When Karl Rove spoke about them as the “Bush Family,” he did not mean the president’s blood relatives but the band of intimates who have been with him from the beginning, or at least had advised or campaigned with him. They included, of course, outgoing senior political adviser Rove; Alberto Gonzales, first White House counsel and then attorney general; former White House counsel Harriet Miers; former White House spokesman Scott McClellan; White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin; and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The family has been unwavering in its loyalty to Bush and he, in turn, has extended them the same loyalty. Indeed, Bush has often appeared to have fused loyalty with ability in his mind. Rice was a marginal performer as national security adviser but moved up to secretary of state. Harriet Miers, a modest lawyer, got Bush’s nod for the Supreme Court until the rage of the Republican Party derailed that enterprise. Now Gonzales, promoted to attorney general with a tip of the hat to the Hispanic community, is leaving in near disgrace: a victim of loyalty serving loyalty.
Gonzales’s loyalty to Bush and the family was such that he failed to realize that the attorney general has constitutional and quasi-judicial responsibilities that could come into conflict with the White House. He appears to have been so gung-ho to execute what he thought Bush and Rove wanted, that he failed to caution them when the law was endangered.
Gonzales, in his zeal and loyalty, was always on the accelerator when the brake was needed. As friend, as well as the senior legal officer in the administration, one would have thought Gonzales would have warned the president that warrantless wiretaps, torture, and a list of other measures designed to combat terrorism, were outside the law. Also, where was Gonzales when it was bruited that Miers was Supreme Court material? This misstep sowed seeds of doubt about Gonzales among conservative Republicans that would only be compounded by the White House’s stand on immigration.
Yet all of this Gonzales would have survived had it not been for the firing of eight federal prosecutors. On both sides of the aisle, it is believed that this was raw politics at work. Unfortunately for Gonzales, many members of Congress are former prosecutors. They respect the office of federal prosecutor. Even so, Gonzales would have survived if he had got his story straight. As it was, he did not. He was contradicted in public by his own subordinates, and was shredded on the witness stand in Congress by angry members of both parties.
The price of blind loyalty was paid with compound interest by the president and the attorney general. The “family” effect in the White House has, particularly in the first term, produced interesting but surprisingly amiable dynamics. Members of the family, led by Rove, derived special status because of their access to Bush. If you understood, as chief of staff Andrew Card did, that title could be trumped by the familial standing, well life in Bush’s White House has been, and still can be, quite pleasant.
Former White House speech writer Matthew Scully, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, paints a picture of friendly informality with something approaching sophomoric humor. Although the purpose of Scully’s piece is to check the ego of his former boss, Michael Gerson, now a Washington Post columnist, he lifts the curtain a tad on day-to-day life in this the most opaque of White Houses, and what he reveals is not a traditional place of feuds and conspiracies. Instead, according to Scully, it is a place of good humor and collegiate enthusiasm. In particular, Scully is generous to Bush. To his speech writers, he is full of courtesy and without the ego you would expect. A family man?