Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzo Go-Go

Gonzalez is out, at long last. The story was ablaze on CNN this morning and looks to take over the news for the next few days. Reports state that Gonzalez submitted his letter of resignation on Friday and Bush reluctantly accepted it. But let’s cut through the bullshit.

Why now?

Really, Gonzo has been under fire for months. There has been talk of impeachment. Without a doubt the Justice Department in tattered and malfunctioning. Public confidence and internal, career Justice Officials, confidence is non-existence.

A lot of people suggested this as the reason Bush got rid of him now. They’re wrong. If we’ve learned anything from this President it’s that he doesn’t care at all about the functioning of his government. Not only would the poor functioning of Justice not been a new realization, it’s always politics over policy with these guys.

The “why now” has more to do with the overriding political game between Repubs and Dems than anything. Really, the question should have been, “Why didn’t the Dems impeach?” because the answer to that is more informative. The reality is the Dems were getting great mileage out of Gonzalez. He was a laughing stock inside his department and out and in the public eye. As much as policy demanded that Gonzo be forcibly removed, politics demanded that he remain where he was, a constant thorn in the side of the Bush administration and policy agenda.

The Bush people knew this and it looks like they made a political decision to lance the sore festering on their ass. So, ironically, both sides made strictly political moves without any interest or concern for policy and administrative functioning of government, moves which will result in better policy and government functioning.

Yeah, that answers the “why”, but what about the “now”?

Right, why is this news on August 27, 2007? If you listen to CNN you’ll hear about the recent orders from White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton that those who remain in the administration after Labor Day are obligated to stay until the end of the Bush term.


Two words: Congressional Recess.

Why does that matter?

Two more words: Recess Appointment.

This President has done it before and if their profile is any guide, they’ll probably do it again. In short, their motives are the following: Any replacement for Gonzalez is going to be extremely controversial. A great number of clearly unconstitutional programs are going to come under discussion and the nominee will be forced to take a policy stance on those issues. This is good for Dems, bad for Repubs. Americans generally don’t want the government to start tapping their phones without warrants or stake out the public libraries.

Not only that, the likely nominee is Michael Chertoff, Director of Homeland Security, career legal man (former judge), and the man ultimately responsible for FEMA’s handling of Katrina. A lot of news outlets are reporting he’ll be less controversial than the alternatives but I think they’re wrong. This is about the election for President. Nomination hearings will include significant discussion of Chertoff´s handling of Katrina. It will be public and it will likely be hostile. The Dems have ever incentive to make it great political theater as it is their way of showing that they care about the black vote (as compared to say, actually doing something for those affected by Katrina). This is a potential landmine for the Bush admin.

Given that back story and the history and experience of political football that this administration has become so adept at, why risk it? A recess appointment solves the problem quite easily in that there are no hearings about things that matter. Instead, there would just be Democratic bickering on the airwaves about how it isn’t fair and that hearings are necessary etc. The sort of stuff that the average voter either doesn’t comprehend or doesn’t care about.

Not only that, the Bush admin has great political cover. On the one hand, they can point to Chertoff as a man with long experience with Justice and government, a man that is not overtly political, and one who most people, if forced, would admit was a pretty qualified candidate. They will pound this message no matter what happens, so this isn’t any “extra” work.

They’ll also state that they wish to avoid overt partisanship and blame the Dems for that, pointing to the Gonzo process as Exhibit A. Their defense has always been that Gonzo was under assault not because what he did, but also because of “partisan hackery”.

The groundwork for this strategy has been well laid. From the NYT article linked above:

"The unfair treatment that he's been on the receiving end of has been a distraction for the department."

They’ll say that attacking the imminently qualified Chertoff is just another example of an overtly political and partisan Democratic Congress.

And last, they’ll claim national security concerns. They do this on pretty much every issue and Justice has been no different. They’ll say that public hearings risks exposing top secret anti-terror, law enforcement programs vital to the security of the nation. And, given the previous two factors, it wasn’t worth the risk.

Now, you may think that this strategy would require some serious juevos and you’re right. But one thing that the press seems to forget in their competitive game to get the story first is that politics is more gamesmanship than truth. And the scenario that I have described speaks to that reality. Plus, it just seems like the final stroke of Karl Rove’s legacy.

(Note: the Dems can stop a recess appointment by having one or two Senators call a pro forma session. The Prez team knows this so, let the games begin.)

(Additional Note: As reported here, Solicitor General Paul Clement will be the acting AG and could be the eventual replacement. A lot of rumors flying.)

UPDATE: As reported here, there is a pre-standing deal between the Prez and Democractic leadership that there will be no recess appointments. Moreover, Gonzo´s resignation is effective Sept 17, after the recess is over. So, even with all my mad rationalizations above, looks like that was just an exercise in mental pleasure, aka, not seeing the forest from the trees. Ooops.



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