The hypocrite-in-chief and the failed firewall

I can remember when many people regarded George Bush as a straight shooter, a man of his word, unvarnished but fundamentally honest. Never mind that it was all a colossal put-on; it seemed plausible, and that was enough. These days...well, not so much. Linda Feldman of the Christian Science Monitor explores the damage caused by Bush's double-dealing on intelligence leaks:

President Bush has long railed against leaks of classified information as a threat to national security; his administration is vigorously investigating unauthorized revelations of classified material to the press about secret overseas prisons and warrantless wiretapping. Now, a revelation of grand jury testimony establishes Bush himself as a player in White House efforts to discredit an Iraq war critic through the use of classified information.

The president is not accused of illegality. And no one questions his legal right to declassify information. But critics are now charging Mr. Bush with hypocrisy - a development that makes efforts to put his presidency back on track all the more daunting.

The situation may charitably be described, as Robert Silvey suggests in a parallel between Richard Nixon's leak situation and Bush's, as a "slow-motion political drowning" - though the notion of a tremor prefiguring imminent collapse seems just as apt.

The Bush administration seems not to sense this, just as it has trouble grasping that problems don't exist in a vacuum. Compartmentalization is a reassuring concept but terribly hard to execute; as hard as White House mouthpiece Scott McClellan might try, there's no way to erect firewalls in the collective mind of the populace between Bush's authorization of intelligence leaks (to which he admitted only when he had no choice), the exposure of CIA entity Valarie Plame to reporters, the sheer awfulness of intelligence that Bush used to justify the war in Iraq, and the bloody and open-ended mess that war has become. Bush and his people seem to believe that people can't - or don't - connect dots. But, slowly and surely, they do.

"Here's why this hurts: It reminds people again that the intelligence was bad and we're in Iraq without end for some of the wrong reasons, and that's at the heart of his 36 percent," says Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, referring to Bush's job approval rating in recent polls.

That echo from afar? That's the sound of firewalls, falling.

(That's right, boys. It's Dr. Cross-Post!)

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