WASHINGTON — It's getting lonelier at the top for President Bush as his key staffers head out the door.
The latest to clean out his desk is White House press secretary Tony Snow, who had been a commanding presence at the White House briefing podium since taking the job in April 2006.
Snow — who recently suffered a return of colon cancer and has undergone a regimen of chemotherapy — told reporters he had to replenish the family coffers and was leaving because "I ran out of money."
He plans to hit the lecture circuit, probably write his memoirs and help others fight cancer. Snow has displayed admirable courage in dealing publicly with his personal problems.
His broadcast experience as a pundit with Fox News and as an editorial writer for several newspapers helped prepare him for the second toughest job in the White House. He also learned the White House ropes when he was a speechwriter for Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush.
Snow's two predecessors, Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, had their ups and downs in the job as Bush's chief spokesman. Early on, they had to carry the marketing burden in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq and the scandal of the White House outing of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame, as well as countless other crises that go with the turf.
Of course, no one speaks for President Bush who is not in lockstep with him.
Here's the way Snow explained his loyalty to the president:
"I think that anybody who works closely with the president gets a much fuller appreciation of the person in the office."
"So, while I was naturally inclined to like the president, my admiration for him has grown by leaps and bounds," he told reporters.
Snow went on to explain that the public has not seen the real president, who speaks "with passion and in great detail about the job he does and the challenges he faces."
"And you find," he added, "the public caricature of this man is a grotesque disservice to the man himself and the job he does."
Snow said "there's always a level of frustration when you see a man who is bright, who is engaged, who is passionate and who is principled being written off in kind of cartoonish terms. . ."
It's too bad that all of us don't have such worshipful impressions of Bush. Snow has forgotten — or overlooked — Bush's deceptions and his decisions that took the nation to war under so many falsehoods, namely his claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (there were none); Saddam Hussein's threat to the U.S. (there was none) and Saddam's ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network (there were none).
Bush has never apologized for his misleading rhetoric that paved the way for this unnecessary war, the human sacrifice, the misery inflicted on the Iraqis, and the financial burden on Americans.
But that's another story.
Snow is a true believer. He echoed the White House party line so often, including the amazing declaration: "We do not torture."
So the world is not supposed to believe the horrifying photos from the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and even the official Pentagon reports, or the revelations of shackled blindfolded detainees shipped to secret prisons abroad for "enhanced interrogation."
Silence would have been better for Snow for his own credibility.
The president has tapped Snow's able deputy, Dana Perino, as his fourth press secretary. Snow is the latest member of Bush's inner clique to bow out. Some like Attorney general Alberto Gonzales and political strategist Karl Rove won't be missed as much.
Other top aides who have left the fold include counselor Dan Bartlett, budget director Rob Portman and White House counsel Harriet Miers.
Snow said he loved the job and did not regret "a single moment of it," not only to be working with the president but also with the press.
As a showman he was able to deflect tough questions with the lift of an eyebrow, or by expressing mock astonishment that anyone would dare to question the president's motivations.
It was a great game and he played it well. Someday he may ponder whether he was true to his chosen profession of journalism, which upholds the people's right to know what is being done in their name.
(c) 2007 Hearst Newspapers