Forty-eight hours have elapsed since the White House said it would positively, absolutely, unequivocally, categorically and unmistakably stand firm on its solemn vow to never, never, never give in to the demands of the congressional Democrats determined to destroy the president who, in performing his sworn duty, fired eight U.S. district attorneys.
If he's looking for a loophole, George W. never said "cross my heart and hope to die." If the past is the guide, we should expect the White House to cave no later than sundown on Saturday.
The president knows that to give in would cut him off at the knees, leaving him to stumble through the final two years of his presidency on the bloody stumps. No one at the White House can be under the slightest illusion about what the stakes are, hence the president's stirring vow of defiance and double-daring.
This time, George W. must positively, absolutely, unequivocally, categorically and unmistakably mean it when he says he cannot cave. He insists that he's no Connecticut Yankee but a son of Texas, and a good thing, too. He has to summon the spirit of Davy Crockett and the Alamo (spirit largely fashioned by good ol' boys from points east and south), and mean it when he says "no surrender." This is not a good time to go wobbly.
The inbred instinct of a Republican, when faced with a non-negotiable demand, is to try to split the difference, to make nice and respect the admonition of the Prophet Isaiah to "come and reason together." Making a scene is so ... unseemly. Can't we all just get along?
But that approach starts with the premise that what we've got here are reconcilable differences of good-faith opinion. There are differences, all right, but differences that neither good faith can bridge nor reason reconcile. The only thing negotiable on the part of the Democrats, sniffing blood, is whether the executioners will use a sharp steak knife or a serrated bread knife for the beheading. The '06 congressional elections were merely prologue, and the Democrats are determined to run next year against a crippled foe.
The cock-up is almost complete. Alberto R. Gonzales, who was named attorney general to "season" him for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, has shown himself to be bereft of judgment and deduction, of both defiance and derring-do. (Besides, the David Souter seat on the court is already occupied.) If he's not the author of his department's strategy of weakness and vacillation in the face of challenge and accusation, he ought to cashier the man who was. The Justice Department, trembling and stuttering like a greenhorn lawyer conducting his first plea bargain, answered with craven denial the accusation that the firings were about "politics."
Of course the firings were about "politics." Everything in Washington is about politics. The nation's capital is supposed to be about politics. Instead of denying it, Mr. Gonzales should have conducted a seminar on how and why Washington works: U.S. district attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president precisely because the appointments are about politics, about the way the president expects that his mandates be carried out. If he thinks a district attorney in San Diego or Albuquerque or Little Rock is unsuitable to use three of the examples the Democrats are affecting such phony outrage over he is not only within his rights but within his sworn responsibility to replace.
The Democrats in Congress know this and don't actually believe they were elected to run the White House, but they do believe they can act as the unelected executive branch of the government by bullying and cowing the president and his men, and they may be right. The president must not allow it.
This administration, like other Republican administrations before it, sometimes quails before its critics and tormentors. Nice people think they can succeed by doing unto others as they would have others do unto them. You might think Republican nice people would learn something by watching their Democratic tormentors, who succeed by doing it unto others before others do it unto them first.