THE I-WORD….Whatever else you can say about him, Robert Novak has pretty good sources among Republicans. Today he writes about Purgegate and Alberto Gonzales:

“Gonzales never has developed a base of support for himself up here,” a House Republican leader told me. But this is less a Gonzales problem than a Bush problem. With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, George W. Bush is alone. In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress — not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.

….The word most often used by Republicans to describe the management of the Justice Department under Gonzales is “incompetent.”….The I-word (incompetence) is also used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally….A few Republicans blame incessant attacks from the new Democratic majority in Congress for that image. Many more say today’s problems in the administration derive from the continuing impact of yesterday’s mistakes. The answer that is not entertained by the president’s most severe GOP critics, even when not speaking for quotation, is that this is just the governing style of George W. Bush and will not change while he is in the Oval Office.

Italics mine. Novak is right: the deficiencies of the Bush governing style are legion, but when all’s said and done I think that the very first critique from the very first administration apostate is going to turn out to be the one that nailed the Bush presidency’s core problem. Ladies and gentlemen, John DiIulio:

In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis….On social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking — discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue.

George Bush and his team practically ooze contempt for the naive conceit that policy analysis is a serious business. That makes competent governance impossible — and as Novak says, that’s not going to change until we have a new occupant in the Oval Office. Until then, keep your seatbelts fastened.