The most shocking thing in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s two-minute resignation speech wasn’t the fact of his going – that was long overdue – it was the way he abused the memory of his father, Pablo.
Gonzales, who revealed nothing about the timing of or the reasons for his departure, added this at the end: “I have lived the American dream. Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father’s best days.”
By worst days, Alberto, do you mean the day you described the Geneva Convention (on the treatment of prisoners) as “obsolete” and “quaint”? Because that’s what Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld wanted you to say? Never mind the statement’s horrific ramifications? (See Abu Ghraib; see Guantánamo Bay.)
Or was it the day the Supreme Court slapped you down and found exactly the opposite to be true?
Perhaps you were thinking of the day you justified for your boss the concept of extraordinary rendition, the secret transport of prisoners to secret prisons in foreign countries there to be tortured? The international treaty on torture, signed and ratified by the United States, forbids all “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” but you held that while this should certainly be true for Americans, it needn’t apply to foreigners held by the United States abroad.
Or was your very bad day when a U.S. court struck down that bit of legal hypocrisy? (Not before U.S. prestige in the world suffered another massive hit.)
Maybe you were thinking of the day you performed astounding legal contortions to justify warrantless wiretapping of Americans? You wrote that the commander in chief could violate the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act with impunity, because he could not be bound by the other branches of government in how he “engages the enemy.” In other words, the president is above the law.
But then a federal court declared that reading unconstitutional, and you and your sovereign had to back down. (But not before Americans of all stripes wondered why they were being made the enemy.)
Or was it the day, Alberto – the several days – when you likely perjured yourself before the Senate, saying you couldn’t recall the orders from Karl Rove to remove nine United States attorneys, all of whom had failed “the Architect’s” true-Republican litmus test?
These dissembling days were better, Alberto, than the day your Mexican father met and fell in love with your mother in San Antonio? Better than the days he welcomed each of his eight children into the world? Better than when he and his brothers built your family house in Humble, Texas? Or the days he watched you play football and baseball in high school and go off to Rice University, the first in his family to go to college?
He struggled to make all that possible and died too young to see you hit the big time. But don’t you think he had some good, proud days along the way?
Pablo Gonzales’s truth – whatever it may have been – is now a casualty of Karl Rove’s political mythmaking. Rove plucked the young Gonzales out of a Houston law firm in 1994, the same Houston law firm that handled legal affairs for Enron and Halliburton. He wanted a Latino to lend diversity to George W. Bush’s gubernatorial run, and with Gonzales, he not only got the back-story – model achiever from poor, immigrant family – but a pliable legal mind to boot. Bush nicknamed him Fredo, after the middle Corleone brother in “The Godfather” movies, the weakest of the three, but also the most obedient, the most dutiful.
In 1996 Gonzales helped Governor Bush get out of jury duty when that process would have highlighted his boss’s own prior drunk-driving conviction and thus damaged the planned presidential bid.
A grateful Bush named Gonzales to the Texas Supreme Court even though Gonzales had had exactly zero jury trial experience. In 2001, Bush brought him to Washington as White House counsel. And when Attorney General John Ashcroft had to go, Fredo was the perfect fit to bring Justice under the wing of the White House and steer it toward Karl Rove’s goal of a “permanent Republican majority.”
Under qualified though he was, Gonzales’s nomination went forward in the uneasy, sometimes overeager racial climate that is America in the 21st century. Once confirmed, he went on to commit the travesties mentioned above – and others – while defending administration policies that were legally indefensible.
American dream, my foot! Alberto Gonzales betrayed his father’s journey. He believed the myth Karl Rove built for him. He was the Latino lawyer who befriended a governor who became a president and was rewarded for his loyalty. But he made a huge mistake; he thought unwavering subservience was enough. He didn’t get it, that it was not only about power and position – how far you’ve risen above your humble roots.
In the thrall of his powerful mentors, Fredo missed the part about founding principles and the rule of law. At the end, he was still playing the myth card, still playing politics when the occasion called for something genuine. Something honest perhaps.