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September 17, 2007

Better Living Through Bush

James Fallows asks:

Non-rhetorical question: Who will come out looking better by virtue of his or her service in the G.W. Bush Administration. Will anyone?

Mainly the whistleblowers. Paul O'Neill looks pretty good. And lately, John Aschroft's reputation has seen something of a renaissance based mainly off this episode, and his deputy, James D. Comey, also came out a hero of sorts. Are there others?

Also, this might be stretching the meaning of Bush administration, but David Petraeus has sure seen his reputation enhanced.

September 17, 2007 | Permalink


Yah. Tim Muris, of the Do-Not-Call registry. And Bush's financial services appointments have been a mostly creditable bunch.

Posted by: Joe S. | Sep 17, 2007 1:18:37 PM

I'd say Eric Shinseki and John Ashcroft.

Posted by: Nate W. | Sep 17, 2007 1:37:42 PM

It's early on Petraeus, Rumsfeld looked great in '03.

Posted by: AJ | Sep 17, 2007 1:42:00 PM

No, not Petraeus.

He's become more famous, but in a year or two, his presentation is going to look as good as Colin Powell's UN one does today. There are too many transparent errors and overoptimistic assessments.

Not Ashcroft, either. He did one very good thing, but he also did the transparently political, election-season only color-coded warnings. Even Tom Ridge doesn't know what the hell those were about.

There's loads of non-administration folks who look much worse for their association with Bush-- ie, Tony Blair, Jose Maria Aznar, the American people, etc.

Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg | Sep 17, 2007 2:11:06 PM

Petraeus is on a fast track to Westmoreland-land.

Posted by: d | Sep 17, 2007 2:22:13 PM

The guy who ran the dept of Veteran's Affairs in his first term ended up with a pretty good reputation.

Mark McClellan probably deserves a good reputation for making the god-awful drug benefit work.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 17, 2007 2:45:01 PM

Elvis, I'm not saying Ashcroft looks GOOD, mind you. What I'm saying is he looks better than he looked when he came in. I think we forget how poorly regarded Ashcroft was at the beginning of Bush's first term. If memory serves, he was widely regarded as the WORST of Bush's appointments to major cabinet posts, as a Christian nutjob who would be more interested in protecting Nativity displays in the public square than in upholding the law, and as a general whackjob. But looking back on his term, he looks like one of the better Bush appointees: relatively competent, concerned to do his job well. Of course, to say he looks good relative to the other appointees may be to damn him with faint praise, but his tenure at justice still proved to be a whole lot better than originally anticipated.

Posted by: Nate W. | Sep 17, 2007 3:32:47 PM

Nate W.:
You are right. As bad as Ashcroft is(remember, he couldn't even beat a dead guy in a US Senate election), he looks good compared to AGAG and the rest. And yes it is damning with faint praise.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Sep 17, 2007 3:59:15 PM

I still disagree, Nate & JKC. Ashcroft was involved in politicized terror threat press conferences, the Padilla travesty, the raids on medical marijuana growers in California who were engaged in activity protected by state law, the roundup of immigrants after 9/11, etc.

He did one good thing.

As to his overall record, his reputation suffered.

Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg | Sep 17, 2007 4:59:16 PM

Similar to Comey: Alberto Mora (Navy General Counsel), Jack Goldsmith (OLC, briefly), and Mukasey (at least so far). In the military (well, out of it, actually): Shinseki, Taguba and (lest we forget) Abu Ghraib whistleblowers Darby and Provance. All similar in that their claims to fame are in opposing Bush and Cheney. I can't think of a single "loyal Bushie" I respect, and that still includes Colin Powell.

Posted by: Thomas Nephew | Sep 17, 2007 5:14:16 PM

Outside, perhaps, of the Joint Chiefs, in general I don't think it's reasonable to consider military officers or enlisted personnel as serving in the president's administration (unless they're actually working in the White House, like Haig in the Nixon administration and North under Reagan). Because of the special status invested in Petraeus, he'd be an exception. And while he's riding pretty high right now, he'll be Westmoreland within a few months.

As to Ashcroft, if he hadn't served in the administration we'd probably never have heard his riveting delivery of his song about the eagle.

