Greenfield: Does 'fresh blood' make a White House healthier?
By Jeff Greenfield
GOP insiders are pressing President Bush to shake up his staff.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- It's a near-scientific law of political nature -- falling presidential poll numbers automatically trigger an involuntary collective shout: "Let's shake up the White House staff! Bring in fresh blood! New energy!"
After all, it's worked like a charm in the past, hasn't it? Yes and, mostly, no.
It sure didn't save Richard Nixon in 1973, when the Watergate scandal exploded, and he fired top aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Nixon was out by August of the following year.
And it sure didn't help Jimmy Carter when just days after a major speech on a crisis of the national spirit, he fired three members of his cabinet. He barely staved off a primary challenge from Ted Kennedy, and lost to Ronald Reagan in a landslide in 1980.
President Reagan actually had two big shakeups. After his 1984 re-election, Treasury Secretary Don Regan swapped jobs with chief of staff Jim Baker, Regan didn't work and play well with others, and after the Iran-Contra story threatened to sink the ship of state, President Reagan brought in Howard Baker, Ken Duberstein and other Washington pros.
That's the shakeup everybody remembers as a magic bullet, because they smoothed over relations with Congress and the media, and helped guide the president through the Iran-contra scandal.
But when the first President Bush got in trouble in 1992, and Jim Baker, who was Secretary of State, was re-deployed to oversee the re-election fight, it proved no help. Bush lost with the lowest share of the popular vote for any incumbent since William Howard Taft.
When Bill Clinton's first term got shaky, he brought in perennial White House aide David Gergen, who had worked mostly with Republicans, as a policy advisor, and put Budget Director Leon Panetta in as chief of staff for "adult supervision." As later developments showed, the White House personality most in need of "adult supervision" was occupying the Oval Office.
It probably makes sense after five and a half years that White House aides are exhausted, maybe even burned out. But I suspect if this administration had its choice they'd take better news from Iraq, a big win on terrorism, a smoother prescription drug program, and an effective response to the next natural disaster over any set of new faces at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
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