Outside of the president of the United States, Alberto Gonzales leaves with virtually no fan base. “I have lived the American Dream,” he said at his farewell. But despite a compelling personal story that had him rising from humble beginnings to become the nation's first Hispanic attorney general, his tenure was more like an American nightmare.
If U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales were a baseball player, we'd have been forced by current custom to shorten his name to A-Gon. With his decision to take himself out of the president's lineup Monday, A-Gon finally is gone, heading for the showers to a chorus of boos.
Indeed, outside of the president of the United States, Gonzales leaves with virtually no fan base. “I have lived the American Dream,” he said at his farewell. But despite a compelling personal story that had him rising from humble beginnings to become the nation's first Hispanic attorney general, his tenure was more like an American nightmare for anyone who cares about the integrity of the Constitution.
Indeed, add to Gonzales' list of dubious accomplishment his support for warrantless wiretapping of citizens, his nod to torture as an appropriate interrogation technique in what some believe became the philosophical underpinning for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, his dismissal of Geneva Conventions protections for prisoners held by the U.S., his advocacy of unrestrained presidential power. The act that ultimately sank him may not have been his most egregious - the rare, second-term firing of eight U.S. attorneys for supposedly political reasons. Some have alleged that he committed perjury in his under-oath defense of those dismissals before Congress, which at best painted him as clueless, not up to the job. If the Justice Department has been held in lower regard, it's been awhile.
Gonzales possessed multiple qualities that Americans shouldn't see in an attorney general -- politically motivated, perhaps ethically challenged, joined at the hip to a president to whom he could not say “no” when “no” was required. His performance is one more poor reflection on a president who seemingly values loyalty above all else, competence included, in a Cabinet that continues to embarrass.
Suppose it could have been worse. President Bush could have nominated Gonzales to the Supreme Court, and an obedient Republican majority could have confirmed him.
What remains is a Justice Department in need of a good scrubbing. Americans -- especially those Justice employees unfairly tainted by poor judgment from the top, the great majority -- should not have to wait until the Oval Office has a new occupant to witness one. Some of the names that have already surfaced as potential successors – Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, for one - have their baggage. Another - U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald - could get the job done but is likely to have a snowball's chance in Baghdad with a Bush administration from which he's already secured a conviction. Oh, well, it's not like Fitzgerald will get bored in Illinois.
With but 18 months to go in his term, George W. Bush can still show he really does possess an appreciation for the rule of law, as applied by one of the most important offices in the land. We'd like to believe he has it in him, and that majority Senate Democrats have it in them to give his nominee a fair hearing.
Peoria Journal Star