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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 23:15 GMT
Bush looks to 2004 with shake-up
George Bush and outgoing Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill
There's the door Paul

President George W Bush has been a keen student of President George H W Bush.

He does not want to commit the political sins of his father, the sin of winning the war but losing the election.

George W Bush was able to deflect Democratic criticism that he had failed in his stewardship of the economy, and he led his party to victory in crucial midterm elections.

But turning an eye to the elections of 2004, the shake-up of his economic team was meant to send a message that he was serious about steadying the shaky US economy.

Looking to 2004

President George H W Bush enjoyed approval ratings as high as 90% following the Gulf War.
President Bush and his father
President Bush does not want to follow his father in defeat after his first term

But as the economy sank into recession so did the president's approval ratings.

With the battle cry "it's the economy stupid", Bill Clinton took over the White House for the Democrats.

President George W Bush is still flying high after his party's victories in midterm elections

But he is already turning his attention to his re-election bid in 2004 as Democrats line up to challenge him.

President Bush is said to have been looking for replacements for Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey for months.

White House advisors were already worried that the shaky economy could be Mr Bush's biggest weakness in 2004.

Abrupt departure

Of course, outgoing Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill had also broken a cardinal rule of the Bush White House.

The spin doctors of Washington have been in awe of the White House's "message discipline".
Paul O'Neill
Paul O'Neill was too outspoken for this White House

One has only to listen to the press briefings of the president's spokesman, Ari Fleischer to see this discipline first hand.

President Bush expects his team to stick to the party line, and Mr O'Neill gained unwanted attention for impolitic comments.

As thousands of Enron workers saw their retirement investments evaporate, he said companies come and go, "it's the genius of capitalism".

And Mr O'Neill even contradicted his boss on the subject of steel tariffs.

Certainly the only surprise was the timing of Mr O'Neill's departure, but there was a sense of abruptness about his resignation nonetheless.

In Mr Fleischer's morning briefing with reporters, he was asked, "What size shoe does the president have?"

"What size shoe? I don't understand," a bewildered Mr Fleischer responded.

"Well, there were size 10 and a half footprints on Paul O'Neill's rear end," the reporter said.

Democrats keep up pressure

Wall Street approved of the departure of Mr O'Neill and Mr Lindsey.

Traders reversed a slide in stocks that was touched off by rise in the unemployment rate.

And Mr Bush's own party welcomed the change.

The Republican leader in the Senate, Trent Lott, said, "The White House now has the opportunity to build a new team that will focus on economic growth and creating American jobs."

The Democrats seized on the opportunity to continue their criticism of the White House's handling of the economy.

"Firing its economic team is an overdue admission by the Bush administration that its economic policies have failed," said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Democrat Representative Barney Frank said, "O'Neill's biggest sin was early on with the administration with his candour about the inefficacy of their policy."

Mr Frank criticised Mr Lindsey for failing to work with Congress. He said, "We were getting better reports on Osama bin Laden's movements than on Larry Lindsey's."

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