Really. How much of a dick is Alberto Gonzales?
I’m serious. There has been no one in United States history who has dared to stick a finger in the eye of members of both parties in Congress on a regular basis quite like Gonzales. His "performance" before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday was an incredible display of smug arrogance and contemptuous, carefully-designed stonewalling. Gonzales represents everything wrong with the Bush administration, all delivered behind a sly, uncaring smile and the false confidence of unilateral power that could only exist in the rarified air of the Bush/Cheney White House.
Like all the functionaries of the Imperial Bush presidency, Gonzales does not think that anyone – much less members of Congress – has any business digging into the activities of this most disastrous of administrations. Those who dare to question are considered bugs to be swatted, pests to be eradicated, obstacles to be overcome. After several appearances since the U.S. Attorney scandal erupted earlier this year, Gonzales has staked out a unique sort of useful personna for the process and for the Senators and Congressmen involved. He doesn’t care because he doesn’t have to. Oversight is for suckers. Get over it.
Hell, his very existence in the job is a giant middle-finger to the self-respecting senators on the panel (a group that does not include die-hard Bush-excusers like the reprehensible Orin Hatch). Senators of both parties decided long ago that the sooner his White House-directed running of the Justice Department ended, the better. But Bush decided to keep him there, and what are you going to do about it, bub? While every other president in the history of the republic has at least tried to appear accessible and responsive, these guys see such pre-9/11 thinking as a sign of weakness. They "get to", so they do. Next question.
In the quaint pre-Bush era, the game for executive branch officials with something to hide was to play the game of "ask the right question". Like well-trained defendants in a legal deposition, they would answer only the question asked and not volunteer anything of substance that could be used against him. But, when the going got tough, even Nixon’s (then-former) AG John Mitchell had to answer the questions put to him in the Watergate hearings that glorious, democracy-affirming summer 31 years ago. By contrast, Gonzales appears with a script and will not let silly things like good questions get him off track.
And it’s not like it's hard to put together important questions for Gonzales. A simple question like "how many U.S. attorneys were fired" in the political purge caused Gonzo to claim not to know. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the Bushies fired five more U.S. attorneys tomorrow and came to Congress with the same "what’s your problem" attitude. Far from being chagrined that his hospital-bed sandbagging of John Ashcroft was exposed, Gonzales professed pride in the outrageous behavior, lied about what surveillance program they were trying to get approved, and blamed the whole thing on the Gang of Eight senators. How bad can you be if you make John Ashcroft look good?
Gonzales pretended to listen to the questions and then gave whatever damn answer he wanted to, responsive or not. What does he care? While his manner was mild-mannered and almost polite – except for that smug half-smile on his face – the substance of his answers dripped with designed contempt for the senators and the process.
After the Nixon debacle, it became far less likely that we would end up with the same kind of psychological nutbag as president, who would be able to use his office to punish his enemies, real or imagined. Such a person may try, but he would find himself without the enablers Nixon had to carry out his nefarious designs. Now, we have a different kind of "let’s not do it again" presidency; a power-mad secret society that uses crimes and tragedies like 9/11 to declare a phony "war" so that they can claim to operate in an extra-Constitutional nether world, where they can’t be touched and can’t be bothered with checks, balances and other niceties of government that they choose to declare obsolete.
Once the Bushies hit the door, that will be the end of that. Anyone who tries to recreate this kind of poison atmosphere will be sent packing to the same political hell Gonzales and his ilk will be resigned to, starting in January, 2009.