Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 9 News List

The US president has lost his way

Senior members of the US president's own party fear that their leader has been thrown off his game by his own mistakes

AP , WASHINGTON

ILLUSTRATION: YU SHA

The building blocks of US President George W. Bush's career -- his credibility and image as a strong and competent leader -- have been severely undercut by self-inflicted wounds, leading close allies to fret about his presidency.

They say he's lost his way.

These senior Republicans, including past and current White House advisers, say they believe the president can find his way back into people's hearts but extreme measures need to be taken. Shake up his staff, unveil fresh policies, travel the country and be more accountable for his mistakes -- these and other solutions are being discussed at the highest levels of the Republican Party.

But first this question: How did this happen?

Bush built an image as a straight-talking politician as governor of Texas and a candidate for president. Running to replace the Clinton administration in 2000, he raised his right hand at nearly every campaign event and swore to uphold the dignity and honor of the presidency.

The vow was not just a reference to the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. It was a nod at every ethical question that ever hovered over president Bill Clinton, any blurring of what Bush viewed as a clear, bright line between right and wrong.

"In my administration, we will ask not only what is legal but what is right, not just what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves," Bush said on Oct. 26, 2000.

Five years later, senior White House adviser I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was accused of covering up his involvement in the CIA leak case, an investigation that raises questions about the role played by Bush confidant Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney to discredit an Iraq war critic.

The case cuts at the president's hard-earned credibility.

In June last year, Bush said he stood by his pledge to "fire anybody" in his administration shown to have leaked Valerie Plame's name. His press secretary, after checking with Libby and Rove, assured the public that neither man had anything to do with the leak.

It turns out they both were involved, though Rove has not been charged and neither man has been charged with breaking the law against revealing the identity of an undercover agent.

The president's own supporters call that a Clintonesque distinction that violates the spirit of Bush's pledge from 2000. Some say Bush should publicly chastise Libby and Rove while insisting on a public accounting of Cheney's role.

A White House official privately put it this way: Bush has to step up somehow and be accountable.

These allies said they would only speak on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be viewed as disloyal.

Responding to the friendly fire, White House communications director Nicolle Wallace said, "As he did in a major speech today about the avian flu, the president is going to continue to speak with clarity and conviction in that straight-talking manner [he's known for] about the risks ahead."

The public's loss of faith in Bush goes back many months to the early weeks of the Iraq war, when nearly two-thirds of Americans found him trustworthy. Less than half felt that way last month, according to the Pew Research Center.

One issue is the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, Bush's chief rationale for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Rather than admit a mistake, Bush emphasized other reasons for war.

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