Lance the boil, Mr. President. So says, in effect, a knowledgeable U.S. senator who is usually friendly to the Bush administration.
The boil is at the U.S. Department of Justice. The department has become painfully dysfunctional.
One of the hardest things for a good leader to do is to relieve from a position of power somebody who is not only a decent person but a personal friend, somebody who has done nothing unethical, but who just isn’t up to the task. Unfortunately, that is what needs to be done in the case of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The AG’s no better than fair-to-middling performance on other issues has now been overshadowed by his execrable performance in the matter of the eight U.S. attorneys recently replaced, and by his incredibly weak performance (claiming a truly pathetic memory of even the most objectively important meetings and conversations) in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday.
The problem, says the senator to whom I spoke (who asked to remain nameless, but allowed some of the comments to be quoted as long as his name wasn’t used), is not that Gonzales is ill intentioned or unintelligent, but that he just didn’t have the requisite background for the job in the first place.
“He was asked to do something he didn’t know anything about. He had never been in the Department of Justice and never had a real history in dealing with Department of Justice issues and therefore was unable to anticipate the minefields that are always out there. The attorney general’s job is incredibly difficult. Every AG has been constantly attacked and placed under stress.”
In such a “very difficult job,” said the senator, a long familiarity with the challenges involved is essential.
That inexperience, suggested the senator, led directly to the now-acknowledged foul-ups in the case of the U.S. attorneys: “The U.S. Attorney thing would have been avoided if he had served in the department, perhaps as a U.S. Attorney or Assistant U.S. Attorney. I think he would have been less likely to have underestimated the problems he was dealing with and the kind of push-backs that occur.”
The senator stopped just short of a definite call for Gonzales to step aside, but his considerations were highly practical.
First, he that if Gonzales stays in office while in a state of weakness, there is this to consider: “One of the problems it would appear he will have is attracting some top-flight people to run the department with not many months left. That’s a tough call.”
Speaking of President George W. Bush’s options, the senator said: “If he could confirm somebody good, and get that person confirmed without too much delay, who really knew the Department of Justice and who could help avoid some of these minefields, that might be better.”
In other words, Bush should search for a replacement of demonstrable competence that could run the highly difficult gamut of the Senate Judiciary Committee — and should replace Gonzales only if he can find such a person. The idea is not to replace Gonzales for the sake of replacing him, but to do so in order to set high standards, to be seen as fixing a weak spot, in such a way that the Democrats would look petty (which they certainly are) if they try to block the nominee.
The senator’s corollary was that if confirmation of such a person seems too dicey, Gonzales probably ought to stay despite the other considerations.
LEAVING THE SENATOR’S COMMENTS for now, it’s worth noting that the experience of Supreme Court nominations John Roberts and Samuel Alito shows that superior qualifications and intellect are very difficult, politically, to oppose. Surely there are other Robertses and Alitos out there.
Two names I’ve been floating quite obviously meet the senator’s requirements (not that I ran the names by the senator; this is just applying his logic to the situation at hand) and I would add another that comes close to meeting those requirements while adding other attractive qualifications. The first two are, first, former Deputy AG Larry Thompson (for Bush until 2003), also a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia under Ronald Reagan, and second, current Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a former federal appeals court judge and a legendary former federal prosecutor and assistant AG.
Thompson is now a senior vice president of Pepsico. His reputation is impeccable, and he would be difficult to block.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online