The Oval Office Bunker
The disconnect that is destroying what's left of the Bush presidency was clear in an image from the Oval Office this week. President Bush was sitting warily in his chair, pursing his lips as if he had just eaten a bad radish, as a reporter asked about the performance of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in recent congressional testimony concerning the firing of U.S. attorneys.And of course it's not just Gonzo - it's the issue that threatens the Republican tribe with minority status for years to come, Iraq.
Prominent Republicans had criticized Gonzales's testimony as evasive and inadequate. But Bush responded blandly that his attorney general had given "a very candid assessment and answered every question he could possibly answer . . . in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job."
Something's got to give. That's the sense around Washington this week as the news from Baghdad worsens and the president defiantly continues an Iraq policy that many military leaders question. Unfortunately, what's giving way right now is the national interest. Bush is hunkered down with his troop surge strategy, and the military is expected to pay the price. A grim example of that human cost was Monday's deaths of nine U.S. soldiers from car bombs that hit one of the vulnerable forward operating bases that are a key part of the surge strategy.And yes the Republican tribe is taking note and even a tight knit tribe will evntually turn on a leader who is a threat to the tribe.
Retired Marine Gen. John Sheehan summed up the military's skepticism in explaining why he turned down White House feelers to become "war czar" for Iraq and Afghanistan: "The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going."
I spoke with a half-dozen prominent GOP operatives this past week, most of them high-level officials in the Reagan and Bush I and Bush II administrations, and I heard the same devastating critique: This White House is isolated and ineffective; the country has stopped listening to President Bush, just as it once tuned out the hapless Jimmy Carter; the president's misplaced sense of personal loyalty is hurting his party and the nation.And there is no indication the White House is going to change.
"This is the most incompetent White House I've seen since I came to Washington," said one GOP senator. "The White House legislative liaison team is incompetent, pitiful, embarrassing. My colleagues can't even tell you who the White House Senate liaison is. There is rank incompetence throughout the government. It's the weakest Cabinet I've seen." And remember, this is a Republican talking.
A prominent conservative complains: "With this White House, there is loyalty not to an idea, but to a person. When Republicans talked about someone in the Reagan administration being 'loyal,' they didn't mean to Ronald Reagan but to the conservative movement." Bush's stubborn defense of Gonzales offends these Republicans, who see the president defiantly clinging to an official who has lost public confidence, just as he did for too long with former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
When a presidency is as severely damaged as this one, the normal drill is to empower a strong and politically adept White House chief of staff to make the necessary changes. That's what the Reagan administration did, bringing in former senator Howard Baker and then political operative Ken Duberstein to repair the damage of the Iran-contra scandal. That's what Bill Clinton did in appointing John Podesta to manage the White House after the Monica Lewinsky debacle.What we already see is not so much the country beginning to crack but the republican tribe itself. By September or October you will see a mad rush of Republican tribal warriors distancing themselves from Bush and his policies. That's the real time line in Iraq not the one cooked up by the Democrats.
The current White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, needs to mount a similar salvage mission, argue several prominent Republicans. They question whether he's politically adept enough. But most of all, they question whether Bolten or anyone else can break through Bush's tight, tough shell and tell him the truth. What's starting to crack isn't the obdurate Bush, but the country.
Al Franken predicted a few months ago that no one from the Bush administration would be at the 2008 Republican convention. I think he may have been right.
Lambert at Corrente makes an excellent point, even as the Republicans turn on Bush they are doing it for all the wrong reasons.
So, great, the oldtimers are appalled that the President [sic] who they groomed, funded, lied for, stole elections for, and enabled all the way over the cliff turns out to believe in Fuhrerprinzip, along with His thirty-percent of bitter-enders who can’t undrink the KoolAid and form his only remaining base of support. My goodness, who could have seen that one coming?The tribe of Republicans is made up of several sub tribes; Bush cultists, rank and file Republicans and the "movement conservatives". They always had conflicting agendas and now the tenuous bonds that held them together are failing.
But even better! Check that quote again for the word “loyalty”:
Not loyalty to the country.
Not loyalty to the Constitution.
Not even loyalty to a Party, for heaven’s sake.
Loyalty to the conservative movement. The “movement”—how I wish I could get the phrase “bowel movement” out of my mind—that was funded back in the 70s by winger billionaires who are working to roll the country back to the ’90s—the 1390s, when church and state were the same. The same movement whose crackpot ideologies got us into Iraq. The same movement that’s infesting the government with Christianists who want to wreck and destroy it. The same movement that ran the CPA in Iraq with backpacks of cash and managed to “lose” $8.6 billion dollars. The same movement that bought us John “Coathanger” Roberts. The same movement that stole Florida 2000. The same movement that brought us signing statements, and torture, and prison camps, the destruction of the Geneva Convention, massive warrantless surveillance, the theory of the unitary executive, and the destruction of the Constitution. The same movement that… Well, you get the idea.
Every bad idea and vicious, rancid policy for a generation can be traced back to these guys and their so-called “loyalty” to their precious movement.
And that’s what they say they’re loyal to. That’s what they put first before everything else.
These guys came in, and they trashed the country. And it isn’t their country.