to do with Ridge

The President’s sudden support of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security -- as recently as Tuesday he opposed the idea -- may also have been the result of pressure from former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, the current director of the office. In fact, we have a sneaking suspicion Ridge told President Bush he was thinking of walking, an outcome that would have caused the President a singificant loss of face.

Why would Ridge walk? First, out of boredom. The man took a job without an “in” box, one of the worst mistakes a politician can make. Without the authority to mobilize resources, plan policy, and prepare and administer a budget, Ridge had run out of busy work.

That leads to the second reason, status. Ridge, who certainly has further political aspirations, cannot have failed to recognize that his position -- what with the color-coded terrorist warnings (and less) -- undermined his prestige. Ridge undoubtedly worried about the creeping irrelevancy of the job.

We would hazard a bet that the less-than-flattering -- even embarrassing -- article in Monday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Ridge Struggles to Define His Role: As the status of his office sinks, he builds a base outside of D.C.,” may have been the spark Ridge needed to lobby the President for Cabinet-level status. Regardless, we continue to believe the position is a losing proposition. We predict Ridge will be gone within a year.

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