Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Seeking accountability

The media has been all over the fact that a half-dozen retired generals have (independently of each other) called for Donald Rumsfeld to resign from the position of Secretary of Defense. President Bush has, on several occasions now, consistently risen to Rumsfeld's defense, saying that he wants Rumsfeld to stay exactly where he is.

This statement the President made to reporters the other day is somewhat telling:
"I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."
Leaving aside the atrociously poor grammar of calling himself "the decider," the President has a point. It is his responsibility to make the final decision as to who fills the role of Secretary of Defense. And if the President were to bow to every complaint that came his way, he'd never get anything done. None of this is new, of course. President Bush is famous for talking about how he never pays attention to the polls. And no one can deny that he makes decisions based on what he feels is right.

But there's still a sense of arrogance in that statement that's somewhat frightening. Does the President ever listen to criticism? Does he ever change his mind when shown that he's on the wrong path? President Bush is famous for saying that he'll "stay the course." But if that course is a course to destruction, surely the wise thing to do is change courses! Bull-headedly staying on such a course is pure folly. What accountability is the President held to when he makes decisions that prove to be wrong?

I'm not here calling for the President's impeachment. As terrible as I see some of his decisions as being, I don't see anything that rises to the level of being impeachable. But surely impeachment isn't the only level of accountability a president should be held to. He was voted into office by the people, and is accountable to them. If he were running for re-election (again), I'd suggest that he could be held accountable to voters by losing the election. However, although the vote in 2004 was closer than almost any election in modern history (notwithstanding the 2000 election, where Bush actually lost the popular vote, and the final count in the state of Florida will forever be the subject of partisan debate), Bush did gain over 50% of the popular vote (a feat not achieved by any other Presidential candidate since 1988), and earned the right to be President, and to make these kinds of ultimate decisions.

But just because President Bush can't run for office again, surely that doesn't mean that he is no longer accountable to the people! Even a large number of the people who supported him now disapprove of the way he's running the government!

No doubt time will tell whether the President's decisions (not just to keep Rumsfeld, but elsewhere in his presidency) were ultimately good ones (President Bush himself contends that history will vindicate him). Unfortunately, with all the secrecy and ongoing investigations that make solid information hard to come by, if these decisions are poor ones, we'll never know until it's too late to do anything about it.

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