Karen Hughes's Task Was Impossible

A longtime Bush loyalist returns to Texas after an uphill effort to boost the images of both the president and the country.

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Karen Hughes, nearly the last of the fierce Bush loyalists, is going home to Austin for a second time. Give her credit for trying to perform two nearly impossible tasks.

When Bush was elected by the Supreme Court in 2000, Hughes followed him to Washington as his alter ego. She often wrote or polished the words in the president's mouth. It was the same job she had done for Bush when he was governor.

Of course, Bush didn't always read or follow Hughes's script. We learned quickly that the president could butcher ad lib lines and even stumble with a prepared text.

Hughes left the inner circle in the White House after she said her son missed his young friends and school in Texas. So she and her husband packed up their belongings for what turned out to be a short return.

Hughes came back to Washington in the State Department with the awesome mission of lifting America's image around the world, especially in predominantly Muslim countries.

It would take a miracle worker to perform this latter task in an administration that has thumbed its nose at erstwhile friends in western Europe and alienated many former allies in the Arab world and the Far East as well. Bush's "bring 'em on" battle cry against insurgents in Iraq was met with disbelief at home as well as abroad.

With that hostile environment as a backdrop, Hughes traveled far and wide to spread the word that the United States was right with democracy and Bush was really a decent fellow.

Somehow that did not sell on the streets of Istanbul or elsewhere. Recent polls show that America's image has fallen precipitously during Bush's tenure. The response from Hughes to those sagging numbers amounted to "You can't blame a gal for trying."

So the former television reporter from Fort Worth is going home a second time. She will doubtless make a nice income from honorariums for speeches while remaining a consultant with Condoleezza Rice's department until Bush leaves office.

She follows Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, and Dan Bartlett back to the private sector. It is not just liberals or Democrats who are not shedding a tear over their departures.