Let's start with the name of the agency: the Department of Justice. It conjures images of square-jawed, strong-willed men (and women, without more rounded jaws) who politely yet firmly decline when offered a proposal that would steal their integrity. Yes, the Department of Justice—a tough place that dispenses fairness and tosses corruption out with the garbage.
Now look at Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales. Goodness, what a mess. He's a squirrelly little fellow, kind of whiney and completely in over his head. He reminds you a little of Michael Brown, another squirrelly little fellow who was in way over his head as the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency when Katrina came calling.
Both are cronies of President Bush, who, apparently, has an affinity for squirrelly little fellows, and both royally screwed up when facing challenges that more qualified and competent professionals could have handled with proper planning and strength of purpose. But Bush doesn't surround himself with impressive people of great character, even though he's always been in a privileged position to do so. He surrounds himself with his friends. Bush himself has never displayed great character, so why should we assume he's capable of identifying it in others?
You step back and look at these guys—guys like Brown and Gonzales—and you wonder why on earth they ended up in these vitally important leadership positions in the government of the United States of America. It's because Bush lacks respect for the government, its purposes and the high-minded principles with which it was imbued. He considers these agencies venues for favors for buddies. It's that sense of entitlement that has become an unmistakable pattern in this presidency. It's so disillusioning, particularly for those of us who want to be able to look up to our leaders because they have strength, courage, wisdom and compassion.
That notion is a pipedream these days, and that's a shame and a betrayal of our shared American values.
Gonzales has shown us his primary purpose, both as White House counsel and as attorney general: to serve as a political operative on the legal side—a hack, a yes man. It started with his infamous 2002 torture memo, in which Gonzales signed off on a legal opinion that said the president need not comply with provisions of the Geneva Conventions when it comes to terrorism suspects. And it has manifested recently in the way Gonzales is handling the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, including San Diego's Carol Lam.
Thanks to documents made public, Gonzales has been caught in lies about his direct involvement in the ousters and about the involvement of White House officials. Just about every time he has spoken, he's said something new in his own defense that evidence soon proves false. It's like the truth is chasing the poor guy around with a hatchet. Just this week, Gonzales told NBC's Pete Williams, in an interview notable for its grotesque snivel factor, that the brouhaha is a simple case of Gonzales not carefully parsing his words.
Did you get that? The head of the United States Department of Justice, in comments to the U.S. Congress and the Washington press corps about a matter that could get him sacked, and possibly arrested, did not choose his words carefully. That's either an extraordinarily clumsy response to being caught red-handed or utter buffoonery.
In his brief stint in the public eye, Gonzales has endorsed inhumane treatment of prisoners and warrantless spying on American citizens. In January, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that there is no grant of the right to habeas corpus in the U.S. Constitution, even though Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the venerated document says, 'The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Unbelievable. And now, evidence shows that his underlings were working with Karl Rove, the guy who charts the political course for the Republican Party, on the firings of U.S. attorneys not considered, as one e-mail had it, 'loyal Bushies.”
What it all adds up to is that Bush has turned the Department of Justice into another political wing of the White House, one that appears to serve dual masters: a president who believes he's above the law and a political machine bent on returning the Republicans to power.
As of Tuesday, the online magazine Slate's 'Gonzo-Meter” predicts the attorney general will be booted by Friday. We hope so. Given Bush's track record for outrageous appointments, we ought not look forward to a righteous crusader for true justice. But now that the opposition party has confirmation control, maybe we can get someone who snivels just a little less.