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Bush and Cheney: the insular 'deciders'

FDR promoted a healthier style of leadership.

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Even many Republicans today recognize Franklin D. Roosevelt as the greatest president of the last century.

The anti-Franklin Roosevelt is George W. Bush.

From his regressive tax codes and plan to privatize Social Security to his Supreme Court appointments, from his favoritism toward big business to his belief in preemptive war, President Bush could hardly be more different in his political, economic, and social philosophy from the architect of the New Deal.

The two presidents also differ in their leadership styles. Roosevelt believed in strong, collective leadership. His Cabinet was broad and inclusive. Relishing experi-mentation and the lively competition of ideas, he took talent where he could find it. His secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, and his secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, were progressive Republicans, and Frances Perkins, his secretary of Labor, was an Independent. His secretary of War, Henry Stimson, and his secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, were Republicans – he even chose Republican Harlan Fiske Stone as chief justice.

Recent presidencies have seen the cabinet decline as a vehicle for collective leadership, but under Bush it has reached its nadir because the president prizes above all ideological uniformity. Cabinet meetings are reported to be brief and perfunctory with no deep discussions or exploration of alternative policies. Can you name more than two or three members of Bush's Cabinet?

If Bush doesn't draw upon the collective leadership of a talented, diverse cabinet, with whom does he share the responsibilities of leadership?

The answer is a device that goes back to the days of Andrew Jackson – the "kitchen cabinet," which enabled presidents to work closely with a small group of advisers drawn from their formal Cabinet and from outside it. It can be a most useful tool if it is diverse in point of view and relatively public.

But Bush's kitchen cabinet is rather odd. It has only one member, Vice President Dick Cheney, backed up by hard-core conservative White House staffers, working in secrecy. With little question, Mr. Cheney is the most powerful vice president in US history.

He controls a staff of true believers, issues his own ideological pronunciamentos, and maintains his own alliances with key conservatives in Congress. White House watchers speculate that, behind the scenes, Cheney directs policy.


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