Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bennett's Bow-Out Puts Spotlight on Bush Cabinet Shifts

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bennett's Bow-Out Puts Spotlight on Bush Cabinet Shifts

Article excerpt

THE Bush administration's lineup is going through some jarring mid-term adjustments for the coming political season.

Hard-charging William Bennett, rough-edged and ready for battle on the field of political ideas, has left the Bush team for the second time in as many months. On Thursday he withdrew his acceptance of the president's offer to make him Republican Party chairman.

Mr. Bennett, who left his post as the administration's drug czar a few weeks earlier, was a key new player in a more aggressive and confrontational Republican strategy that was to take hold when the new Congress is seated in January.

His stated reason: Ethics rules would bar him from outside work, particularly from fulfilling two book contracts he has negotiated.

Few Washingtonians have accepted that explanation. Even in White House corridors, notes one aide, "Nobody knows what to make of it."

Speculation runs to a clash of personalities with White House chief of staff John Sununu. A Capitol Hill Republican staff member observes: "Bennett showed extraordinary independence in those two weeks." Many conservatives many suspect that Mr. Sununu decided he could not control Bennett or keep him from intruding on policy questions, the aide says.

As one measure of Bennett's value to the GOP, Democrats were relieved to see him go. Bennett, says Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a Democratic think tank, "is one of the best practitioners of cultural politics in the Republican Party." He knew how to jab the "soft underbelly" of the fragile Democratic coalition of blacks and wage-earning whites, Mr. Marshall says.

Already, Bennett had drawn some lightning for defending commercials used in North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms's reelection campaign; the ads attacked racial quotas. Democrats, most of whom also denounce quotas, have called the commercials thinly veiled efforts at race-baiting. Bennett called it a valid subject for political debate and looked forward to raising the issue further.

Most speculation about Bush administration resignations in recent weeks has centered on Sununu himself and budget director Richard Darman, the power center at the White House during its first two years. …

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