You probably think Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned Monday because he was the most controversial Justice Department chief since John Mitchell went to prison for Watergate crimes.
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You probably think the resignation had something to do with allegations of U.S. attorneys being fired for political reasons. Or all those convenient memory lapses when Gonzales was asked about the firings in Senate hearings. Or the simple fact that only very small children and very innocent adults still believe anything Gonzales says.
You might think any or all of that is what pressured him to quit, but you'd be mistaken. At least according to President Bush, who put a different spin on his friend's departure in a statement Monday. "It's sad," said Bush, "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."
As is often the case with the things our president says, there's a hole in that big enough to drive a Humvee through. It was, after all, Sen. Arlen Specter who said Gonzales was not credible, Sen. John Cornyn who called his testimony "deplorable," Sen. Chuck Grassley who accused him of changing his story, Sen. Norm Coleman, to name one of many, who demanded his resignation.
All those worthies are, of course, Republicans. So it is hard to see how Gonzales is a victim of politics, unless this is all part of some Machiavellian effort by the Republican Party to undermine the Republican Party.
Barring that, you have to accept Gonzales' departure as a product of bipartisan disgust. And you have to wonder if the president can still see Reality from the parallel dimension in which he lives.
Here in our dimension, we see Team Bush splintering one by one, any comparison to rodents leaving the Titanic surely just coincidental. There they go: Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary who bungled the war and mishandled the occupation; Karl Rove, the mastermind who practiced the politics of addition by division; and now Gonzales, whose Department of Justice made loyalty to the president a job prerequisite more important than talent, ability or experience.
Make no mistake. These men - among others - have significantly damaged the country. Its institutions, its place in the world, its people, its politics, will bear the mark of their malfeasance and mismanagement for a long time to come. And if you were hoping, as Gonzales bid farewell, for some acknowledgment of that, some backward glance of recognition, some glimpse of accountability, you did so in vain.
In neither the attorney general's announcement of his resignation nor Bush's statement afterward was there the slightest hint that Gonzales, by his mendacity, and Bush, by his tolerance of same, had stained an honorable office.
This is par for the course in an administration where mulishness, obstinacy and refusal to face facts are often mistaken for resolve. Anyone who was looking for contrition had this president confused with some other.
This president doesn't believe in contrition. Or accountability. What he believes in is swagger, the ability to say fish is fowl and to insist on it with such clear-eyed conviction that an observer ends up checking his own glasses.
It is obviously a trait Bush values in his subordinates.
Consider that over the weekend, the New York Times sought to confirm a rumor that Gonzales was resigning. He instructed his spokesman to deny it.
There you have Team Bush in a nutshell. Under fire for his lack of truthfulness, protesting his integrity to the bitter end, Alberto Gonzales was asked a direct question.
And he lied.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Contact him at lpittsmiamiherald.com.
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