A contrast in leadership styles

A CONTRAST IN LEADERSHIP STYLES…. I’ve been a little surprised by the analyses drawing parallels between Ford’s presidency and that of George W. Bush. Other than taking office under dubious circumstances, they don’t seem particularly similar.

And yet, plenty of news items have been published like this one, from Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey, noting the “striking parallels between two administrations,” and considering Ford’s “surprising influence” on Bush. Both Ford and Bush, the argument goes, approached their leadership roles in similar ways.

To be sure, Bush has surrounded himself with a throng of Ford-era staffers. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Scowcroft, Baker, O’Neill, Greenspan, Hadley … the names all sound rather familiar. The Washington Post’s Peter Baker noted today, “When George W. Bush arrived at the Oval Office … it felt as if he were shooting a remake of the Ford White House.”

But the similarities seem to end there, particularly with regards to leadership styles. Consider this LA Times piece about how Ford approached controversial policy discussions.

In seeking answers to problems, Ford — a veteran of more than two decades of debate in the House of Representatives — relished the give-and-take of open and sometimes heated debate. He would force the strong egos that surrounded him to make their case in person during lengthy White House sessions, where he would constantly question the most minute details. […]

Said L. William Seidman, a top Ford economic advisor, “I worked for three or four presidents, and I think more than any other president, [Ford] was determined that all views be presented to him before he made a decision.”

It’s a helpful contrast. According to Bush aides, “Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty.” I’m also reminded of a Time interview with a “youngish” White House aide, described as a Bush favorite, who said, “The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me. Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, ‘All right. I understand. Good job.’ He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom.”

Ford and Bush had similar leadership styles? I don’t see it.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.