Friday, March 16, 2007

Rich Lowery and Political Incompetence

Rich Lowery’s column today points up one of the reasons that conservatives have produced little in spite of their six years in power. Some of their “opinion leaders” throw people on their side under the bus for even small mistakes.

Lowery does this in his column A Conflagration of Bush Loyalists.

Lowery claims that both Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers are incompetents chosen only because they were Bush friends.

If Gonzales goes, it will begin to bring to a calamitous close a style of governing that hasn’t served the Bush administration well. Bush has overrelied on a team of loyalists--often from Texas--who weren’t always the best or the brightest. This hardly accounts for all his problems --Iraq was mishandled by heavyweights like former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld--but it has lent added credibility to charges of incompetence.

The U.S. attorneys flap represents the perfect conflagration of Bush loyalists. It began with the asinine suggestion of then-White House counsel Harriet Miers that Bush begin his second term by sacking all 93 U.S. attorneys. Yes, President Clinton fired all the U.S. attorneys when he took office, but they were all appointees of another president.

Miers is a Bush friend from Texas who was removed as White House counsel as soon as Democrats took control of Congress, because the White House realized it needed better lawyering. Never mind that Bush had tried to elevate her all the way to the Supreme Court. When administration officials finger Miers for her role in the U.S. attorneys controversy, you can almost hear the unstated addendum, “And we all know she really didn’t know what she was doing.”

Then it was over to Gonzales, another Bush friend from Texas. As NRO's Andy McCarthy notes, there was one person in the country who thought Gonzales should become attorney general, and he was George Bush.

Notice the difference in Lowery’s assessment of Donald Rumsfeld vs. his assessment of Gonzales and Miers. Rumsfeld is a “heavyweight” who happened to mishandle things. Gonzales and Miers are incompetents.

For Lowery, what points to Gonzales’ incompetence?

Gonzales’s defense of his misleading statements that the Justice Department didn’t coordinate on the firings with the White House is that he didn’t know his chief of staff had done exactly that for more than a year. Ordinarily, it would be laughable for an attorney general to claim he was out of the loop on such a sensitive question, but with Gonzales, it has a certain disturbing plausibility.

And why doesn't Lowery think Donald Rumsfeld is incompetent? The problems at Walter Reed hospital didn’t spring full blown like Athena from Zeus’ head moments after Don Rumsfeld’s resignation. Does the fact that Rumsfeld didn’t identify and correct that sensitive situation on his watch show his incompetence? Not to mention Abu Ghraib. [for my assessment of Rumsfeld see here and here]

Imagine applying Lowery's logic to Pres. Reagan’s administration? Does Lowery think Reagan was incompetent because he didn’t know all that his staff was involved in--especially on “sensitive” questions? (Interesting that what is and is not a sensitive question is usually defined best in 20/20 hindsight.)

Actually, Lowery's measuring stick was applied to Ronald Reagan--by the Democrats. At the time National Review stuck up for Reagan's intelligence and competence. And the American people rightly overlooked lesser mistakes and put Reagan on the pedestal of great presidential leaders--which is where he belongs.

Lowery’s answer to mistakes by those in office is “swift firings”.

If Gonzales is forced out, it will be the departure of a characteristic Bush loyalist just as Bush’s approach to management has begun to change. At the beginning of the year, he jettisoned his “my team, right or wrong” approach to Iraq, removing his defense secretary and generals and forging a new strategy. The Walter Reed debacle was met with a round of swift firings rather than wagon-circling. Maybe it’s a new day.

If it is a new day, it’s one that anyone with any political sense will rue. Look at the Democrats. They have a “my team right or wrong” approach. Rep. William Jefferson, caught with bribery cash in his freezer, is quietly being mainstreamed again. And Howard Dean, of scream fame, is head of their national committee. Hasn’t hurt the Demos.

In politics, the best way to deal with incompetence is subtly and quietly. If he’s your guy, even if you get rid of him, you are deemed at fault for making the choice in the first place. That’s exactly the line Lowery takes in this column.

Bush placed such trust in Miers and Gonzales because they passed his “good man” or “good woman” test. He got to know them and concluded they had good hearts. This might be true, but it says nothing about their ability to carry out high governmental functions.

If Pres. Bush gets rid of Gonzales, it will underline how incompetent Bush is for having picked Gonzalez in the first place. It will also underline how incompetent Lowery and National Review were for backing Bush--two elections in a row!

What has happened to the common sense and political competence of the good folks at National Review? They're the ones who are beginning to seem politically incompetent. "One strike and you're out" is not wise policy--politically or personally.

No comments: