Minor flare-ups of bad news are also much more disturbing when they remind us of the administration’s history of rewarding party loyalists and campaign workers with jobs that are far above their level of competence. Claude Allen, who recently resigned as the president’s domestic policy adviser, was arrested in a bizarre case involving a scheme to collect refunds from stores for merchandise he had never purchased, from a home theater system to an item worth only $2.50. The allegations about Mr. Allen might have been classified as a sad tale of a White House official who fell victim to pressure or overwork, had it not been for the fact that the Bush administration had also nominated him for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals despite a résumé that’s exceedingly thin on legal experience.
The founding fathers understood that there would be times in American history when the country lost confidence in the judgment of the president. Congress and the courts are supposed to fill the gap. But the system of checks and balances is a safety net that doesn’t feel particularly sturdy at present. The administration seems determined to cut off legitimate court scrutiny, and the Republicans who dominate the House and Senate generally intervene only to change the rules so Mr. Bush can do whatever he wants. (If the current Congress had been called on to intervene in the case of Mr. Allen, it would probably have tried to legalize shoplifting.)
The Democratic Party is not exactly the last word in prescience, but even the Democrats have put their finger on the mood of the moment, focusing on the theme of administrative incompetence. They’re striking the right note, but it’s not a tune we can afford to listen to for the next three years.