Monday, April 23, 2007

Alberto Gonzales has a problem -- and it's not the Democrats

While Montana Headlines is waiting for the dust to settle up in Helena, it is perhaps time to take one of our occasional steps into commenting on a subject without too much of a Montana connection (unless we were to try to make some sort of tenuous Bill Mercer connection.)

Byron York's devastating National Review column a couple of days ago starts out like this:

Judging by his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, there are three questions about the U.S. attorneys mess that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wants answered: What did I know? When did I know it? And why did I fire those U.S. attorneys?

One wishes that York were joking. It goes downhill for the poor AG from there. York's main concentration is on how his main adversary in the committee was himself -- and the willingness of Republican Senators to ask simple questions:

... it did not take long for it to become clear that Gonzales’ big problem was not with committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy and his fellow Democrats, who brought righteous indignation and little else to the hearing, but with Republicans, who brought simple, straightforward questions — questions Gonzales often failed to answer.

Hard as it may be to believe, let us remind readers that Gonzales was once on President Bush's very short list for appointment to the US Supreme Court -- specifically, he was one of the first names seriously floated to be nominated for the Chief Justice position. A little acquiescence from conservatives would have been all that was necessary for Bush to have pushed his friend onto the bench -- and Democrats would have had a hard time, back then, blocking his nomination. He hadn't yet drawn their full ire and he would have been the first Hispanic nominee.

The fact that this guy isn't on the bench is almost solely to be credited to conservative Republicans. At the time, those of us who said "not only no, but..." -- well, we were labelled by many Bush-bots as being racist and what-not.

Frankly, we had seen enough to know that Gonzales had no developed judicial philosophy and had shown no signs of legal brilliance. We wanted both. Little did we know just how right we were.

As Bush discovered with Harriet Miers, the limits of Republicans being willing to accept someone just because he is a FOG (Friend of George) are quite constrained. Miers was a stretch -- but Bush knew better than even to think about putting forward Gonzales's name.

While no Republican rejoices in yet another problem for the Bush White House, there is a certain amount of vindication as we follow this affair. These are the same Senators whom Gonzales would have faced in a SCOTUS confirmation hearing. He was being pitched questions from Republicans that he had every opportunity to prepare for. What we got in return was a glimpse into a mind that frankly doesn't work very well -- at least not well enough to be functioning at this level of government.

Say what one will about the sitting Justices (and partisans of one judicial philosophy or another have had plenty to say about both wings of the Court,) none of them are idiots. One finds it hard to imagine any Democrat following the proceedings who could honestly wish that Gonzales were sitting on the Court rather than Roberts or Alito -- just because he might have had an approach to the single subject of abortion more to their tastes.

It is difficult to conceive of any sitting Justice turning in a performance like Gonzales's -- even if they had been just as incompetent at being administrators as he has obviously been.

Gonzales was treated fairly by the Republican Senators, but neither were they trying to make things easy for him or to defend him. There has to be a little bit of "I can't believe that the President even considered trying to cram this guy down our throats as a SCOTUS justice" going on in their minds.

Speaking of someone whom many of us would like to have seen nominated to the Supreme Court when he was in his prime as an federal appellate judge, the most recent issue of the American Spectator (dead-tree stuff again) has a review of James Buckley's memoir, Gleanings from an Unplanned Life: An Annotated Oral History.

In the review, we are reminded of the role that Buckley played in the Nixon resignation back when he was a U.S. Senator. In 1974, he called a press conference once the obvious was becoming obvious, and called publicly for President Nixon to resign. It was a shock to the White House, which had expected solid Republican support (Buckley had run and won as candidate of the New York Conservative Party, but he caucused with the Republicans.)

Many Republicans never forgave him (he lost re-election to Sen. Moynihan in part because of it,) but history bore him out as someone who saw things clearly and spoke even more clearly. It was interesting that in that same issue, Alfred Regnery has a lead editorial in which he points out that the people whom Republicans should be most concerned about supporting are actual conservatives. One of those he mentions is Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who almost since being elected has described himself as the White House's least favorite Republican Senator.

In that light, it was interesting that York closed his article with a James Buckley-eque moment featuring Sen. Coburn:

And in the end, it was a senator no one had expected, Republican Tom Coburn, who delivered the most devastating blow. The Justice Department had described the U.S. attorneys firings as performance-related, Coburn said to Gonzales. “Why should you not be judged by the same standards by which you judged these dismissed U.S. attorneys?”Gonzales explained that he had admitted his mistakes and had taken responsibility for them.

“Well, I believe there are consequences to a mistake,” Coburn replied. “And I would just say, Mr. Attorney General, it’s my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled. And it was handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent. It’s generous to say that there were misstatements. That’s a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered. And I believe that the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.”

And that was that.

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