For all practical purposes, governing the nation has stopped at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as aides deal with an increasingly despondent President, mounting scandals and defecting dissidents from the Ship of State.
White House insiders say George W. Bush’s mood swings have increased to the point where meetings with the President must be cancelled, schedules shifted and plans changed to keep a bitter, distracted leader from the public eye.
“He’s like a zombie some days, walking around in a trance,” says one aide who, for obvious reasons, asks not to be identified. “Other times he launches into angry outbursts, cussing out anybody who gets near him.”
Aides say gallows humor has descended on the White House, where the West Wing is now referred to as “death row” and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, along with Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, are known as “dead men walking,” a reference to the last walk death row inmates take to the execution chamber.
With indictments expected against Libby or Rove or both any day now from the Valerie Plame scandal, the White House mood has a “Final Days” aura (“Final Days” was the title of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s book about the last days of the Nixon administration). Although no one expects President Bush to be impeached or resign, Internet blogs buzzed this week with talk of a possible resignation by Vice President Dick Cheney.
“That’s bullshit,” says one longtime Republican consultant. “They’ll have to carry Dick Cheney out of here on a stretcher.” But Rove and Libby will be gone if they are indicted and some wonder if the President, whose ability to govern is already limited by despair and detraction, can function without Rove, often referred to as “Bush’s brain.”
“Rove’s role is diminished already,” says one White House aide. “He still meets with The President daily but all this has taken its toll. He looks terrible.”
So does White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, who has served longer in the job than anyone in modern times. Card works 16 and 17-hour days and, in the words of one Republican member of Congress, looks “completely burned out.”
But holding the White House together behind what has been one of the better Presidential propaganda machines is proving next to impossible as the American public and even members of Bush’s own party desert him over the war in Iraq, the nomination of White House counsel Harriett Miers to the Supreme Court, the Hurricane Katrina debacle, rising gas prices and the Valerie Plame scandal.
With Congress distracted by growing scandals swirling around former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Washington has become a daily killing field for anyone involved in the GOP leadership.
This week, Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s right-hand man unloaded on the Bush Administration during a speech to the New American Foundation, saying American foreign policy had been hijacked by “a Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” that has destroyed this country’s credibility with its allies.
“I’m not sure the State Department even exists anymore,” Col. Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, told the audience of journalists and scholars. “It, like so many others things, have been destroyed by George W. Bush’s ‘cowboyism.’”
Wilkerson dismisses the Administration’s attempts to improve America’s image abroad.
“You can’t sell shit,” he said.
Wilkerson isn’t the only high-profile Republican operative bailing on Bush. Bruce Bartlett, who served as a Senior Policy Advisor in Bush’s father’s administration, is about to release a book: Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Destroyed the Reagan Legacy. Bartlett lost his job at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative Texas think tank, when word of his book project leaked out.
Republicans, the last to finally acknowledge the lies and duplicity of the Bush White House, no longer trust the Administration. When current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified before Congress this week and claimed “significant progress” in Iraq, Republican Senator Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island fired back: “Well, we all wish that were true, but we can’t kid ourselves, either.”
But Wilkerson, a veteran with 31 years in the Marines and a former director of the Marine War College, sums up what, sadly, will be the legacy of George W. Bush:
“If there is a nuclear terrorist attack or a major pandemic you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that’ll take you back to the Declaration of Independence.”