Over at Murdoc’s place, he has a piece up about the calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign. It got me thinking, and as is my wont, I started looking at it from a technical historical perspective.
Cabinet officers serve at the pleasure of the President. They are appointed by him (with Congressional review), and serve as long as he wishes to keep them in office or they wish to depart. There are only a few ways for a cabinet officer to leave office:
2) Resignation (either voluntarily or at the “request” of the President).
3) Change of president.
The last has been attempted exactly once — when Secretary Of War William Belknap was caught up in a bribery scandal. He got word the House was about to reveal his corruption and resigned on the morning of March 2, 1876. Five hours later the House, infuriated their actions had been revealed, impeached him anyway. Belknap was eventually acquitted by the full Senate, but the widely-held opinion was that many of those who voted for acquittal felt that since the only punishment for conviction was removal from office and he had resigned anyway, the matter was moot.
(No, I didn’t know this before today. The story of Mr. Belknap came to my attention when I plugged “can cabinet officers be impeached?” into ask.com.)
So, some people want Mr. Rumsfeld out of office. Killing him is kind of illegal, changing presidents won’t achieve much in the short term (Cheney would likely keep him on, and the next presidential election isn’t for another 2 years), and there isn’t much evidence to hang an impeachment on — especially when it’s looking more and more like the Republicans will keep at least one House of Congress, and even if the Democrats win, they’ll have a very slim majority.)
That leaves the resignation option, so that’s what they’re playing right now.
But that’s overlooking the elephant in the room. Most of those who denounce Rumsfeld on a regular basis (along with Karl Rove) don’t, I suspect, don’t give a damn about either of those two men. They are seen as extensions of President Bush, and he is their real target.
There are two schools of thought for bringing down the powerful. The first is the “cut the head off the snake” principle — an extension of the Machiavellian “when you strike against a king, be sure to kill him.” Attacks on someone vastly powerful better be damned sure to succeed, else the retaliation will be ferocious.
The other is a bit more subtle — the “pecked to death by ducks” approach. It’s a slower, more gradual, more subtle tactic. Don’t directly attack, but chip away at the perimeter, staying below the level of open assault. Be at best a nuisance, but never stop picking away at the perimeter, going after not the king, but those the king depends upon. Eventually, if enough nibbling is done, the king will fall much like the famous Saddam statue in Baghdad.
Personally, I don’t care much about Rumsfeld or Karl Rove or any of the others Bush has chosen as his advisors. I respect Rumsfeld for his forthright, honest speaking (“you go to war with the army you have” and “but there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know” are actually very profound insights, but hardly originals), and Karl Rove recently went after a spammer who was harassing subscribers to President Bush’s campaign site. But never forget that these gentlemen — and other cabinet officials — are, for all intents and purposes — extensions of the President. He is ultimately accountable for their conduct, their actions, their decisions. And to repeatedly “call for their resignation” or “demand they be frog-marched out of the White House” are simply the impotent flailings of those who don’t quite have the gumption or ability to vent themselves against the true target of their fury.