Loyalty is the paramount virtue in the Bush White House. I've learned that the hard way: Every time I've predicted that some Bush appointee or other was about to get pushed out the door, I've been wrong. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the nomination of Harriet "You are the best!" Miers to the Supreme Court, the bonds of loyalty are starting to fray. Conservatives—even deeply loyal Republicans—feel free, increasingly, to criticize the president's incompetence, untruthfulness, and cronyism. If Bush were a Democrat being criticized by fellow Democrats, such a development would scarcely warrant notice. But Republicans don't share the opposing party's cannibalistic tendencies, and until recently one didn't hear much conservative criticism of the GOP standard-bearer. Now, however, even many on the right who are closely allied with the Bush White House feel free to express disagreement with, and sometimes even contempt for, George W. Bush.
In recognition of this exciting development, I hereby inaugurate a new feature spotlighting faithful Bush allies who indicate, publicly, that they just can't drink the Kool-Aid anymore.
1) Margaret Thatcher. To many on the American right, Britain's Iron Lady is a greater heroine than she is to her fellow Britons—a sort of Ronald Reagan in drag. Now that Reagan is gone, Thatcher is the most plausible living vessel for Gipper-worship. As her nickname indicates, the former prime minister represents decisiveness and steadfastness, especially when it comes to military deployment. (Just ask the Falkland Islanders!) She sets her course and she stays on it, and she expects others to stay on it, too. "Don't go wobbly on me, George," Thatcher told Bush pèreafter Iraq invaded Kuwait, as Tina Brown reminds us in her Oct. 13 column.
It is therefore not a little surprising to learn, from Brown, the following:
The former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Lord Palumbo, who lunched with Mrs. T six months ago, told me recently what she said when he asked her if, given the intelligence at the time, she would have made the decision to invade Iraq. "I was a scientist before I was a politician, Peter," she told him carefully. "And as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof—and then you check, recheck and check again. The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return."
A decade and a half after she stiffened the father's spine, Thatcher is suggesting that the son's needs to be more pliant. The Iron Lady has gone wobbly on Dubya!
2) Ari Fleischer. The former Bush press secretary's machinelike dedication to staying On Message, even when that required him to recite gibberish, has long inspired fear and awe. But check out what he said about Harriet Miers to Amy Goldstein and Peter Baker in the Oct. 13 Washington Post:
"She was always pleasant, always polite, always being tough as the paper kept moving," said former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. "Is that a skill you need to be a Supreme Court justice? No, I don't think so."
Fairness compels me to point out that Fleischer, slipping back into automaton mode, continued, "But it's a reflection of, when she has a mission, she knows how to accomplish it." Still, the damage was done. From anyone else, Fleischer's comment might not even count as criticism. From an apparatchik like Fleischer, it's treason.
Et tu, Ari-Bob?