The last presidential campaign seems like light years ago. Less than three years ago, Bush had majority support of the public; the erosion was still a mere hairline fracture in the support of Bush’s adventure in Iraq. Holding onto a Republican-dominated Congress was a priority and we can see why now. At that time, a few softball questions were being asked about “mistakes” in conduct of the war, but those who thought the war itself a grave mistake were still considered extremists or unpatriotic even though it was already clear that the reasons given to the public for invading Iraq were bogus. It was OK to question the how but not the why. People didn’t want to believe that they had been so dreadfully deceived.
Bush was good at dodging bullets (although all too many on the battlefield he created were not so lucky), the Republicans still controlled Congress, and the press was still playing lapdog; the mainstream media wanted to be on the side of the winner.
So it was in that atmosphere during the presidential debates of 2004 President Bush was asked about owning up to his “mistakes.” It was already a joke and part of the Bush persona that he couldn’t/wouldn’t admit to errors either in judgment or decisions. His moniker as The Decider didn’t follow until later.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, Bush was still trying to keep both Abu Ghraib and the ever-changing rationale for invading Iraq out of the public conversation. For the most part, he got away with it by propping up his image as the security guy and having his henchmen continue to surreptitiously connect 911 and Iraq. For someone who’s often thought of as a dimwit, it was no mean feat.
It didn’t hurt that the media rarely complained. The press played it cool, spending a lot more ink on analyzing the fact that Bush didn’t want to own up to his “mistakes” than on actually analyzing them. Even the conservative David Brooks, appearing on McNeil Lehrer’s News Hour on November 14, 2003, said, "Well, the good news about them [the Bush administration] is that they won't admit mistakes, but they are ruthlessly pragmatic when forced to be." I suppose that means that when cornered, Bush will make some move to pacify the public demand and then label it a compromise.
So it was a rather stunning moment during the Presidential debate on October 8, 2004 when Bush was asked about his mistakes. The questioner, one of the town hall participants who had been pre-selected to ask a question, finally got her turn.
Question - Linda Grabel: President Bush, during the last four years, you have made thousands of decisions that have affected millions of lives. Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it. Thank you.
Answer – President Bush: … Now, you asked what mistakes. I made some mistakes in appointing people, but I'm not going to name them. I don't want to hurt their feelings on national TV.
Damage control went to work; how dare the media allow such a question. From his column in the National Review, October 13, 2004, Alan Johnson declared: “The president suspected the reason Grabel's question was selected was its transparent implication, ‘Did you make a mistake going into Iraq?’ E. J. Dionne [Washington Post columnist] apparently thought so too, since he used Linda Grabel's famous question as an opportunity to claim, ‘The administration glosses over the fact that its primary argument for war was not humanitarian.’ Yet the president acknowledged that mistake, earlier in the St. Louis debate, saying he (and Senator Kerry) had been misinformed by the CIA about WMDs in Iraq. Dionne offers his own suggestions about who the president was referring to when he said he had made some bad appointments, yet he somehow failed to notice we have a new CIA director.” http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/reynolds200410130845.asp
How the passage of time changes the light. As was his habit, Bush was trying to deflect the onus of Iraq by shifting the blame to others. He didn’t make mistakes but just maybe some of his appointments did, therefore making the appointment itself a mistake. And anyway, it was Tenet’s fault and Bush didn’t appoint Tenet.
It is clear now why the Bushies thought it would be a big mistake for the Democrats to gain majority status in Congress and the lengths they would go in attempting to ensure Republican victories in 2006. Appointing Gonzales was another roadblock to keeping Democrats from unraveling the truth. And it’s not just the first-line of appointments that are in question; it’s also the appointees of the appointments—the Monica Goodlings and the Susan Ralstons who were appointed to infiltrate loyalists at every level of the Dept. of Justice.
There have been lots of resignations in this Administration, many leaving office under a black cloud, from Michael Brown to Donald Rumsfeld to Monica Goodling, among others, across all executive suites. But you have to step back to look at the Gonzales predicament in the context of others who have fallen on their sword for the President. In spite of his earlier words, Bush still won’t name those appointments who he considers “mistakes.” After all, it might hurt their feelings.