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Saturday, January 8, 2005

The attorney general in his labyrinth.

Yesterday morning, listening to "highlights" of the confirmation hearings for Alberto Gonzales on NPR, I felt almost dizzy with disgust at his evasion of the most fundamental question: Does the president have the authority to operate above the law? Torture is so academic for this man. It's a subject about which he maintains such dispassion, such profound agnosticism. We'd never do it, you see, so who cares that I asked for justifications for redefining it and said that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to us, and anyway, let's not talk about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, we've changed our policy, so let's just draw a curtain of discretion over the last two years, shall we? After all, at least I didn't employ a "nanny" or anything unethical like that.

Chris Suellentrop at Slate sums up Gonzales's apparent attitude:

Early in the day, Gonzales professed the requisite faith that America was "a nation of laws and not of men," but his opinion of the president's ability—however limited—to authorize individuals to engage in criminal acts suggests the opposite. This is a government of good men, Gonzales implicitly assured the senators, so there's no need to worry about legal hypotheticals like whether torture is always verboten. Don't worry, because we don't do it. It's a strange argument from a conservative: We're the government. Trust us.

Ah, but these are strange times: The executive branch is paying good money to insure our trust in its policies. A day after Gonzales led the Senate through a labyrinth of legal obscurities, we learned that the Department of Education paid conservative "journalist" Armstrong Williams $241,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on his own program, in his syndicated column, and in his appearances as a commentator on CNN and other networks. Not only that, it turns out that the Office of Drug Control Policy provided local TV stations with a "news report" to broadcast just before the Super Bowl featuring a "journalist" reporting on a White House ad campaign on the dangers of drug abuse. Congress's Government Accountability Office called the practice illegal "covert propaganda," according to yesterday's Washington Post.

Your tax dollars at work, my friends.

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 8 January 2005 at 12:15 PM

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January 8, 2005 12:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

Dahlia Lithwick looks at the peculiar way Bush officials are "brave" only in private:

Why is a man so unabashedly willing to "lean forward" on the boundaries of the law in the plushy comfort of his White House conference room, willing to be blown back into near-limbo position when it comes to articulating his legal views in public? Why was he unable to either disavow the extreme positions he's taken in the past or stand up and seriously defend them?

Because this is a government that would prefer ordinary citizens — and Congress! — to let the think tanks do the thinking for them. Lithwick (who thinks Gonzales might have been able to provide a cogent intellectual defense of the ideas he only privately supported) angrily concludes:

The Bush administration's party line on every smudge and tear it has inflicted upon the Constitution has been: "Trust us—we know what we're doing." But it's hard to trust a government that either won't disclose what it's doing or denies what we know it to be doing behind closed doors. From the Patriot Act, to its treatment of aliens, to its indefinite detainment of citizens, and the sham of its military tribunals, we have been advised at every turn that the administration has only the national interest at heart. And even that argument might have been defensible were the government honest about what it deemed our best interests to be. Many, if not most, Americans were once willing to trust the Bush administration to protect them in wartime. But when government officials cannot publicly stand behind the extreme positions they have staked out in private; when they espouse one view in secret and irreconcilable politically correct versions before the cameras; when not a single individual is ever held to account for genuine government screw ups—such as those at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib—one is left only to wonder which individuals and ideas we were meant to trust in the first place.

I am continually astonished — and I do mean genuinely astonished — at conservatives who think these are appropriate ways to govern the United States. It's outrageous.

Chris Tessone:

January 8, 2005 05:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

I went to Rt. Rev. Jack's UU church last month, and during the discussion group before worship we got on the topic of fascism, "can it happen here?", etc. There was a couple who was originally from Argentina and they told this chilling story about how little they knew, about how much faith they had that Argentina would snap out of it and return to being an enlightened, freedom-loving country.

In light of everything that's been in the news the last couple of years, it was chilling. That conservatives, once the party of small government and anti-communism, are engaging in "just trust us" policy and agitprop makes me think it very well could happen here.

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