August 28, 2007
Ever since his "incredible" Capitol Hill testimony in April, Alberto Gonzales' days have clearly been numbered. The only question was how long he would stay. As the top law enforcement officer in the country, his continued presence was bound to have a corrosive effect on morale among Federal lawyers and investigators, but Bush needed him as a shield to deflect pressure, and to demonstrate Bush's leadership resolve at a moment of crisis in Iraq. For the time being, Bush has a bit more leeway, and the fact that not many people pay attention to politics in August made this an opportune time for Attorney General Gonzales to bail out. Yesterday it was disclosed that Gonzales will indeed step down as next month, only two weeks after Karl Rove announced his departure from the White House. It was only a month ago that I had predicted that Alberto Gonzales would hold on to the Attorney General position for another several months at least, taking the heat for President Bush, bt Chief of Staff John Bolten's insistence that all cabinet officials should either resign by September or pledge to stay in office until the end of Bush's term. In today's Washington Post, Ruth Marcus noted,
Gonzales stayed long enough to drain his departure of nearly all its political benefit. His resignation made Donald Rumsfeld's exit look precipitous.
So what does this mean? Does the resignation matter? Will other Bush loyalists join this exodus? What kind of staff will Bush have for his final year in office? Is he preparing to launch some new policy initiatives with fresh "blood," or is he simply aiming to make his January 2009 departure as smooth as possible? My guess is that Bush is focusing almost all of his attention and energy on Iraq, figuring that he can't get anywhere in domestic policy with the Democrats in control of Congress. I doubt that Bush or anyone in his inner circle is sufficiently attuned to reality to draw the obvious lesson that putting such a high premium on personal loyalty seriously undermines the effectiveness of government officials, especially ones like the Attorney General who must live up to an especially high standard of conduct.
Well, at least Sen. Larry Craig didn't rent out a room to a boy pal, the way Rep. Barney Frank did, and at least no money changed hands, as in the 1980 "Abscam" sting operation. Coming on the heels of the disgraced Mark Foley and Ted Haggard, it makes you wonder how big this syndrome of closeted gay Republicans / social conservatives is. Obviously, it doesn't look good at all for the Idaho senator, or indeed for the scandal-plagued Republican Party, but we should at least extend him the benefit of the doubt until the evidence becomes known. Now, however, Craig is recanting on his confession, declaring "I am not gay." See Washington Post. Guilty or innocent, this episode shows once again why it is dangerous for a political party to stake its fortunes on standards of morality that some of its members may not be able to meet.