Peter Baker's long WaPo piece on how the Bush "freedom agenda" was stalled by bureaucratic intransigence is a depressing read on every front. On the one hand, it's a damning portrait of a weak President who entertained delusions of world-historical grandeur but couldn't even keep his own Vice President on board with the mission, let alone his Cabinet agencies; on the other it's a story of how the federal bureaucracy works to frustrate and undermine the elected officials whose policies it supposedly exists to implement. It moves from depressing White House anecdotes like this one ...

Gerson, Bartlett, Karl Rove, Peter Wehner and other aides met at the White House on Jan. 10, 2005, with a group of academics. Yale University historian John Lewis Gaddis suggested that Bush promise to work toward "ending tyranny" by a date certain in 20 or 25 years. Some scoffed, but Gerson liked the idea.

The group adjourned to lunch in the White House mess, where, Gaddis later recalled in a lecture, Rove recommended the "chocolate freedom tart," a French desert renamed during the Iraq invasion.

... to depressing bureaucratic anecdotes like this one:

Defiance of Bush's mandate could be subtle or brazen. The official recalled a conversation with a State Department bureaucrat over a democracy issue.

"It's our policy," the official said.

"What do you mean?" the bureaucrat asked.

"Read the president's speech," the official said.

"Policy is not what the president says in speeches," the bureaucrat replied. "Policy is what emerges from interagency meetings."

On both fronts, the word that comes to mind is decadence.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to