Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Reframing the Debate: Alberto Gonzales Resigns

With two sentences in an otherwise routine speech, President Bush completely changed the complexion of the discourse on the legacy of outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Last month, after it was announced that Alberto Gonzales was resigning his post of Attorney General amid several different scandals, the President delivered a statement from the Waco airport bidding his close friend and ally an official good-bye. Slipped into the speech, right after recognizing Gonzales's family and right before tapping Paul Clement to temporarily succeed him, Bush gave his opinion of the Justice Department scandal:

"After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position, and I accept his decision. It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."
This was clearly meant to be a jab at those who consider the Attorney General to be a servant of the public and the Constitution, and not just of the President. The "unfair treatment" referred to months of congressional testimony given by Gonzales where at different times, he inconsistently claimed innocence, ignorance, or executive privelege regarding the U.S. attorney firings and the Terrorist Surveilance Program. His perjurous testimony did indeed create, among other things, a "harmful distraction at the Justice Department", especially when considering the trouble he got former aides Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling into, among others.

Bush calls Gonzales "talented and honorable" and claims that he has a "good name". He even called him "Judge Gonzales" to make him sound more unbiased and dignified, even though Gonzales was obviously no longer serving on the Texas Supreme Court. Bush paints a picture of a noble and just hero who tragically fell victim to unfounded accusations from corrupt politicians looking to score political points. But when so many members of both the House and the Senate, including both Democrats to Republicans, from liberal members like Russ Feingold to conservative members like my state's junior senator Tom Coburn, come together in such a bipartisan manner to express dissatisfaction with the actions of one individual, well, your hero cred goes way down. Just another example of "reframing the debate", a tactic expertly and frequently employed by George W. Bush.

As an aside, I agree that the original scandal of the executive branch firing U.S. attorneys, government employees who work at the discretion of the President, was a little bit of political mud-dragging. After all, it may be a black eye to fire someone not for performance reasons but rather for political affiliations, but it's still legal for the President to do. It's really the manner in which the scandal was handled that I have objection to, first with the refusal to meet with members of Congress on the record, then to the refusal of congressional subpoenas, and then with the outright absurd claim of executive privelege, and finally to the lies and contradictions in testimony. Really, if there was nothing to hide, why try to hide it so much?

- QP


Robyn said...

Look at Steve's fancy pants political blog! Cute :-)

Steve said...

See, now that's some real debatin'.

Jacob said...

I will quibble with the opening of your fourth paragraph. The attorneys weren't fired for political affiliation at all. They were fired for decisions they made during the normal course of their job which arguably have political dynamics to them. Their political affiliation was the same as every other USA. Not that this matters.

In addition, I would say that firing them for such decisions isn't really a black eye at all. Most people who matter understand these aspects of being a political appointee (when they're not making political hay). That the first explanation given to the public for their firing was "performance reasons" and not "whatever we want, because they're political appointees" was much more than a black eye, though. In fact, I'm willing to bet most of the attorneys would've gone gently into the good night if their professional reputations hadn't been at stake, instead of writing Op-Eds and talking to legislators like they did.

Jacob said...

Also, now that Alberto Gonzalez is backup shortstop for the Yankees, I'm forced look beyond his political shortcomings and steroid use (even if he's 0-for-4 on the season).

Steve said...

You are absolutely correct, Jacob, about the attorneys being fired for decisions they made that had the opposite political effect than that desired by the Justice Department. And you are also right that the stink was made when it was announced that the US attorneys were being fired for "performance reasons" and most (if not all, I can't remember) of those fired challenged that accusation in op-eds. Which is why it's amazing that something so small like that would lead to lies and cover-ups rather than apologies. The Justice Department could totally have said, "We didn't agree with the positions you were taking regarding some important cases, and so we felt that it was necessary to let you go. We did not intent to impugn your character or professional ability." It would still have caused a small uproar at the time, but at least it would have been truthful. The biggest problems the Justice Department now has is that they have been exposed in lies about this stuff, not the stuff itself.