Monday, October 29, 2007

Imperial Presidency, Imperiled Nation

There is an interview with David Gergen. These quotes are taken from his interview.

Bush's Character Flaw and How It has Affected His Administration and Its Policies

I did not realize the group would never gel into a true working team. I thought the president would be, to a significant degree, guided by them and counseled by them. I didn't realize how headstrong he was, and I didn't realize how stubborn he was. It's very clear to me that he is much more than most of us anticipated. He's the one who set the course. And this is not simply a product of the advisers around him being divided.

I think it's too facile, and I see it too often, that a lot of the interpretation of what happens in administrations is that "Well, it must be this person as attorney general, or it must be that person as chief of staff. If a president just had a different person in there, the policies would be totally different." Sorry -- it's almost uniformly the chief. The president has the chief of staff he wants, and he has an attorney general doing things he wants him to do. It's the president who makes the calls on this, and the people around him reflect the president, what the president wants.

The Uncertainty of Where Bush is Leading the Nation

You ought to take a close look at a painting which George W. Bush bought when he was governor and had installed in his office as governor. He asked his staff to come and look at it because, he said, "That's us." What it is, is of a lone rider on a horse going up what looks like a mountaintop or crag or something like it, and his men are desperate to try to keep up with him, and they're behind. But he's running through the brush, and he's pell-mell ahead. And what you're a little uncertain of is, is this a leader who's going to lead us to the mountaintop, or is this a fellow who's going to take us over a cliff? You can't tell, because the painting is a little ambiguous in that regard.

The Changing Role of Lawyers in Government

Look, the place of lawyers in our society has changed since the time that Dick Cheney was chief of staff. I went to law school in the late '60s, and still in the '70s, there was a view that lawyers were your sages, your counselors. People had a more heroic view of lawyers. Alexander Hamilton in the early days sort of exemplified this. He thought that to be a lawgiver was one of the most heroic roles anybody could play in society.

By the '90s, lawyers increasingly, at least in business, and I think this is taking place elsewhere, are regarded more as technical people. "Okay, here's what we're going to do, now you draw up the papers." I think lawyers today in this government are treated more like staff. There's been a tendency, except in rare instances, that the lawyers have become a little more marginalized in the conversations about power and use of power and policy.

Let me give an example. We remember Ted Sorensen as John Kennedy's speechwriter. Ted Sorensen was John Kennedy's general counsel. He was a crucial player in the making of decisions in the White House, someone the president frequently turned to and was right there in every one of these major decisions on the Cuban missile process and crisis and all these other things. You don't find general counsels today, you don't find the attorney general being brought in the same way, in my judgment. And especially in this Bush White House. I have felt that they have treated the lawyers as, "You're here to do our bidding, not here to figure it out."


That article about the painting was really good and thoughtful, and remarkably (to me) non-partisan.
The American people should vote with greater wisdom next time. If the electoral system was the problem and needs revising they should clamor for it.
Pete, I think you're asking too much... if the intelligence of the average American is only average, then wisdom is probably up there too. How many people get caught up in all the spinning? To some, spin obscures the truth. For others, it takes the place of truth, and seamlessly.
John, regarding the changing role of attourneys - I think in many regards you're right. They try to figure out how to argue a chosen position in front of the law. That's a position that the media has accused them of (with the recent USAG hullaballoo that naturally resulted in a resignment) - to me that makes it unclear whether that's what really happens behind the scenes, or if it's just the media-planted image, or if some of both.
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