Now that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, has been indicted and Harriet Miers withdrawn as a nominee for the United States Supreme Court, that circus that never ends called politics moves into a new phase. It should be no surprise to political observers that these two events occurred within such a short time span.
After the worst political week of his administration, President Bush would like nothing better than a classic "turning of the page": new news, new events, new storylines for the press and public to gobble up and in doing view the White House more favorably. The first effort in that regard will likely be a very quick turnaround on a new Supreme Court nominee.
But will that be enough? The Bush administration enjoyed arguably historic levels of control over the press for more than four years. But with poll numbers hovering in the high thirties now and the White House facing ongoing trouble on multiple fronts – including the recent 2000th American soldier killed in Iraq – it remains to be seen if President Bush can regain that above-the-fray quality that has been referred to as the Bush Myth.
To borrow a term used by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with regard to Iraq, it's likely going to be a long hard slog. The hallmarks of the Bush administration's core strengths – decisive leadership, national security, and close ties to conservatives on social and other issues – have all taken significant hits this year. And a new Washington Post-ABC poll reveals that 55% of the American public believes that the indictment of Scooter Libby is indicative of broader ethical wrongdoing.
Some have suggested that President Bush "clean house" and bring in a new team of energized and highly competent aides and managers a la Howard Baker during President Ronald Reagan's second term of office. Others advocate the nomination of a rightwing ideologue to the Supreme Court, which would in theory stir up the rightwing base and change the subject to a major showdown in the Senate with Democratic opponents.
But perhaps the "cheapest" way that the Bush administration can begin to turn the page is to apologize to the American public. President Bush operates within the tightest of inner circles, and Scooter Libby happened to have been a card-carrying member of the club. While there is the presumption of innocence for those accused of crimes, it's very likely that at the very least Libby is guilty of lying to a federal grand jury. This, of course, will lead most to believe, as evidenced by the poll numbers, that there were other illegal or unethical activities going on that may or may not come out over the coming months and years.
No one knows what is going to happen. There may or may not be a major reexamination of why the United States invaded Iraq in the first place. There may or may not be more revelations and indictments in the CIA leak case.
What we do know is that the American public is surprisingly forgiving of public officials who ask for forgiveness and show a degree of humility. While this is not one of President Bush's strengths, he may need to step outside of the box, his inner circle, and his comfort zone if he wishes to accomplish much over the remaining three years of his presidency.