Gonzalez in the crosshairs
When the Democrats won control of Congress last fall, the big fear was what kinds of mischief the new committee chairmen would wreak. We have since learned that the Democrats are determined to pull the financial rug out from under our troops in Iraq, and in the past week it has become clear that they are gunning for Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. If you ask me, the firing of eight U.S. attorneys late last year (see Mar. 9) was disturbing in its implications, but the flap over it has been somewhat overblown. Federal prosecutors serve at the president's pleasure, and Bill Clinton was notorious for mass firings for purely partisan reasons. So even though the Bush administration was within its rights to dismiss the eight former prosecutors, it left the impression that it was trying to intimidate the others into "playing ball," i.e., not prosecuting Republicans suspected of corruption. The Washington Post has a special page full of links to recent stories related to this case.
Two of the eight former prosecutors, David Iglesias and John McKay, appeared on the Sunday talk shows yesterday, and left no question that politics was behind their dismissal. It raises the distinct possibility that the justice system is being politicized, which would erode one of the basic pillars of our democratic system. This of course has provided ammunition to the Democrats who are now seeking to subpoena Karl Rove about the White House role in this matter. This situation is ridiculous, and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are equally to blame. The White House knew that it would face a hostile Congress in January, so why in the world did it take such a provocative action?
In today's Washington Post, Robert Novak puts the Gonazlez controversy in broader perspective, noting the growing opinion among Republicans that the White House is simply not being managed competently. He renders an extraordinarily blunt assessment of the situation:
In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress -- not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.
In a parliamentary system, a leader like Bush would have been replaced long ago. (Stay tuned for a tearful farewell by Tony Blair.) In our fixed-cycle presidential system, in contrast, we often get presidents who become lame ducks a year or more ahead of schedule. Given the precedents of Michael Brown (who was supposedly doing a "heckuva job" after Hurricane Katrina) and Don Rumsfeld (whose dismissal was already being set in motion before the election, contrary to what was being said in the White House), the words of support from President Bush for Gonzalez do not carry much weight.