May 20, 2003


This administration has a peculiar pathology. It focuses like a laser beam on a key priority for several months, ignoring any criticism from outsiders. It then achieves its priority, earning plaudits for gutsiness and discipline. Immediately afterwards, however, drift sets in, unexpected complications arise, events beyond the Bush team's control create new obstacles to policy implementation, and things appear to fall apart.

The policy drift has occurred four times in this administration -- after the passage of the 2001 tax cut, after the fall of the Taliban, after the 2002 mid-year election, and, alas, after the victory in Iraq.

What's going wrong? . . . A troubling hypothesis -- is it possible that the message discipline so valued by the Bushies also leads to the suppression of policy adaptability?

Maybe. They seem pretty quick to change approaches when they think they're not working, but they're not always quick to figure that out.

One problem, of course, is that the media pronounce pretty much everything they do a failure before it even starts, which makes it harder to figure out what's really going on.