It’s never safe to assume that George W. Bush knows what’s going on in his administration. Famously uninterested in details and current events, the president may actually not have noticed that what he’s been saying about bipartisanship is very different from what his attorney general has been doing about it.
People are tired of party warfare in Washington, Bush recently revealed, adding that he personally is eager to work shoulder to shoulder with legislators who aren’t members of his own party. (The president didn’t dwell on the history of this excessive partisanship, but it has intensified in the last six years or so, starting when a Republican Supreme Court snatched a presidential election away from voters and installed a Republican president. Bush evidently didn’t notice what sins had been committed in the name of party loyalty until last month, after Democrats won a majority in next year’s Congress.)
While Bush was publicly repenting, his unreformed attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, was appointing a Republican political operative as the new U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, circumventing the normal process for such appointments. That procedure would have required consultation with the Arkansas congressional delegation, consisting of five Democrats and one Republican, as well as confirmation by a newly Democratic Senate. The appointee, J. Timothy Griffin, is best known as a former aide to Karl Rove, the president’s close friend and adviser and a relentless partisan. Griffin has worked also for the Republican National Committee, which is generally unconcerned about the legal qualifications of its agents and may even prefer those more skilled at evading the law than enforcing it.
Sen. Mark Pryor too, an alleged Democrat now allegedly distressed about the Griffin appointment, previously had himself complained about Democrats being too Democratic. Pryor contributed to the Senate campaign of old pal Joe Lieberman, though Lieberman already had been rejected by Democratic voters and had become an honorary Republican. The idea that the opposing party should oppose is generally foreign to Pryor, though he seems to have grown some backbone, or at least his aides have, in response to the Griffin appointment. But his concern may have more to do with patronage than principle.
As for Bush, chances are that the great discrepancy between what he says and who he appoints is more a result of hypocrisy than ignorance. He can play dumb as well as any president of our time, but he’s bound to have noticed that he and his party are more at fault for interparty hostility than a generally quiescent opposition. Bush isn’t sorry for the excessive Republican partisanship; he’s sorry that it can’t continue, unless the new Democrats are like Mark Pryor.