George W. Bush’s failure to pardon Lewis Libby, I think, makes it clear why he never asserted his authority and passively allowed the entrenched bureaucratic left to criminalize policy differences in order undermine his policies and destroy his public support.
George W. Bush really was at heart, a liberal statist who believes implicitly in the validity of governmental processes and in the judgements delivered by government institutions. He does not look beyond the form and process to see the partisan human beings working the levers and putting their thumbs on the scales of justice.
If officials of the CIA said disclosing Valerie Plame’s employment was a federal crime, it didn’t matter to Bush that their interpretation was a stretch motivated by partisan malice. Those CIA adversaries were officials of the government. What they said was the law was the law.
No wonder he appointed James Comey Deputy Attorney General.
A sophisticated conservative would never have promoted the official who threw Martha Stewart into jail on supposititious insider trading charges. The conservative would be skeptical of the merits of insider trading prosecutions to begin with, remembering that the pre-FDR-packed Supreme Court threw out those laws back when the Constitution still mattered. The conservative, beyond that, would take a dim view of celebrity prosecutions featuring strained efforts at landing a big fish played in the glow of the media spotlight.
George W. Bush was clearly never all that sophisticated nor all that conservative. If some partisan official, an ambitious prosecutor, and a leftwing urban jury filled with unemployed hippies and welfare moms says that Libby was guilty, why, he must have been guilty.
It’s a wonder Bush wasn’t willing to believe what the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post said about himself.
Bush brought the Republican Party into public disrepute and electoral disaster because he did not effectively answer his opponents’ attacks. His passivity, it is apparent, was not some kind of mistake. It was grounded in an implicit acceptance of the authority of his adversaries in government and in his willingness to allow himself and his administration to be gamed.
The contrast with Bill Clinton’s cynical and self-regarding use of the presidential pardon power could not be more remarkable. Clinton was a crook and a clever and successful one. George W. Bush is obviously a scrupulously honest man, but albeit a fool.