The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


"Mi abogado"

Submitted by Anonymous on August 27, 2007 - 3:31pm

herman's story is well worth reading.
BTW, 9/17 is constitution day!

Critics: Loyalty was Gonzales' undoing

By Ken Herman
Monday, August 27, 2007

WASHINGTON — In the end, which came Monday for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, his ticket in was his ticket out.

Loyalty is what President Bush always liked about the migrant workers' son he picked for five key government jobs, topped by attorney general, a post that made him the highest ranking Hispanic in U.S. history.

And loyalty - too much of it - is what Gonzales' critics were concerned about when Bush named him attorney general after the 2004 election....

Gonzales, critics said, is just a man who can't say no to the man who made him what he is.

As White House counsel, he couldn't say no to Bush about torture of prisoners and electronic eavesdropping on calls involving U.S. citizens, they said. As attorney general, they said he couldn't say no to Bush about what some see as improper White House influence in the firing of federal prosecutors.

"I voted against Alberto Gonzales' confirmation for precisely the reason that we're seeing now," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said in March when the heat that eventually forced the resignation moved toward the boiling point. "Although he seemed to be a capable attorney, he seemed to conceive of his role as being the president's attorney instead of being the people's attorney."

Loyalty, that most-prized of traits in Bush world, is a fatal character flaw for an attorney general, Obama opined.

"I don't think Alberto Gonzales ever told the president that there was something he could not do," he said.

Loyalty indeed has its down side, M. Elizabeth Sanders, a Cornell University government professor who teaches a presidency course, said Monday.

"I think if you're willing to do anything that you're asked to without giving it a second thought you are bound to get in trouble if you're working for people who are willing to go the extra mile to maintain power and accomplish their agenda," she said.

"It's sad to see that," added Sanders, who rates Bush as a "shockingly bad president." "It tells us that public servants who are willing to resign in protest when asked to do things are really very rare."

Gonzales' efforts to salvage his job was hindered by his halting performances at several congressional hearings, proceedings marked by his repeated claims that he did not remember key details.

At the White House, there was quiet acknowledgment all along that Gonzales was taking a beating at the Capitol.

"He showed he can take a punch. Randall Cobb," a White House aide said last week, referring to a former heavyweight boxer best known for his ability to absorb bloody beatings in defeat.

Loyalty long has been a key trait for attorneys general, who walk a delicate line between independence on behalf of the nation's law-and-order machinery and fealty to the White House.

"Certainly Gonzales is not the first attorney general to be picked for his loyalty," Sanders said, citing President Kennedy's selection of his brother Bobby. "They've always wanted people in this key law enforcement position to be completely loyal."

And she sees it as a reflection of a presidential election system chiefly fueled by a candidate's fund-raising prowess.

"What you end up with is a president who is free to appoint loyalists rather than capable people with some standing in the party before hand," Sanders said earlier this year as Gonzales' hold on the office grew more tenuous. "They are completely dependent on the pleasure of the president. Bush has really taken that pleasure of the president thing to the Nth degree."

The life paths of Bush and Gonzales - one born to privilege, one to poverty - crossed when they were introduced during Bush's 1994 gubernatorial campaign. Then-Gov. Bush made Gonzales, then a lawyer at Houston's Vinson & Elkins, his general counsel, then his secretary of state and then a member of the Texas Supreme Court, a post to which voters later elected Gonzales.

In "A Charge to Keep," Bush's book that coincided with his 2000 presidential campaign, he praised Gonzales, who came to Washington as White House counsel, as a "strong, independent person who would give me an objective evaluation of the law and an honest opinion about how to apply it."

"Mi abogado" is what Bush calls Gonzales. My lawyer.

Gonzales's lawyer's story, from humble Houston upbringing (he tells of being embarrassed to bring friends to his home as a teen) to Harvard Law School to upper echelon government lawyer, is the stuff of a feel-good big-screen hit.

At the January 2005 confirmation hearings, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told Gonzales that a newspaper profile of him "touched me."

Texas GOP political consultant Reggie Bashur was there when the Bush-Gonzales bond was forming.

"Al Gonzales has always been someone who provides candid, open, honest advice. He is a man who is totally transparent. He is not political, He calls it the way he sees it," Bashur said, pegging Gonzales as a man with "all the attributes that would endear him to President Bush."

Loyalty is near the top of those attributes, and Gonzales expressed it in February 2005 when he was sworn in as attorney general. He thanked his mom. He thanked his wife. And he thanked his president.

"Can a friend compose a message of sufficient gratitude for a president who has been an inspiration and mentor?" he said. That bond, so prized by Bush, was questioned weeks earlier at the confirmation hearing. Leahy recalled that Justice James Iredell wrote in 1792 that the job title is "not called attorney general of the president, but attorney general of the United States."

"When he was designated for this position by the president, Judge Gonzales said he's looking forward to continuing to work with friends and colleagues in the White House in a different capacity on behalf of our president," Leahy said, cautioning that there are times when an attorney general "has to enforce the law and he can't be worried about friends or colleagues at the White House."

Those kind of doubts about Gonzales, which never went away, were rekindled by the Justice Department's close work with the White House on the firing of at least eight U.S. attorneys. And the fact that Congress initially was misled about it didn't help.

"There is some concern that if the president wants something, you're going to go ahead and make it work," Leahy had told Gonzales at the confirmation hearing.

Not to worry, Gonzales said.

"I know it is very important that there not be this idea or perception that somehow the Department of Justice is going to be politicized by virtue of the fact that someone who has served in the counselor's office for four years is now the attorney general of the United States," he told Leahy. "I'm very sensitive to that. I'm committed to working hard so that there are no accusations that that happened to the department."

But in the end, which came after months of Bush voicing unwavering support for his loyal friend, that's exactly what happened to the department.

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