April 24, 2002

Hughes’ impact…

Dana Milbank writes in the Washington Post: “[Karen Hughes] return to Texas will deprive Bush of unified control over his public image by a close and powerful confidante. Whether that leads to the unraveling of the Bush White House’s discipline can be known only after some months. But her absence will inevitably change the White House.”

Milbank’s observation that it will be some months before we know the impact of the Hughes departure is a good one. If we may take President Bush at his word, Hughes will continue to have influence over the administration’s message. Also notice how Milbank qualified the possible damage to the administration: Bush will be deprived of “unified control” by a “close and powerful confidante.” This does not mean there will no longer be control. What it means is that the nature of the control will change. It is unreasonable to assume a drastic change in message will happen any time soon.

Most of the initial response, however, has assumed that Hughes’ departure will somehow disrupt the administration’s “unified” message. Let me suggest the contrary. It is quite possible that the “message” will improve in the sense of being less controlled and open to internal debate. If we assume that debate and dialectic are routes to knowledge and truth, it may very well be that Hughes’ departure will have a positive effect on the presidential voice. As Milbank suggests, only time will tell.

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