Andy Card Isn't a Machine

Two insightful articles today—from the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund and the Washington Post’s Peter Baker—touch on the exhaustion factor facing President Bush’s top aides.

With the White House on the receiving end of bad news day after day—some that it can control (Iraq War and Harriet Miers) and other news that it can’t (Hurricane Katrina and Claude Allen)—Bush’s poll numbers have taken remarkable plunges.

Could an exhausted White House staff be the reason? Baker’s piece in the Post seems to indicate that could be the case. Here’s how he opens the article:

Andrew H. Card Jr. wakes at 4:20 in the morning, shows up at the White House an hour or so later, convenes his senior staff at 7:30 and then proceeds to a blur of other meetings that do not let up until long after the sun sets. He gets home at 9 or 10 at night and sometimes fields phone calls until 11 p.m. Then he gets up and does it all over again.

Of all the reasons that President Bush is in trouble these days, not to be overlooked are inadequate REM cycles. Like chief of staff Card, many of the president’s top aides have been by his side nonstop for more than five years, not including the first campaign, recount and transition. This is a White House, according to insiders, that is physically and emotionally exhausted, battered by scandal and drained by political setbacks.

Fund makes it even clearer why it might be time for a new group of people in the White House: loyalty is winning out over common sense. Here’s an excerpt (his Political Diary is available via subscription):

If the Dubai Ports fiasco wasn’t enough of a wake-up call for the White House that it needs to examine its decision-making process, the Allen affair should be further prodding. White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and Counsel Harriett Miers knew Mr. Allen had a problem when he told them about the incident in early January. They chose to accept his side of the story, and put him in the audience seated near the First Lady at the State of the Union address.

By not adequately protecting the president from embarrassment in the Allen matter, the White House staff has once again put team loyalty over common sense. Given the string of recent disasters the White House has presided over — from Katrina and Ms. Miers’ Supreme Court appointment to the Dubai debacle — there is growing evidence that the Bush White House is exhibiting signs of a dysfunctional management culture that desperately needs new people.

Working in the White House would be an honor for many people, and serving eight years alongside the President as his chief of staff would demolish all modern-day records. But Andy Card isn’t a machine, nor is anyone asking him to be one.

He’s incredibly skilled (not to mention his mastery of the cool concept of a “memory palace”) and has done an admirable job as a public servant (in this Bush Administration and previous GOP administrations). But it’s time for Card to take a break—and set an example that will allow others, including Press Secretary Scott McClellan, to move on to greener pastures.