The Permanence of Paper

Honesty In Government

It's sort of creepily fascinating that even the announcement of the AG's resignation comes with a scattering of little lies.  According to the NYT, Gonzalez calls my president on Friday to resign.  Bush balks a little and tells him to come down to Crawford for lunch on Sunday.  At lunch, Gonzalez gives him the official letter and Bush accepts it.  And yet,

As late as Sunday afternoon, Mr. Gonzales himself was denying through his spokesman that he was quitting. The spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said Sunday that he telephoned the attorney general about the reports of his imminent resignation “and he said it wasn’t true — so I don’t know what more I can say.”

What in the world is one to make of that?  I can understand not wanting to preempt the official announcement Monday morning (although it would worry me if they thought it was still a secret when Gonzalez went to the microphone), so maybe you don't want poor Brian to confirm it.  So make him unavailable.  Go for "no comment."  Why flat out lie?  Is there any purpose being served with it?

No.  It's just that the "reckless disregard" for the truth is so deeply ingrained with these guys that lying comes naturally.  Even when it's pointless.  (Bush did the same thing when he fired Rummy, explicitly denying it after the decision had been made, and then justifying his lie to the press corps a couple of days later in a tone that indicated he was puzzled that anybody would think he should've told the truth about it).

Personally, I think the reason they waited until this week to make the announcement is that the Daily Show is taking the week off.  Froomkin is on vacation.

Decades hence, when the historians look back on the calamity that was 43's administration I'm afraid that it won't be the Iraq war that distinguishes it as particularly remarkable in the history of our young country.   That war is symptom and emblem of the deeper rot. 

The sheer incompetence of the president and his crew still astonishes me.  I can tolerate political differences, priorities that might be different from mine.  But my president's inability to accomplish much of anything, his serial misreading of his own constituency (the Harriet Miers nomination and the collapse of his social security proposals being prime examples), and his insistence on putting his confidence in people who are very clearly out of their depth angers me more than any policy dispute I might have with him.

But alas, the one thing that they have been good at is eroding the balance of powers that is at the heart of American democracy.   To think that only a decade ago, the United States, despite all of our bluster and blundering, our rude manners and pathetic cultural insularity, was still seen around the world as an example of hope and that "beacon of liberty" that speechwriters like to talk about.  Now there are very few countries in which a majority of the people do not see us as doing more harm in the world than good.

Theoretically, I suppose, we might, over time, be able to repair our reputation.  I'm not terribly confident, but if the democratic president to come can bring in a coterie of really smart professional diplomats and cabinet leaders we might be able to restore some confidence.  What I don't think can be repaired is the damage that's been done to the balance of powers.  The unitary executive view of the presidency (exemplified in the liberal use of signing statements), the extreme reliance on executive privilege, the bizarre transformation of the vice-presidency into a powerful office that functions as its own fourth branch of government, and the insistence that civil liberties must always give way in the face of perceived or imagined security threats are likely to be maintained.

Every president has tried to expand their sphere of power and to limit the abilities of Congress and the Supreme Court to rein them in.  None have been as successful as this one.  And since the Supreme Court is now stacked with supporters of the unitary executive, as the various relevant suits make their way up to the high court, the imperial power of the presidency will eventually be upheld.  And it would be naive in the extreme to believe that if Obama, or Clinton, or Edwards or whoever else might rise to the top over the next eight months comes into office with that power that they're going to give it up.  They'll believe that they will never misuse it.  But Bush believes that, too.

That's the saddest part of all.  I actually believe that Bush thinks that everything he does is for the good of the country.  He may be contemptuous of the American people, he may not have any clear understanding of what American democracy is actually about, he may be woefully ignorant of geopolitical realities, but he believes deeply that he is doing the right thing.  In the face of that, why should anyone be bothered by a few lies.



I saw a bumper sticker recently: "Frodo has failed, Bush has the ring". Not far from reality...

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