Posted by: Herschel | Sep 17, 2007 5:34:07 PM

I wouldn't say O'Neil or Ashcroft look good: they've acquired reputations for bring principled, especially O'Neil, but not for competence. I'd trust O'Neil implicitly, but I don't want him setting policy, or even particularly want him administering it. God knows I don't want to rely on O'Neil in a political or bureaucratic struggle. There's a similar problem with Goldsmith, whose ideas on executive power are too expansive for my tastes, even if they're too milquetoast for this administration (hence the resignation and the book). For Comey, while I am grateful for his principled stand on the wiretapping and for his coming forward to testify, I have no idea how well he did his job; I do know that he approved earlier FISA violations.

The only appointee who really stands out - for getting his job done, prosecuting people from both politcal parties, for not overstepping his official mandate (although I'd have loved to see a public report on the Plame affair), and for steadfastly not leaking (not leaking is actually a requirement but it seemed truly novel that this rule be followed; think Ken Starr) - is Patrick Fitzgerald, who is after all a political appointee. I can't think of another Bush appointee who's become known both for their competence at their job and for their rectitude.

P.S. I still think the perfect Bush appointee was that undersecretary of the Treasury who had previously been a tax lawyer to the rich, had set up billions in questionable tax shelters as a tax lawyer, with (hefty) payment for his services only if the questionable shelters were approved by the IRS, and who stayed in office just long enough to get the shelters approved. It was all in a Taxonomist column in the Prospect in '02 or '03, I think.

Posted by: Warren Terra | Sep 17, 2007 5:34:33 PM

Yep, Pat Fitzgerald.

Posted by: Korha | Sep 17, 2007 6:20:53 PM

Petraeus? Are you kidding? Did you not see the polling? The majority of the public thinks he was shilling for Bush. Any major political ambitions he may have harbored are dead, thanks to his sock-puppet capitulation to Bush/Cheney. The traditional media slobbered over him, but the citizens appear to be finally learning to view media with a critical eye.

Posted by: Frobar | Sep 18, 2007 12:56:03 AM

The reputations that really crashed under Bush were those of Senate GOP grownups - Warner, Lugar, Specter, Domenici, Cochran, Shelby, Grassley, Roberts, Voinovich and, yes, McCain - who enabled the abuses and incompetence and still do so. Most of them will retire rather than be voted out of office; any hangers-on will be marginalized in future congresses.

Posted by: allbetsareoff | Sep 18, 2007 1:36:16 AM

James Comey, definitely. O'Neill comes across as a bit of a schmuck for thinking that he'd have any influence over economic policy in a Bush/Cheney White House.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Sep 18, 2007 7:10:23 AM

When I watched Petraeus on national TV (thankfully the sound was off in the bar), I thought I had moved to Pakistan. Here we have a military general speaking to the American people about foreign policy and the media falling all over themselves to praise the General.

The Republicans are clearly grooming General Dave as the next Ike to save their sorry asses in 2012 or 2016. The Democrats need to have the guts of Chuck Hagel to say that it is wrong and un-American to require a military officer to sell foreign policy to the citizenry.

Posted by: Charles Dunaway | Sep 18, 2007 8:31:57 AM

The only people affiliated with this administration who will not be covered with its residual stink the rest of their lives are those who openly dissented from it. In fact, the only way to work for Bush and leave with any human dignity intact is, in fact, to show that you disagreed with them. Ashcroft is a good example, as others above have noted. Everyone thought he was this religious nut who would turn DOJ into an ongoing federal church service. He did to a certain extent, but left with some dignity after he refused to go along with the big surveillance program the WH wanted him to sign off on.

Posted by: jonas | Sep 20, 2007 5:20:00 PM

Shinseki took a lot of guts considering at that time that Bush, Darth Cheney, known unknown Rumsfeld were being idolized!!! Shinseki had courage especially after he was sidelined, treated shabbily and retired unceremoniously. Had Bush and Cheney been mature leaders and gave Shinseki a little hearing, maybe Iraq would have turned out differently. Shineki served in Vietnam, wounded, commanded campaigns in Panama and the Balkans. What did Bush/Cheney know?

Posted by: M. Stratas | Sep 20, 2007 5:54:51 PM

Bunnatine Greenhouse, a truly inspirational black woman who took on the Administration & KBR.



Posted by: Kally | Sep 21, 2007 10:41:52 AM

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