The Return of Little Brother
T hat James A. Baker III would be called in to rescue Bush's failing presidency had always been inevitable -- a matter not of whether but of when. Though they were old and close friends, neither man was happy with the idea, and they put off confronting it as long as they could. Baker greatly preferred his role as global statesman, building one of the best résumés in modern history for his own possible run for president in 1996. And Bush in turn was reluctant to concede to the world that he couldn't win without the man he sometimes called Little Brother -- a term of affection with visible trace elements of sibling rivalry.
But his presidency was failing, dragged under by a dismal economy, a chaotic infrastructure, and the seemingly irreversible collapse of his support. His approval ratings had started down after Desert Storm, slowly at first, precipitously with the onset of winter. Nothing since had arrested the slide, not the State of the Union, or the spring Sitzkrieg with Congress, or Bush's undefeated run through the primaries -- not even his historic arms-reduction agreement with Boris Yeltsin. He hadn't had a single popular success all year, one aide lamented, or a single week in which his numbers went up instead of flatlining or worse. The embarrassing last chapter of the dump-Quayle story had been a wave of suggestions, whispered and published, that perhaps it was Bush instead who ought to be dropped from the ticket.
His wish scenario all along had been that the economy would perk up, whereupon his glories of international statecraft would kick in and carry him to victory. Realists in his command had argued to no avail that they could not assume a real recovery and in fact had to plan as if it wouldn't happen. The surprising summer uptick in unemployment had been the splash of cold water on Bush's daydreaming, and the indices only got worse thereafter. A high-level presidential adviser sat morosely over a single day's headlines, reading them aloud: "83,000 Jobs Lost in August... Job Losses Cripple U.S. Recovery...167,000 Jobs Lost in U.S. Businesses." People voted their pocketbooks when