- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

It’s not just former Vice President Dick Cheney.

As former President George W. Bush offered his first public - though veiled - criticisms of his successor’s administration last week, a growing number of his senior aides and advisers are also speaking up to defend Mr. Bush’s record and take on the Obama White House.

A few of them are marrying their insider’s policy knowledge with modern technology to critique, in detail, President Obama’s economic program.

The day Mr. Obama left for the Middle East earlier this month, former Bush official Tony Fratto launched a broadside against the White House claim that it had “created or saved” 150,000 jobs with economic-stimulus money.

“What causes the jaw to drop is not just the breathtaking deception of the claim, but the gullibility of the Washington press corps to continue reporting it,” Mr. Fratto, an economist who served in the Treasury Department and the Bush White House press office, wrote on a blog run by CNBC, where he is now a paid contributor.

When Mr. Obama returned from his trip, the jobs “created or saved” claim was front and center. The White House message of the day - that the stimulus would “create or save” 600,000 more jobs in the next 100 days - ran into a public relations buzz saw.

Republican lawmakers and their message machines ridiculed the White House claim, pointing to Mr. Fratto and to other less-partisan economists. Economic adviser Jared Bernstein was peppered with questions at a White House briefing. Reporters noted that even the Bureau of Labor Statistics found the White House’s assertion hard to verify.

“Tony was the first guy to really nail that, and that took on a life of its own,” said Jim Rickards, a financial-security business executive with contacts inside the Washington political establishment.

Mr. Bush did not mention President Obama by name in a speech he gave Wednesday evening in Erie, Pa., but strongly defended counterterrorism and economic policies used by his administration that have been condemned and abandoned by Mr. Obama’s team.

“I told you I’m not going to criticize my successor,” he said at one point. “I’ll just tell you that there are people [held at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba] that will kill American people at a drop of a hat, and I don’t believe that - persuasion is going to work. Therapy isn’t going to cause terrorists to change their mind.”

Former Bush political adviser Karl Rove and former State Department nonproliferation chief John R. Bolton wasted no time in offering pointed criticisms of the new team soon after Mr. Obama took office. Others found their voices after Mr. Obama’s policies became clear.

Early last week, before the president’s forceful statement Saturday calling on the Iranian government to stop suppressing its people, several former Bush officials criticized Mr. Obama’s response to the postelection protests as too timid.

Mr. Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, told The Washington Times’ new national radio program last week that he is “concerned about the continuing attacks” by the Obama administration against his son and his administration.

“I don’t like the way the administration keeps making unfavorable references to the 43rd president, but I will tell you this: History has a way of sorting these things out,” Mr. Bush said in an interview with “America’s Morning News,” The Times’ morning-drive radio show that debuted Monday.

The apparent impact of Mr. Fratto’s criticism is an example of how technology can be a double-edged sword for the Obama administration.

This White House may be the first to come into office fully conversant with all the tools of Web 2.0, but it’s also the first to face critics from the previous administration who can start up a blog and begin dissecting the new team’s policies piece by piece, uninhibited by word limits, space constraints or the need to find a publisher.

And that is exactly what Keith Hennessey has done.

Mr. Hennessey, director of Mr. Bush’s National Economic Council and thus at least the titular equivalent of top Obama adviser Lawrence H. Summers, has yet to begin a job search in earnest since leaving government in January. The 40-year-old bachelor has devoted much of his time to blog posts that take apart Mr. Obama’s economic positions and policy decisions.

“I know that there are senior economic policymakers who are reading what I’m doing quite carefully. Beyond that, I think I’ll just say no comment,” Mr. Hennessey said when asked whether he had heard from Obama officials about his critiques.

Mr. Summers, who is arguably the most influential economic adviser in the government at the moment, “is aware of the blog and has read it occasionally,” said NEC spokesman Matthew Vogel.

Mr. Hennessey, who worked on the auto-industry bailouts under Mr. Bush, wrote 5,221 words about the General Motors Corp. bankruptcy and some of the decisions made by the Obama administration.

When Obama adviser Austin Goolsbee said on a Sunday talk show recently that the Bush administration had “kicked the can down the road” on dealing with the automakers’ woes, Mr. Hennessey responded on his blog by describing a private meeting between Bush and Obama officials during the transition.

He said the Bush administration tried to forge an agreement on a car czar who would evaluate companies seeking taxpayer funds and work with them to achieve viability, but that the Obama team “did not take up our proposal, nor did they suggest any modifications.”

Mr. Goolsbee, Mr. Hennessey added, “was not in this meeting.”

Both Mr. Hennessey and Mr. Fratto have been aided by mentions in mainstream media by high-profile former Bush officials, such as Mr. Rove and speechwriter William McGurn. Both men have regular columns in the Wall Street Journal and have used the space to promote the work of their former colleagues.

The two men are “providing some intellectual base for conservatives who are questioning the administration,” said Taylor Griffin, a former Treasury communications official now in the private sector. “Within Washington circles, they’re providing a basis for opposition to some of this stuff.”

Mr. Cheney has been the most visible former Bush official to criticize the Obama administration, by waging a public war of words over the president’s decision to undo some of Mr. Bush’s counterterrorism policies.

Mr. Bush’s final press secretary, Dana Perino, has publicly criticized Mr. Goolsbee’s comments on the automaker bailout.

The White House chose not to comment on the effect of criticism from former Bush administration officials.

Mr. Hennessey said he does not view himself as leading a charge against the current president.

“I really don’t think of it from the perspective of one administration versus another,” he said. “I take it area by area. In some areas, I think [Mr. Obama] is doing an OK job. In some areas, I think it’s really dangerous, dangerous for the U.S. economy.”

Mr. Fratto, meanwhile, said he is enjoying the opportunity to express his own opinions, “as opposed to speaking for someone else, which is what I’ve done for my whole career. I was always speaking for someone else.”

“I have my own views on policy, and a lot of things I express were things I was given the opportunity to express in policy meetings at the White House, sitting around the Roosevelt Room table. That was great, but … occasionally I had a different view. Now I can just express my views,” he said.

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