When seen in the klieg lights of a congressional hearing, Gonzales appeared as sharp as a wooden spoon. And the spoon didn't exactly turn razor-keen when out of the spotlight either. Earlier this summer, Gonzales agreed to headline a conference focused on law enforcement partnerships with the Muslim community. Another featured speaker? An imam from the Islamic Society of North America, a group that had just been named as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the Holy Land Foundation terror-promotion trial. The department ultimately "rescheduled" the conference out of existence.
The Republican midterm-election defeat last fall had many authors, but if you talk to congressional Republicans, they'll tell you that one of the most disastrous and infuriating mistakes the Bush White House made was to circle the wagons around Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, only to cut him loose right after the election. Many Republicans paid dearly for defending Rummy, only to see him split on his own timetable weeks later.
And that was nothing new. Bush prizes loyalty above all else, which is why he tolerated generals with losing records, like Gen. George Casey Jr., for far too long and was willing to reward a bureaucrat like Harriet Miers with a nomination to the Supreme Court. Likewise, Bush tolerated a dysfunctional Justice Department and an incompetent attorney general because he liked "Fredo."
Privately, Bush's defenders argued that times have not been propitious for a confirmation battle over a new attorney general, and neither Bush nor Gonzales wanted to be seen as caving to partisan pressure. In other words, better to have an ineffective attorney general dragging down the whole operation than to have a fight over an effective one.
I can't remember the last time I agreed with John Edwards about anything, but his reaction to Gonzales' departure was right on the money: "Better late than never."
But late is far from good. What, exactly, has been gained by having this feckless figurehead running the Justice Department? As with Rumsfeld, the Democrats didn't really want Gonzales to leave; they wanted to pull on him like a thread so as to further unravel the Bush presidency.
But now all of that is moot because Gonzales has changed his mind and wants to leave after all. "I have no reason to believe it wasn't fully his decision," a Justice Department insider told my National Review colleague, Rich Lowry. Well, that's sweet. By all means, take all the time you need, Mr. Gonzales. After all, it's all about you.