John Kerry was right about at least one thing. He repeatedly said that if Bush were re-elected we'd get "more of the same." What he meant, always vaguely, was war, tax cuts, and carping from France and Germany. On the war, Kerry was absolutely right. On tax cuts, I hope he was right. And on the Franco-German carping, I couldn't care less.
But Kerry left out another area where the status quo was to be extended by another Bush term: The president can do nothing right.
This has been a constant theme of the last four years. When Bush was allegedly acting unilaterally (Iraq), he was denounced for not being multilateral. When he was multilateral (North Korea), he was denounced for not being unilateral. When Europeans are excluded, that's bad (again, allegedly Iraq); when Europeans are allowed to take the lead (Iran), that's bad, too. When Bush "outsourced" the war in Afghanistan by using non-American troops, that was a monumental mistake, according to Kerry and others. When we didn't outsource the war in Iraq, that was a monumental mistake as well. And so on.
To understand the president's Catch-22 with his critics, consider his latest move as he prepares for his second term - shaking up the Central Intelligence Agency. Ever since 9/11 a cacophonic chorus has been calling for shake-ups at the CIA. "Why hasn't anyone been fired?" demanded everyone from the New York Times and the Democratic Party to the so-called 9/11 families. The 9/11 commission demanded a huge shake-up not only of our intelligence bureaucracy but of the way we think about national security more broadly.
Well, the administration is attempting to do that. Porter Goss, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a one-time CIA operative himself, is shaking things up. Several longtime and senior veterans of the agency have resigned in protest over Goss' supposedly rough and rude tactics. The protest doesn't end there, of course. They've brought their grievances to a press corps all but elated to let the opponents of change and reform use them as a megaphone.
Now I should say that I don't know if Goss is going about his CIA shake-up in the right way. I also don't think it's even possible to know. Even if Goss were omniscient, with a direct intercom to God, and he did every single thing perfectly, the CIA bureaucracy would still throw a hissy fit, just as it is doing now.
In other words, until the administration's reorganization is complete, it will be impossible to tell whether it's going right or not. But that doesn't stop the administration's critics from assuming that complaints are proof that Bush is doing things wrong. Yet who among us can doubt that if John Kerry had been elected, and it was under his watch that the CIA was being turned around, that the New York Times and others wouldn't hail the griping as proof that Kerry was doing what needed to be done?
Or consider the wailing from all quarters about the proposed replacement of Colin Powell with Condoleezza Rice. Editorial boards across the country have been wringing their hands over the fact that President Bush is replacing his "dissenting" secretary of state with a Bush "loyalist." The San Francisco Chronicle warns of the dangers of "groupthink." The Washington Post, New York Times, Dallas Morning News, The New Republic and countless others fret that replacing Powell with Rice signals that Bush's new secretary of state will - gasp! - actually agree with the president's foreign policy! "The president and vice president are dispatching their toadies to the agencies to quell dissent," Maureen Dowd writes with her usual restraint.
I guess I need to reread my "Federalist Papers." I thought that the separation of powers referred to the separation of the different branches of government - not separation of the president's political appointees. I didn't know that the president was obliged to appoint cabinet secretaries and agency heads who disagree with him on the very policies they've been asked to implement. The editors of the New York Times are actually aghast that Porter Goss has informed the bureaucracy that they are there to serve the commander-in-chief.
Look, I think it's good for the president to get differing points of view from his subordinates. But that's not what the gripers are really complaining about. If the issue were really the need for more dissenters in the administration, why isn't anyone demanding that Bush appoint people who think he's not hawkish enough? The obvious answer is that the gripers think the president is a fool for not appointing people who agree with them.
George Bush won the election. By my back-of-the-envelope calculations he said 7 trillion times that we needed to stand firm, stay the course, and be steadfast in the war on terror and in Iraq. His opponent said almost as many times that if Bush won, we'd get more of the same. Bush won. But, you see, that's irrelevant because Bush can never win, even when he does.