By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Richard B. Cheney says President Obama's policies will make it easier for terrorists to kill Americans. Alberto R. Gonzales says the new attorney general could be undermining the morale of U.S. intelligence officials.
And Andrew H. Card Jr., George W. Bush's first chief of staff, took Obama to task for allowing shirtsleeves and loose collars in the Oval Office -- arguing that they are a clear departure from Bush's sterner sartorial rules.
"There should be a dress code of respect," Card said on "Inside Edition," a syndicated show usually focused on Hollywood celebrities. "When you have a dress code in the Supreme Court and a dress code on the floor of the Senate, floor of the House, I think it's appropriate to have an expectation that there will be a dress code that respects the office of the president."
The knives are already out just two weeks after Bush left the White House, as some of his closest friends and former aides begin lobbing sharp criticism at the Obama administration.
The comments mark a shift from the general rules of decorum that held sway during the final weeks of the Bush administration, when the outgoing president and his aides made a point of fostering a cordial relationship with the Obama team. Bush has refrained from criticism so far, making no public remarks since returning to Texas.
"It's certainly unbecoming, especially for a former vice president," Thomas E. Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said in reference to the remarks by Cheney and others. "It reinforces the fact that there's a lot of bitterness about the low public standing of Bush and the administration as they left office, and the soaring standing of Barack Obama. A lot of these people are still caught up in these ideological battles and can't let go."
But Brian Darling, the Senate relations director for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the criticism "is part of democracy and the free exchange of ideas."
"President Obama has taken actions that are opposite of what the Bush administration worked for over the last eight years," he said. "This is part of defending their legacy."
Darling said the situation would be different if the criticism came from Bush, given that former presidents have generally exercised restraint in criticizing current White House occupants. One clear exception was Bill Clinton during the 2008 campaign, he noted.
Other historians and political experts say that, in general, former presidents and their senior aides tend to withhold criticism during the start of a successor's term, although there have been anomalies. While a defeated Al Gore lay low in 2001, former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton -- a new senator from New York -- publicly attacked Bush in March of that year, saying he was trying to "turn back the clock on the Clinton administration."
This year, the hard feelings among some Bush supporters began to flare immediately after Obama's inaugural address, which included implicit criticism of Bush and his tenure. Mark McKinnon, a GOP consultant and former Bush adviser, wrote in a blog posting after Bush's trip home Jan. 20 that some thought Obama took "unnecessary shots" and used "borrowed ideas," although he also stressed that Bush himself expressed no concerns.
Gonzales, who resigned as Bush's attorney general in 2007 under a cloud of scandal, said on National Public Radio that he disagreed with testimony from Eric H. Holder Jr., who said the CIA interrogation technique called waterboarding is torture.
Holder, who was confirmed this week as attorney general, "needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that," Gonzales said, because it could affect the "morale and dedication" of intelligence officials.
Longtime Bush adviser Karl Rove has been particularly outspoken in his criticism of Obama, primarily through his regular appearances as a Fox News commentator. He has assailed Obama's proposed economic stimulus plan, attacked his record on ethics and accused the new administration of putting the nation "more at risk" by banning waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques.
But the strongest criticism so far has come from Cheney, the former vice president, who said in an interview with Politico this week that under Obama, there is a "high probability" of a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack by terrorists. Cheney also criticized several key Obama policies, including new interrogation rules and the decision to eventually close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry," Cheney said, adding that counterterrorism is "a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business."
"These are evil people, and we're not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek," he said.
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.