Friday, August 3, 2007

What's the Matter With Bush?

Thomas Frank, in his 2004 book "What's the Matter With Kansas?" famously asked why so many people in middle America vote against their own self interests.

Perhaps it's time to ask, "What's the matter with Bush?" For some time now he's shown a puzzling tendency to do things that work against his own best interests.

Exhibit A would have to be his continued support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales's troubles have built to the point where he's now not just an embarrassment to the White House, but a genuine obstruction to getting things accomplished. Most recently, debate on Congress's revision of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bogged down over a clause that would have given the Attorney General the ability to determine whether surveillance properly targets people overseas, and not in the U.S. The White House wants Gonzales to have this authority, but as Sen. Charles Schumer put it, "nobody believes he has any independence." (Most Democrats favor having the FISA court make the determination instead.)

Another good example is the puzzling decision to fire massively unpopular Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld after the 2006 elections. Firing him in October, instead, could have tilted some races in the Republicans' favor, but Bush held on to him until there was no political capital to be gained from doing otherwise.

There was a time when most of us would have assumed that there was some hidden political logic to Bush hanging on to Gonzales -- some clever scheme hatched by Karl Rove. But it apparently turns out these guys aren't political geniuses; they just got lucky a few times.

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