Something is missing from this editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post. See if you can spot what the something is (emphasis added):
The episode involved a 2004 nighttime visit to the hospital room of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft by Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff. Only the broadest outlines of this visit were previously known: that Mr. Comey, who was acting as attorney general during Mr. Ashcroft’s illness, had refused to recertify the legality of the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program; that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card had tried to do an end-run around Mr. Comey; that Mr. Ashcroft had rebuffed them. …
… That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.
What’s missing? Here’s a hint …
The missing element is not entirely unmentioned in the editorial. But WaPo does give one the impression that this element was just a bit player in the episode.
Likewise, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel blames Gonzales for attempting a end run around Mr. Comey, not to mention the Constitution. Laurie Kellman of the Associated Press reports,
Citing dramatic testimony a day earlier that revealed that Gonzales, then the White House legal counsel, tried to undermine the department he now leads, Hagel demanded the attorney general’s resignation.
“The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question,” Hagel, R-Neb., said in a statement. “Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.”
But later in the same article Kellman writes,
President Bush continued to stand by his longtime friend and adviser. Asked about Hagel’s comment on Gonzales’ moral authority, press secretary Tony Snow replied: “We disagree, and the president supports the attorney general.”
Your darn tootin’ he is. As long as he stays in his job, Gonzo will continue to disgrace himself in front of Congress and the nation. And he will do it cheerfully. He’ll do whatever it takes to protect the Invisible Man.
Does anyone in Washington, including Chuck Hagel, really believe Gonzales was not acting under orders? That the night visit to John Ashcroft’s hospital room was entirely his idea? Or Andy Card’s? Please. Let’s see how this sounds, Chuck —
- The American people deserve
Now, is that so hard?
But President Bush is never the one in charge when anything bad happens, you know. He’s only in charge when there’s some glory in it. Or, at least, he is credited with being in charge. For example, on September 11, after finally breaking himself away from The Pet Goat, the President and his entourage boarded Air Force One to go … somewhere. As the crisis unfolded, and NORAD and the airlines and the FAA flapped about like headless chickens, and as mid-level managers made decisions because no one else was, Air Force One flew in circles over Florida while the President and the Vice President argued by phone over where the bleeping plane should land.
But because the entire nation managed not to dissolve into a puddle that day, President Bush coasted through the next four years wearing the mantle of Glorious Leader. He wore it until Katrina blew it off him. He thinks he’s still wearing it, I suspect.
This pattern continues. When he can appear before a backdrop of cheering men and women in uniform, he is the resolute and all-powerful Commander in Chief. Hard choices to make in Iraq? Um, go talk to the generals on the ground about that.
Although there are exceptions, too much of the “mainstream media” and politicians in Washington — including Democrats — are pointing fingers at Alberto Gonzales. But the truth of the matter is that’s Gonzo’s job. He’s there to deflect the blame, to play the fool, to stonewall — whatever it takes to keep those fingers from pointing at Bush.
Loyalty has always been the alpha and omega of George W. Bush’s presidency. But all the forms of allegiance that have bound together his administration — political, ideological and personal — are being shredded, leaving only blind loyalty. Bush has surrounded himself with loyalists, who fervently pledged their fealty, enforced the loyalty of others and sought to make loyal converts. Now Bush’s long downfall is descending into a series of revenge tragedies in which the characters are helpless against the furies of their misplaced loyalties and betrayals. The stage is being strewn with hacked corpses — on Monday, former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty; imminently, World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz; tomorrow, whoever remains trapped on the ghost ship of state. As the individual tragedies unfold, Bush’s royal robes unravel.
I think the boy king has been buck naked for some time, but let’s go on …
Loyalty to Bush is the ultimate royal principle of the imperial presidency. The ruler must be unquestioned and those around him unquestioning. Allegiance to Bush’s idea of himself as the “war president,” “the decider” and “the commander guy” is paramount. But the notion that the ruler is loyal to those loyal to him is no longer necessarily true. While he must be beheld as the absolute incarnation of kingly virtue, his sense of obligation to those paying homage has become perilously relative.
Those who feel compelled to tell the truth rather than stick to the cover story are cast in the dust, like McNulty. Those Bush defends as an extension of his authority but who become too expensive become expendable, like Wolfowitz. And those who exist solely as Bush’s creations and whose survival is crucial to his own are shielded, like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
In other words, as long as the nation is yakking about what Alberto Gonzales did, and not about what Bush did, Gonzo’s got a job.
Blumenthal suggests that this episode has a lot to do with why John Ashcroft didn’t stay in the Attorney General position after Bush’s “re-election,” leaving the position open to be filled by the purest of Bush flunkies. I suspect he’s right about that.
For a similar perspective, check out what Howard Fineman said on Tuesday night’s “Coundtown..” If you want to skip the background, Howard’s bit starts at about about 3:50.
Bush is famous for his “loyalty,” but if you pay close attention, you see that Bush is “loyal” only as far as it suits him. When it comes to saving his own political hide, just about everyone (but him) is expendable. But at the rate he’s going, Bush is going to run out of flunkies before there’s a shortage of buses to throw them under.