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Fresh Faces of '06: Bolten, Portman...and Rummy?

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Fresh is clearly the order of the day at the White House. It's almost as if the president has pulled out his leadership keyboard and hit Ctrl--F5!

So new White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, responding to the D.C. conventional wisdom that the West Wing is filled with burned out, off-their-stride staffers, told said staffers that it was time to "refresh and re-energize" the president's team. This according to Scott McClellan, the poster boy for being burned out and off your stride. Nice strategy, Josh. Nothing like a little job uncertainty to promote that refreshed feeling.

Bolten's "message seemed to suggest that Mr. Bush had now come around to the idea that his presidency needed some fresh faces" -- starting, no doubt, with Bolten, who has been a part of the president's inner circle since 1999.

Operation Fresh Face took another giant step forward with today's Rose Garden announcement that Bush's pick to fill Bolten's old job as director of the Office of Management and Budget is Rob Portman, a longtime confidant of Bush who served six terms in Congress before becoming the White House's top trade negotiator last year, and who the AP labeled "a consummate Washington inside player."

That is fresh. If by fresh you mean well-past the 'sell by' date.

"He will be a powerful voice for pro-growth policies and spending restraint," said the budget-busting Bush, somehow managing to maintain a straight face.

And, like an invigorating spring zephyr rolling across the parched plains, Portman responded by praising Bush's 2001 tax cuts as "the smart path" and deriding any talk of changes to current tax policy. "The economy is growing," he said. "Now is not the time to risk losing ground by raising taxes."

An interesting note from Portman's long Beltway CV: In 2000, he played the role of Joe Lieberman during Dick Cheney's debate prep, then took on the role of John Edwards as part of Cheney's 2004 debate preparations (do we detect the VP's omnipresent invisible hand in this nomination?). Maybe for his next role Portman can impersonate an actual fresh face with new ideas.

He can take a lesson from the man he's replacing: Josh Bolten. Does no one in the White House see the irony in the notion that the second-term shake-ups designed to revive Bush's free-falling presidency are going to be spearheaded by a guy who has been with the president since he took office -- and, thus, a part of everything that has gone wrong?

Bolten is a perfect example of how official Washington works. Or, more accurately, doesn't work. Since being named White House budget director in 2003, Bolten has presided over the three largest federal budget deficits in history, along with rampant federal spending and debt. So of course he got promoted.

The most telling thing about Bolten's plans to "refresh and re-energize" the Bush White House is that all of the shake-ups being discussed are on the domestic policy side of the presidential agenda -- with changes predicted to Bush's economic, congressional liaison, and communications teams, and with the hiring of a new top domestic policy advisor (the old one being too busy returning pilfered items at Target to be of any help).

But when it comes to the major crises facing the administration -- Iraq and the war on terror -- neither Bush nor Bolten are suggesting that those overseeing those crises go ahead and leave now. Indeed, Bush continues to give Don Rumsfeld his "full support." "I read the front page," he told reporters today (who has time to bother with those pesky inside pages?) "And I know the speculation. But I'm the decider and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."

There you have it: our Decider-in-Chief has taken a look around, seen that the White House is going up in flames, and decided that it's time to remodel the garage. Bush is thinking wood paneling, but if Bolten wants to go with indoor/outdoor carpet, well, carpet it will be. "The president," said McClellan, "has given him full authority to do what he needs to do, and what is in the best interest of this White House." As long as that doesn't involve turning the fire hoses on Rummy and the conflagration that is the president's foreign policy.

For his part, Rummy has gone all philosophical, saying of the mounting calls for his ouster: "This too shall pass." Wasn't that what Cheney predicted about the insurgency? When asked why he thought he was in the crosshairs of so many former generals, Rummy demurred, saying "I can't climb into other people's minds." True, but you can open your eyes and see the disaster your policies have wrought.

How's that for a fresh concept?