I don’t spend all my spare hours home hunkered down over C-Span, but I must say the TV catch of the weekend was the rerun of the Senate Hearings on the Prosecutors (a print account is here) I mean, this is not amateur hour; these guys (the fired US Attorneys) are total pros, honed to a fine edge for the job of answering questions and making a record. Among the questioners, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the point man for the home team, was well briefed and stayed on message, with backup from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) (who seemed a bit vague from time to time). Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa), who never in his life tried for the congeniality prize, seemed to be sniping, but in fact it appears he is one of the more conspicuous Republican grumblers about this latest administration of abuse of power (but cf. Fn. Below).
The hearings also brought home a point that has eluded me before: perhaps the worst of this sorry lot we call “the Executive Branch” is Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Don’t misunderstand me here: I don’t doubt that Vice-President Cheney is more satanic, and that Karl Rove is a more fully-formed sociopath (the Narcissist-in-Chief remains, I assume, above all praise or blame). But with both Cheney and Rove (and with their ilk), you get the impression that they know what the stakes are: they know what principles of decency, civility and good order they are working so hard to subvert.
It appears that Gonzalez, by contrast, really doesn’t get it—that all his career, he has made his way by being the dutiful, colorless hireling, who doesn’t have to swallow his principles to do his dirty work because he never really had that sort of principle to begin with. You get the sense that he never really lost any sleep over those 57 clemency memos that helped to make Texas (under then-Governor George Bush) the execution capital of the free and unfree world; that it wasn’t a big deal for him to sign off on “the torture memo” that did so much to set the tone for this whole sorry administration; and you suspect that when he speculated that there is no grant of habeas corpus in the Constitution, he really believed what he said.
Compared to what has gone before, his role in the dismissal of the Gonzalez Eight—the prosecutors summarily fired in mid-term—is actually pretty small potatoes. But it offers a marvelous insight into just how clueless and tone-deaf he really is. These are political appointees; we want to buff some resumes (and perhaps stuff a few pending investigations. If we said some unkind things about the departed, well then maybe we handled things poorly, Still Gonzalez was too busy to respond to subpoenas (although apparently not too busy to approve the original list (link)—after 57 clemency memos, this particular mass execution was probably not particularly hard). At the end of the day, it’s all an “overblown personnel matter.”
I’m willing to take him at his word here: he still doesn’t seem to understand why anybody is upset. Yet in this episode (at last?) he may have bought himself the worst sort of enemy: disciplined, energetic, professional, and really, really ticked. “Loyalty,” said evangelical, straight-arrow David Iglesias, late US Attorney from
Fn.: Although it seems sincere enough, Specter’s current indignation is actually pretty rich, considering that it was he who started this locomotive down the track in the first place (link). But let that be: the quick 180 for a Senator is the political equivalent of the triple lutz.