THE present state of the White House reminds me powerfully of those days in 1973 and 1974 when everything around President Nixon seemed to be falling apart. I am not suggesting that President Bush is guilty of the kind of misdemeanour that led to Richard Nixon's downfall but the sense of disarray is similar and the possibility that close aides will face criminal prosecution is uncomfortably reminiscent of thirty-odd years ago. Mr Bush is having a torrid time. Yesterday's withdrawal by Harriet Miers of her nomination for membership of the Supreme Court was an humiliation of the first order for the President. He had personally chosen her to fill an important vacancy on the Court and he had urged her to continue with the Senate confirmation hearings even when it became clear that she had very little chance of surviving them successfully. The President had known Ms Miers for many years in Texas and had recently employed her as the White House counsel; clearly, therefore, he must have known the strength of her qualifications for the Supreme Court when he nominated her, yet these were demonstrated to be utterly inadequate in a matter of days. Ms Miers is the victim in all this but her plight shows, not for the first time, that President Bush is an extraordinarily poor judge of people and that, for him, long acquaintance and Texas connections will often override other more relevant considerations. More importantly, his once acute political judgement seems to be slipping. Ms Miers' record, such as it is, satisfied neither Mr Bush's Republican core of right wing supporters, who wanted a judge who would take a strong line on abortion and religion, nor the Democrats who found it easy to point to her lack of experience as a judge and the often embarrassing opinions she had expressed on judicial matters. Against the background of the count of the 2'000th US soldier to die in Iraq, Mr Bush must now await the decision of the special prosecutor on whether his closest aide Karl Rove and the Vice President's chief of staff Lewis Libby (or even Mr Cheney himself) are to face criminal charges for revealing to journalists the name of an undercover CIA agent.
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