The New York Times reports today that President Bush’s former chief campaign strategist Matthew Dowd has “lost faith” in the president, due primarily to differences over the Iraq war. “If the American public says they’re done with something, our leaders have to understand what they want…They’re saying, ‘Get out of Iraq.’ “
Dowd “said he hoped in part that by coming forward he would be able to get a message through to a presidential inner sanctum that he views as increasingly isolated.” This morning on CBS, White House Counselor Dan Bartlett crushed any such hopes that Bush’s inner circle would heed the advice of a once-trusted aide. Instead, as it has done frequently in the past, the White House engaged in a counteroffensive, assailing the character of the person sounding the alarms.
The New York Times noted Dowd’s distancing from Bush came at the same time one of his “premature twin daughters died, he was divorced, and he watched his oldest son prepare for deployment to Iraq.” Bartlett latched onto these difficulties in Dowd’s personal life in an effort to undermine his substantive concerns about Bush’s Iraq policy.
Bartlett said Dowd has been on a “long personal journey…in his private life” and that he had become too emotional over the war. CBS host Bob Schieffer interrupted to ask: “Are you suggesting he’s having some kind of personal problems and this is just what has resulted?” Bartlett denied that’s what he was doing, but then returned to his talking point, suggesting Dowd’s views should be evaluated in light of the fact the he was going through “personal turmoil.”
What is even more disturbing than the treatment of those who criticize the Bush White House is the fact that those who have been criticized most harshly — people like Gen. Eric Shinseki, Richard Clarke, and Paul O’Neill — have in fact been proven to be more right than wrong. Dowd’s case is no different.
SCHIEFFER: OK. Let’s talk about this story that hit The New York Times this morning. Here is one of the president’s chief strategists, somebody that’s been with him for a long, long time — suddenly he comes out on the front page of The New York Times and says in the last campaign John Kerry was right when he talked about what we ought to do in Iraq? He said the president has become isolated from reality. What’s this all about, Mr. Bartlett?
BARTLETT: Well, Matthew is a close friend of mine. I think he’s been on a long personal journey over the last couple of years, both in his private life, as well as his — the politics that he participate in. This war is a complicated and difficult one, and it brings out emotions in people from both sides of the aisle, even those who work closely for the president, and the president respects his position. Obviously, we disagree with him as far as him being too insular or him bringing the troops home.
SCHIEFFER: Are you suggesting he’s having some kind of personal problems and this is just what has resulted?
BARTLETT: No, as he expressed in the paper that he himself has acknowledged that he’s going through a lot of personal turmoil but also he has a son who is soon to be deployed to Iraq. That could only impact a parents’ mind as they think through these issues. I say that only in the sense that I know it’s something that weighs heavily on him.