PRESIDENT Bush proved in his first term that he had a talent for provoking fits of madness in the brains of liberals who disagree with him. It appears his second four years will be no different. For a week now, you see, authoritative Washington pundit-types have been making a very serious and deeply reasoned argument about the president's new Cabinet choices for which there is only one possible word:
They claim, in all seriousness, that Bush is exceeding his political, executive and electoral authority by nominating experienced administration officials to serve in his Cabinet. These choices are bad, they say, because — get this — the president is daring to appoint people who are a) loyal to him (horrors!) and b) don't disagree with him enough (meanie).
David Gergen wrote in The New York Times that Bush is "closing down dissent and centralizing power in a few hands."
E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post said on National Public Radio that "the president has made a conscious choice for his second term to . . . have people who broadly agree with his policy" and therefore, "people won't raise the kind of questions that we wish had been raised more forcefully."
Dana Bash of CNN: "It's going to make the president too insulated. Not enough healthy debate will go on."
You know who else chimed in? None other than John Kerry, who thundered that "healthy debate and diverse opinion are being eliminated from the State Department and CIA."
(How proud Dana Bash must be that she and John Kerry have used the exact same words. And how proud her masters at CNN must be, too.)
There's no question that "healthy debate" is an important part of every serious enterprise. But let's not beat around the Bush. When these characters talk about the need for "debate," they mean one thing and one thing only: They fear Bush won't be forced to take account of opinions and judgments they like and will instead fall back on opinions and judgments he likes.
The only surprising aspect of this argument is that it completely ditches the old, reliable "Bush is a moron" meme for a new and more ominous "Bush is a control-freak mastermind" theory. The man who, we were told, had no interest in policy and could barely tie his shoes now wants to vet every minute decision made at the departments of State, Justice and Education and at the Central Intelligence Agency.
Hey guys: Pick an argument and stick to it, will you? Otherwise, people will start thinking you're crazy.