Coming at a time when Bush’s poll numbers are racing California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s to the bottom of the charts; when the Iraq war is going badly and the number of military casualties there has already topped 2,000; when questions persist regarding Bush’s competency in office (especially following his administration’s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina); and when Republican “leaders” on Capitol Hill are either under criminal indictment (former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay) or under investigation for insider trading (Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist), the back-to-back Miers withdrawal and Libby indictment only reinforce the growing impression that the Bush White House is imploding under the weight of its own multiple errors and arrogance.
Republican apologists are already busy trying to spin the Libby indictment and lack of a Rove indictment, as proof that Fitzgerald is either out of control, or that the charges brought by the special prosecutor don’t amount to much. And they’re struggling to shift criticism onto former ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame’s husband, whose 2003 New York Times op-ed column, in which he disputed claims by the administration that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was trying to procure uranium yellowcake from Niger, may have led to the actions for which Libby has been indicted. Meanwhile, the administration struggles to find its feet again, and is hoping sometime next week to announce a replacement nominee. But after allowing the GOP’s most conservative and vocal wing to basically veto the Miers nomination, it might be hard for Bush to find a replacement who can appeal both to more centrist conservatives (who want a candidate in the John G. Roberts Jr. mold, someone with sterling credentials and an intellectual bent) as well as to Christian right extremists (who want a candidate who’ll do his or her best to legislate from the bench on social matters, such as the availability of abortion services).
It wasn’t so long ago that Dubya was saying he had “plenty, plenty” of political capital left to spend, following his narrow re-election victory last year over the far better-qualified John Kerry. But after a year of mistakes--involving himself in the Terri Schiavo fiasco, drawing attention to the antiwar movement by snubbing Cindy Sheehan, the aggrieved mother of a boy killed in Iraq, and then (with the assistance of FEMA director Michael Brown) bungling hurricane relief so abysmally--Bush has pretty much expended whatever political capital he had, and in the process, lost the good will he requires from the majority of Americans, if he is to make anything substantive of the 39 months remaining of his presidency. The fallout from Fitzgerald’s indictment of Libby (which will lead to a trial and, possibly, a civil suit against the administration, brought by Wilson and Plame) only increases suspicions about the truthfulness of the Bush White House. It was one thing when the prez’s political agenda (led by a controversial proposal to “privatize” Social Security) was unpopular; but it’s much more serious when, as now, Bush’s personal popularity and the trust voters place in the Oval Office occupant goes south--even among military personnel. It should come as no surprise to the White House that more and more Republican candidates, both those hoping to compete in next year’s midterm elections and others aspiring to succeed Bush in 2008, are running away from the prez, rather than with him.
* * *Several times today, amid blanket coverage of the Libby indictment, it’s been mentioned that the now former vice-presidential chief of staff is “the first sitting White House official to be indicted in 130 years.” So who was the previously incriminated figure to whom these pundits are referring? Apparently it is the long-forgotten Orville E. Babcock, a Vermont-born general in America’s Civil War who went on to become the private secretary to President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1875 Babcock was indicted by a grand jury for his involvement in the Whiskey Ring scandal, rooted in a bribery scheme engineered primarily by Republican politicos who drained off millions of dollars in federal taxes assessed against liquor. Babcock demanded that he be given a court martial; instead, he was brought to trial in a civil court in February 1876, but escaped conviction thanks to a deposition by Grant himself. The president later pardoned Babcock--a decision that convinced many U.S. residents of Grant’s corruption, even though he wasn’t directly implicated in this or the other scandals that erupted during his two White House terms.
READ MORE: “Scooter Who?: How Bush Will Deal With the Libby Indictment,” by John Dickerson (Slate); “A Weakened President Faces New Risks,” by Dan Balz and Juliet Eilperin (The Washington Post); “Exposing Scooter’s Crimes,” by Michael Scherer and Mark Benjamin (Salon); “Historically, Aides Pay a High Price in Political Scandals,” by Faye Fiore (Los Angeles Times); “Democrats Say Problems at White House Go Beyond Libby,” by Brian Knowlton (International Herald Tribune); “All the Vice President’s Men,” by Juan Cole (Salon); “Where Does This Scandal Rank?” by Richard Shenkman (History News Network) “The False Moral Superiority of the Bush White House,” by Paul Begala (The Huffington Post); “Will the Bush Administration Implode?” by Tom Engelhardt (Salon); “Carl Bernstein Finds Plame Parallels to Watergate,” by Joe Strupp (Editor & Publisher); “Hari-Karl: Why Bush Should Tell Rove to Follow in Miers’s Footsteps,” by Bruce Reed (Slate); “Shipwrecked,” by Sidney Blumenthal (Salon); “Culture of Corruption in Handcuffs,” by Oliver Willis; Can the GOP Make Lemonade out of Miers?” by Michael Scherer (Salon); “Answered Prayers: How Bush Lost the Miers Fight,” by John Dickerson (Slate); “Expect Fight Over New Nominee” (CBS News); “They Say the Buck Stops in the Oval Office, But It Doesn’t,” by David L. Roll (History News Network).