Incompetent is the word that best describes the entire Bush presidency. I have never thought him to be a bad man, just completely unqualified to be President. Not surprisingly, then, he surrounded himself with similarly unqualified people and the result has been one disaster after another.
Republican leaders in Congress, who asked not to be quoted by name, predicted early last week that Gonzales would fall because the Justice Department botched the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. By week's end, they stipulated that the president would not sack his longtime aide and that Gonzales would leave only on his own initiative. But there was still an ominous lack of congressional support for the attorney general.
"Gonzales never has developed a base of support for himself up here," a House Republican leader told me. But this is less a Gonzales problem than a Bush problem. With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, George W. Bush is alone. 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.
Republicans in Congress do not trust their president to protect them. That alone is sufficient reason to withhold statements of support for Gonzales, because such a gesture could be quickly followed by his resignation under pressure. Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.), the highly regarded young chairman of the House Republican Conference, praised Donald Rumsfeld in November only to see him sacked shortly thereafter.
But not many Republican lawmakers would speak up for Gonzales even if they were sure Bush would stick with him. He is the least popular Cabinet member on Capitol Hill, even more disliked than Rumsfeld was. The word most often used by Republicans to describe the management of the Justice Department under Gonzales is "incompetent."
The question that pops up continually, though, is why did we elect him? I think in the first election we elected a Bush, believing that the son would be similar to the father. I did not agree with the politics of Bush 1 but he came from the mainstream Republican establishment and had a lifetime of distinquished public service. How far could the apple fall from the tree. Pretty far, apparently.
We elected him to a second term because 9/11 happened and our heightened fear was met and exploited by the cynical machinations of the Rove political machine. (And we had an uninspiring Democratic opponent.) Unfortunately, the damage being done to the country was already well underway by the second election. And now it is showing up in every aspect of American life that the President has touched. Incompetence is very dangerous. Even Republicans can see that now.