Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Gonzales gaffe

In my last post (see below or click here), I suggested that Alberto Gonzales may be a fool... or stupid... or a partisan hack... or a Bush crony...

Or, more likely, all of the above.

To be fair, I've given him some slack for being such a hack, and he's certainly more crony than phony, both a fool and a tool -- but how to explain this gaffe, truly one of the stupidest things ever uttered by such a high-ranking official?

Okay, it's easy to write this off as a one-off gaffe, but isn't there more to it? Doesn't it reflect the Bush Administration's utter desperation to find any excuse it can for its illegal domestic eavesdropping program? It doesn't have the law on its side, but defending the indefensible is a difficult task. So what to do?

Well, pull a Rove. Attack the other side, the Democrats, for being soft on terrorism, for having a pre-9/11 mindset. Forget the details of the eavesdropping program. Defend it by spinning it, by addressing the larger, vaguer issue of terrorism. Instead of arguing the merits of the program, the program becomes a stand-in for the war on terror itself. And so it becomes: If you object to the eavesdropping program, you object to the war on terror -- worse, you're against "us". The Bush Administration is good at this. It did it after 9/11 and it's what got Bush re-elected in '04.

But this isn't really working anymore. There's too much doubt. Sure, Americans are more or less split 50/50 on the program, but that's only because the Bush Administration has done such a good job spinning it -- because Americans don't want to appear to be soft on terrorism, a seemingly more immediate threat, especially when magnified for political purposes, than the loss of civil liberties, which many simply take for granted.

But Bush doesn't have the sort of command he had in the aftermath of 9/11. Hence the desperation. Hence Gonzales's gaffe. The Bush Administration is looking for any excuse it can find, any excuse it can make up... And so we get this: Washington and Lincoln did it, and they were the greatest Americans ever. But, no, they didn't do it, not like this, and it's unfair to defend present practices through historical comparison. Washington also owned slaves. Does that mean Bush should open up his own plantation?

Yes, it was a gaffe -- a pretty bad one. It may show Gonzales to be a fool, but, at another level entirely, it reflects Bush's utter weakness, a failed presidency gone horribly awry.

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