Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Meese Rule

"People who know don't talk and people who talk don't know." - Ed Meese, Transition Manager for Ronald Reagan, 1980

There may be some Clinton veterans high-up in the Obama team (like John Podesta and Rahm Emanuel) but there is little of that administration's problem with leaks thus far. Salon ran a terrific article today titled "The Elusive Team Obama" on the President-elect and his staff's disciplined work on the transition.

Now, ten days with a far from fleshed-out staff does not a leak-free White House make, or foretell. But, as Walter Shapiro notes in the Salon piece; "Obama's first week has been impressive, with hints of months of careful planning behind the scenes, as opposed to the make-it-up-as-we-go-along improvisation famously carried out by Bill Clinton."

George W. Bush was careful to avoid leaks in his first term by allowing aides close access to him in the Oval Office and by keeping Andrew Card at his side as Chief of Staff. Card ran a disciplined White House, at least until the feud over the Iraq War between Cheney/Rumsfeld and Colin Powell spilled over.

So when something does leak in the coming days, like Lawrence Summers' name as a potential secretary of the Treasury, you'd probably be wise to consider why it might have leaked on purpose. In Summers' case it's pretty straightforward - the Obama team wants to see how pissed people are to hear his name considered for secretary of the Treasury after he stupidly asserted, while presiding over Harvard University, that women may be less well genetically suited for math and science than men.

Here's another (intentional) leak to consider: The New York Times got wind from "people familiar with the discussion" yesterday between Obama and Bush that the two men discussed a tit-for-tat on bailing out the auto industry (Obama's desire) in exchange for supporting a free-trade agreement with Colombia (Bush's).

This smacks of Rahmbo Tactics. Obama and the democrats are not keen on a free-trade agreement with Colombia that doesn't include their uncut cocaine (...kidding...). Bush doesn't want to bail out Detroit's Big Three after already going from fearless free market capitalist to ardent financial services socialist in a few short days last month.

So what does the Obamasquad do? They send out, presumably, Rahm E-hatchet-manuel to leak the discussions and force Bush into a corner. Either Bush let's GM fail - it may not make it through the end of the year, it's hemorrhaging cash so quickly - and his legacy is farther tarnished as he exits as the guy who let a century-old institution fail because he wanted trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama, too. Crafty Rahm.

Bush and family didn't much appreciate the tactic either, evidenced by their subsequent leaking to Drudge that, "Senator Obama may not be familiar with a long-standing tradition of presidents holding their private conversations, private." Oh schnap, son. Sounds like Rahm's plan worked pretty good. Nothing like getting out-maneuvered by the noob.

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