Wednesday, August 29, 2007

With Friends Like These...

The long-expected resignation of Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General has led to the expected flurry of news analysis and windy pontification on the part of our vast herd of feral talking heads. I, of course, have my own ideas on the underlying meaning of Mr Gonzalez' fall.

Many political observers have noted that Mr Gonzalez seemed to be out of his depth as Attorney General, and have commented that his primary qualification for the position appeared to be his long friendship with and support of Mr Bush. I think this illustrates the real problem.

The presidency is a hard and lonely job, and presidents don't have many friends. Tom Clancy noted this in one of his novels in which accidental president Jack Ryan's political adviser told him that, as president, he'd find that 40% of the people would hate him no matter what he did and 40% would love him no matter what he did...his job was to connect with the 20% that hadn't made up their minds yet. It's understandable for a president to want to surround himself (herself?) with advisers with whom they are comfortable, politically, philosophically, and personally. But there's a problem with that.

Presidents don't need friends at the senior level of their administrations. They need public servants who, while they understand and support the president's general agenda, are more focused on the good of the nation than their relationship with the leader. The emperor's friends and courtiers didn't tell him that he had no clothes, and the president's friends aren't going to tell him the unpleasant news, or drag him back from the brink when he's getting ready to do something stupid. A strong Attorney General, focused on his (or her) role as the chief law enforcement officer of the nation, would never have let Mr Bush get mired in a useless legal and political morass like the ill-considered mass firing of U.S. Attorneys, or the warrantless wiretap fiasco.

When the founders of our nation sat down to write the Constitution, they had just finished fighting a bitter war to escape the control of a distant king. They didn't want to create a political system that would just substitute one king for another, and so they created an elegant, if messy, system of checks and balances in government. They realized that we, being human, needed an alpha wolf to be the leader...but they also realized the dangers inherent in making the wolf too alpha, and so they created three co-equal branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial, and granted each one specific powers that would prevent any one of them from gaining too much abusable power. It guaranteed tension within the government, but it also guaranteed a system that would be more likely to prevent the development of a dictatorship...or a new king.

Mr Bush believes in the need for a more powerful executive with sweeping powers he believes are necessary to defend the nation in the so-called (and sadly mislabeled) War on Terror. Instead of the steady and complicated task of explaining the threat and seeking the support of the legislative and judicial branches, he's tried to amass more power to himself in the interest of being able to take what he views as strong and decisive action.

Well, we can see how that turned out.

Instead of a strong Attorney General who would help the president work within the law to meet the threat, Mr Bush relied on a yes-man who pushed his agenda unquestioningly, without asking the hard questions and giving the unwanted, but necessary hard counsel. Instead of working with the Congress to change the laws if necessary while protecting our freedoms, Mr Bush sought to bypass the people's elected representatives and used his political majority to ram through his policies...with predictable results in the last election. And instead of working with the Congress to pass the legislation the nation needs, both Mr Bush and the Congress complain about judges who "legislate from the bench" ... not seeming to realize that judges occasionally have to step in when the legislators can't or won't legislate from the legislature.

And so, after years of bloviation and political posturing, we still have no comprehensive reform of our immigration laws. We're fighting a global war against an implacable enemy with a bickering legislature tired of being sidelined by an imperial president, both of them frequently at odds with a judicial system upon which we rely to keep them toeing the line of the Constitution.

2008 will be an interesting election year. From my perspective, none of the front-runners for the presidency are real presidential material, and I don't see many people in Congress who impress me very much. Could I do better? Don't know. But I like to think that, by at least listening to the rest of the government, and to trusted advisers willing to tell me that I had no clothes, I'd at least do better than the current crop of ideology-focused bozos.

With over 300 million people in this country, you'd think we could do better.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



noisms said...

International law is my 'thing', I suppose, and I've seen some copies of the internal memos that Gonzalez wrote regarding the bypassing of the Geneva conventions and the additional protocols. The casual way in which he dismissed those documents was really quite chilling, and I'm very happy that he's gone.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

It's just a shame this administration couldn't have crumbled years ago. My problem with everything is that as the next election approaches, there's not a candidate that I feel any confidence in.

I saw a t-shirt that said None Of The Above in 2008 and I found I agreed with that more than anything.

John said...

Joe Scarborough's book "Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day" is an interesting read on the party pressure and corruption that a freshman congressman faces and how difficult the parties make it for somebody that wants to do the right thing.
This administration's cabinet and Congress ('til last election!) went far beyond what was protocol. If the Dems take a revenge attitude as their ranks increase, we could be in for quite the swing of the proverbial pendulum!
Politics: from poly--meaning many and tics--little blood suckers!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Can the 'none of the above' candidate win this year?