Thursday, October 05, 2006


it just hit me, republicans in the bush era don't tend to resign in the face of scandals. sure, bush administration people have resigned before: colin powell and former treasury secretary paul o'neill both left. at the time each of their departures were called a "resignation" but later we learned that they were asked to resign instead. that means they were fired, they didn't really quit. and neither of them left in the face of a particular scandal, just disagreements with others in the administration

there have been periodic scandals since then, but none have produced any resignations except for scooter libby and michael brown. with libby, he basically had to resign. the president had already promised to fire anyone indicted in the plame investigation. so when he was indicated libby just quit to avoid getting fired. the only text-book case of resignation in the fact of a scandal was michael brown, head of FEMA, after the kitrina debacle. he seems to be the exception that proved the rule. and other than that those two, i don't think any other bush-era scandal has produced any resignations. at least none that i can think of.

it seems that refusing to resign has become part of the white house's scandal-management strategy. after all, resignation in the face of a scandal includes an implicit acknowledgement that there was a problem to begin with. refusing to resign permits them to deny there is a scandal. and to a large extent this strategy has worked for them. allegations about troops without body armor, letting osama bin laden get away in tora bora, misleading the country in the run-up to the iraq war, abu ghraib, the downing street memo, jack abramoff, et. cetera all hit the administration when the story broke. but for the most part the administration has weathered the storm by sticking it out.

that's a bit different than the way that scandals were handled in the past. in prior administrations resignations seemed to happen a lot more often. resignations were not seen as an admission of liability, but rather as a form of damage control. by removing the offending official (or even just an official who can be pinned with the blame), prior administrations have tried to say "problem solved, let's move on." the traditional scandal-management strategy was to get past the scandal. the bush strategy is to pretend the scandal never existed in the first place.

two high ranking republicans are currently under pressure to resign: donald rumsfeld and dennis hastert. there have been calls for rummy's head for at least the past two years, calls that the administration has completely ignored. i wonder, however, if rummy had left when, for example, the abu ghraib scandal broke if they would still be getting as much negative press? maybe. but that's the down side to the administration's strategy. by refusing to acknowledge the problems with its people, those problems don't always just go away. sometimes a problem can't be ignored into oblivion. sometimes, despite your best efforts, people continue to bring it up. without a resignation, someone like rummy eventually becomes a sort of punching bag, a convenient target for criticism. even administration supporters now feel comfortable kicking him around.

calls for hastert's resignation really just started in earnest this week. hastert seems to be following the bush administration's strategy and refuses to step down. the administration is standing by him as well.

as others have noted hastert's line that resigning would be "giving into the Democrat party’s best wish" shows how completely clueless hastert is. the foley scandal is already too big to be ignored out of existence. it's pretty clear that the bush strategy won't work this time around. if you can't ignore away a problem, then the only way out is to put the problem behind you. and that requires some kind of fall guy. the fact that hastert won't go, just guarantees that the problem won't go away. stories about the allegations against the republican leadership will continue to dominate the headlines into the future. and with one month before an important election how could the democrats not be overjoyed at that prospect?

i wonder if the bush strategy for dealing with scandals has run out of steam. maybe ignoring a scandal doesn't work when the scandal catches the press' imagination as only a sex scandal can. or maybe the ignore strategy doesn't work when the party leader have low approval ratings. who knows? either way, it seems to me that the bush scandal playbook is not working anymore, hastert and rummy ignore it at the republican's peril.