Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzales Resignation Marks Bush As Lame Duck

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this morning, the resignation announced today of Alberto Gonzales as U.S. Attorney General was "long overdue." Even President Bush, in his statement, referred to a "harmful disruption" he said had been caused at the Justice Department by the long controversy over Gonzales' conduct.

Although the President charged that "mud" had been thrown at Gonzales, the truth of the matter is that the only mud had been thrown by Gonzales himself. He was caught in lies about the partisan firing of eight U.S. attorneys earlier this year, and then became implicated in an improper pressuring of the former attorney general, John Ashcroft, to approve a new surveillance system while Ashcroft lay in a Washington hospital severely ill.

(I had not realized how often Gonzales either could not or would not tell the truth until I read the list in Tuesday morning's New York Times. The most charitable construction to be put on some of Gonzales' answers was that he had attended meetings but paid no attention to what was said there, or that, somehow, he had an impaired intellect).

Unfortunately, Gonzales was never of the stature needed in this sensitive post. He was merely a crony the President brought with him from Texas. It is unfortunate indeed that the first Hispanic attorney general of the U.S. was so poorly qualified to hold the job.

With the recent departure of White House political adviser Karl Rove and the earlier resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration, as we have known it, has been coming apart. Although he has 17 months left in the White House, Mr. Bush now might properly be considered a lame duck, and about the only thing he may be able to accomplish is to hold on in the Iraq war. Even that is not certain.

Another important aspect of today's resignation is that the President will have to appoint a successor who is acceptable to the Democratic majority in Congress. Otherwise, it is unlikely he or she will be confirmed.

There was speculation in a New York Times story that one possible successor is Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, but, due to the mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery, even this nominally nonpartisan figure could be a controversial nominee. Others mentioned in the Times story were Christopher Cox, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or Larry D. Thompson, a former deputy attorney general now with Pepsi Cola. Cox, at least, has been highly partisan and may not be acceptable either. Later in the day, the name of Sen. Orren Hatch of Utah came up. It is an old strategem with a difficult environment for confirmation that the President names a sitting senator from his own political party in hopes that his colleagues will let him slip by. But Hatch is really not a good choice for the post.

It would be better if Mr. Bush were to name someone new, a nonpartisan and broadly acceptable to both parties in the Congress.

This development also makes clearer, if it needed to be, that the President will not be able to follow his Supreme Court choices of the reactionary John Roberts and Samuel Alito, with new appointments of the same ilk, even if they were to arise before the end of his Presidency. It would take a far more centrist personality to win confirmation from this Congress. This is all to the good, because the Supreme Court has been allowed to drift too far to the right, and some of its recent 5-4 decisions, with Roberts and Alito joining, have been highly questionable, really contrary to the public interest.

The Gonzales resignation also represents a triumph for those Democrats in Congress, Pelosi, Senate Mahority Leader Harry Reid, and New York Sen. Charles Schumer who have insisted upon it, as well as such independent Republicans as Sen. Arlen Specter, who also called for it.

The attorney general of the United States is a public official who should be above reproach. Gonzales clearly was not.

This, by the way, was by far the most important story of the day, but the CNN network, ever more inclined to focus on sleazy "human interest" pieces, kept playing the Michael Vick dog fighting plea as more important. This is laughable. A degenerate professional football player who kills dogs is not as worthy a story as the resignation of the attorney general of the United States.


The long article in the New York Times yesterday by Gretchen Morgenson into the squalid and dishonest lending practices of Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender, performed an important public service. The story detailed how this firm has defrauded many thousands of borrowers who deserved better terms with lower interest, while its brokers grabbed extraordinary commissions, becoming rich from their work. These brokers had the gall to assure customers that they were getting them the best possible loans, when they weren't. Then prepayment penalties kept the hapless victims who might otherwise have been able to secure something at a lower price locked in.

L.A. Times coverage of Countrywide has, by comparison, been unduly bland and, on the whole, unrevealing. It is particularly noteworthy that the newspaper's new consumer columnist, David Lazarus, has been confining himself to writing about safe subjects, like identity theft and health care, when he should have been writing about this grossly offensive California-based corporation or airline travesties. It is also discouraging that the Bank of America would come to Countrywide's aid with a $2 billion infusion of funds without insisting on a total cleanup first.

The L.A. Times, however, today finally came around to producing a fairly decent story (by Peter Pae) about the overcrowding and delays in U.S. air travel this summer from the customer's point of view. That, like the Gonzales resignation, was "long overdue."



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