Bye, Bye, Sununu

December 05, 1991

Despite caterwauling from the right, even conservative ideologues will not miss John H. Sununu. As White House chief of staff, he did all that could have been expected to serve their social agenda. Especially on abortion, the environment and affirmative action, he was unbending and did much to keep President Bush in line. But Mr. Sununu committed the sin of deviating from the economic agenda of the Reaganite supply-siders in putting together a 1990 budget agreement that abandoned the Bush campaign pledge of "no new taxes."

So when push came to shove, he went over the cliff with no one to save him.

Tears need not be shed. Mr. Sununu served his president badly by needlessly alienating members of Congress whose support was needed if Mr. Bush was to achieve any kind of a positive legislative record. Instead, the past three years have been marred by stalemate and minimal achievement on the domestic front. Government-by-veto might satisfy the instincts of a self-described "pit bull" like Mr. Sununu, but in the end it helped to discredit the entire Washington Establishment as the nation slid into recession.

Mr. Bush is to blame for this situation. As vice president, he closely witnessed what a difference it made when the White House chief of staff was a cool manager and pragmatic negotiator (James A. Baker III and Howard H. Baker, Jr.) rather than an abrasive bumbler (Donald T. Regan). Yet when it came his time to choose, he picked a man who gloried in his ability to alienate. Mr. Sununu's undoubted prowess in running a negative political campaign proved to be a liability in shaping a presidency. For a president has to lead, not just win.

Mr. Sununu's departure has Republican right-wingers snarling because they suspect, we hope correctly, that the next White House chief of staff will be more in the Jim and Howard Baker tradition. For once, Mr. Bush should resist pressure from the right, despite his habitual fear of the conservative wing of his party.

Even if the influence of Vice President Dan Quayle and Housing Secretary Jack Kemp increases, even if the likes of Patrick Buchanan and David Duke siphon off votes in next year's primaries, the president should select a White House chief who can work with Congress to deal with the nation's economic troubles. There is too much pain for too many people who have lost too many jobs to justify continued unproductive combat between the Republican presidency and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

The time for the good guy-bad guy routine in the White House is over. What was great fun for Mr. Sununu as he commandeered Air Force planes, blocked environmental progress and mismanaged issues was no fun for the American people.

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