Monday, January 10, 2005

Sorry Sen. McCain, the beatings just didn't hurt enough

Washington wisdom has it that its a foregone conclusion that Alberto Gonzales will be confirmed as the next attorney general. Apparently being morally bankrupt enough to endorse torture as well as a poor lawyer is still no reason you can't be confirmed as our nation's top legal official. Which means that this whole confirmation business is strictly for Show. Well if you are gonna be part of a show, might as well make it an entertaining one. Here's the exchange I wish one of our members of the too-loyal opposition would have the guts to initiate:

Sen X: Mr Gonzales you authorized this memo defining torture under US law did you not?
AG: Yes Senator
Senator X: Thank you, would you then be so kind as to get up from the witness table and Go find Sen McCain in his office, and tell him to his face that despite what he's believed for years, you have determined that was never tortured in the NVA prison camps since the electric shocks and beatings he received there for five years didn't cause pain equivalent to that of ``organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death

I know this will never happen, but I do think It would cast into sharp relief the cloying hypocrisy of the whole confirmation process, and the mockery GW has made of the whole idea of deference to the president's choices. On a basic good government level, I understand the notion that the president should be entitled to have his choices for cabinet posts confirmed. After all, he is the democratically elected CEO of his branch of government, and like the head of any company, he should be allowed to pick his subordinates. However, our Constitution is not a corporate charter; and this is not a business that can succed or fail without consequence to the larger society.
The main cabinet posts are not merely Senior VP's of the Bush Administration Inc. ; they are constitutional officers of our country and hold positions of independent public trust. Therefore, they should be evaluated that way, no matter whose feelings get hurt. There is a reason the founding fathers required the Advice and Consent of the Senate before allowing people keys to certain of the most powerful stores in government.

Once upon a time, when we had thoughtful patriotic grown-ups on both sides of the aisle and the Mall, a president would have been too responsible to even put forward the name of such unqualified and partisan hacks. A nominee like Gonzales or Kerick would never have had to be rejected because no sane president , however powerful, would have dared put them forward. In that environment where there were unspoken rules about the caliber of the appointee, the tradition of deference to the president's choices made sense and was a way to foster bipartisan comity and cooperation.
Those days however are sadly long gone and its time for the deferential tradition to go with it. Once, nominees were selected from a pool of people universally regarded by all sides as the best and brightest. Not anymore, now we are dealing with a presidency where everyone is evaluated solely on the administrations two lodestars: personal loyalty to the president, and ideological loyalty to extreme conservatism. Talent, honesty, character and competence are at best secondary considerations so long as the nominee is obedient to Dick's brand of neo-con ideology and GW Bush personally.

So Far the president has put forward three major names based on his selection criteria. One (Rice)is an enigma to even Washington insiders, but is supposed to be the public face of America abroad. One (Kerik) was to head the largest bureaucracy in the history of the republic, but was so extremely ethically, legally and morally challenged that he would have had trouble getting a security clearance, much less a cabinet post. The last (Gonzales) is to be our nation's chief law enforcement officer, and the final word on legal matters in the administration. Instead of the integrity and flawless judgment that position demands, he has revealed himself as a man of loyalty and ideology over principle, law or morality. By giving the legal imprimatur to administration terror war tactics such as indefinite detentions, military tribunals, the torture of suspects, and the arrest without trial of American citizens he has done one graver insult to the law, and the proud American legal tradition in 4 years, than anyone since Joseph McCarthy.

Should we really continue to rubber stamps these nominees because "the President is entitled to his choices" Or Should the president be "advised" that Bipartisan cooperation stops when he tries to promote people he should be firing instead?

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