This is a relief. Gonzales was also, if not the worst,
then certainly among the worst to hold that office.
But might there be a connection between these two facts?
A brief consideration of Gonzales`s career, with
reference to Mexican politics, suggests that there could
indeed be such a connection.
Gonzalez, the grandson of probable illegal immigrants—as
he himself has admitted, or is it "boasted"?—was
born to a
Catholic family in San Antonio and raised in the
town of Humble, Texas, where his father worked
construction and later in a rice mill. A diligent as
well as an intelligent pupil, Gonzales was an honors
student in high school, after which he enlisted in the
U.S. Air Force for a four-year stint. Following his
military service, he entered
Rice University where he earned a B.A. in Political
Science, compiling a record of sufficient distinction to
win him acceptance to the
Harvard Law School, which accorded him the degree of
Juris Doctor in 1982. Gonzales then returned to Texas,
where he went into private practice with the firm of
Vinson and Elkins, becoming a partner. He became an
active member of the community and a pillar of
Houston, taking his place on various local boards
and commissions and earning public recognition for his
So far, so good. Up to this point, Gonzales`s is the
classic American success story of a poor immigrant boy
made good by dint of discipline, hard work, and good
character—a twentieth century
Horacio Algero of
Here, however, the fable begins to differentiate, as
George Ade liked to say.
Gonzales`s career took a definitive—in retrospect, a
fateful—turn when George W. Bush, recently elected
Governor of Texas, hired him as special advisor on
border issues and relations between the State of Texas
and the Republic of Mexico, and later as the governor`s
Since then, Alberto Gonzales has worked almost solely
George Bush, at that man`s pleasure and discretion.
Subsequently, the Governor appointed him Secretary of
State of Texas, and next as a judge on the Texas Supreme
Court. In 2001, Gonzalez
followed his mentor to the White House, where he
served as White House Counsel until 2005, when President
Bush, with the advice and consent of the Senate, made
Attorney General of the United States.
It is clear from this sketch that Alberto Gonzales`s
public career owes everything to the patronage of George
Patronage, of course, is a notorious and abiding feature
of Mexican politics, with which this descendant of
illegal immigrants appears to have been wholly
comfortable. Bush the Younger is famed for his
insistence on what is most politely termed loyalty in
his subordinates. His relationship with his Hispanic
protegé from Humble was no exception.
observers have noted in Alberto Gonzales an
eagerness to supply Bush, both as Governor and as
pleasing legal advice, no matter whether it is the
correct advice or not. In his capacity as counselor to
the Governor, Gonzales worked successfully to have Bush
excused from jury duty on a drunk driving case—an
surfaced during the 2000 campaign when it came to
light that Bush, in answering the questionnaire mailed
to prospective jurors, had
failed to disclose his own DWI conviction in 1976.
There has also been speculation that, as counsel,
Alberto Gonzales was remiss in reviewing clemency
requests with the result that, during his tenure in
office, more executions were carried out in Texas than
in any other of the fifty states.
Patronage and callousness toward
human life and toward justice, though emblematic
features of Mexican
political life, of course are hardly unique to it:
Certainly the history of the United States includes
numerous examples of both. And so it is particularly in
Alberto Gonzales`s record as White House Counsel and
U.S. Attorney General that we may perceive a powerful
inclination, as unquestioning as it is instinctive,
toward an authoritarianism that is no part of the
historic American political tradition—though it remains
very much a part of the Mexican one.
Not to put too fine a point on the matter, Alberto
Gonzales, during his tenure with the Bush
Administration, seems never to have met a piece of
restrictive or anti-democratic legislation, usually
enhancing the power of the Executive Branch, he didn`t
Executive Order 13233, drawn up by Gonzales and
promulgated by Bush in November 2001, amended The
Freedom of Information Act to restrict access to the
archived by former U.S. presidents. From the
beginning, Gonzales was an ardent supporter within the
Administration of the
USA PATRIOT Act, strongly resisted by a wide array
of opponents—including many
conservative critics—for its infringement upon
infamous Presidential Order authorizing the
trial of suspected terrorists by
military tribunals was also Gonzales` work, as was
the equally controversial
memo early in 2002 which concluded that Article III
of the Geneva Convention had been superseded by events
(but not apparently by law), thus rendering protections
accorded to captured combatants inappropriate to the
cases of apprehended Taliban and Al-Quaeda fighters.
(Gonzales wanted to deny prisoners, among other things,
such amenities as commissary privileges and scrip.)
Extant military regulations and presidential
instructions were, Gonzales insisted, sufficient to
ensure that the principles of Geneva would be honored.
objected, adherence to imprecise language in Article
III ("Outrages upon personal dignity", "humiliating
and degrading treatment,"
etc.) might easily be used by hostile governments to
subject military leaders and even civilian officials to
the War Crimes Act of 1996—an eventuality that is, of
course, wholly imaginable. [Detainee
Abuse Charges Feared Shield Sought From `96 War Crimes
Act By R.
Jeffrey Smith Washington Post, July 28, 2006]
Meanwhile, the Justice Department and the FBI have been
accused of abusing, on Gonzales`s watch, the PATRIOT Act
by retrieving unwarranted information pertaining to
American citizens, and the
NSA of spying on them, also without warrant.
And it was Gonzales` attempt to reauthorize the renewal
of the latter activity that led to the
now famous scene in the hospital sickroom of
then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, in which White
House Counsel Gonzales allegedly attempted to persuade
the disoriented patient to
sign off on a renewal of the program in the presence
James B. Comey, Ashcroft`s acting AG.
An attempt by the Senate to get to the bottom of this
incident resulted in Gonzales`s testifying for four
hours before the Judiciary Committee on July 24, 2007.
In his sworn testimony, the Attorney General flatly
denied Comey`s account, insisting that the hospital
"other intelligence activities," and not the
The widespread, and frankly expressed, disbelief
provoked from his listeners on this occasion
recalled the skepticism drawn by his testimony regarding
the firing of seven U.S. Attorneys given to Congress
earlier in the year. It impelled a group of Democratic
call for the appointment of an independent counsel
to investigate the matter further.
Gonzales` behavior under oath before Congress and two
Senate committees speaks volumes about the man`s respect
rule of law in a free country of laws.
Most shocking of all, however, is the Attorney General`s
apparent ignorance of the basic elements of that law, as
suggested by his denial, in the course of an exchange
Senator Arlen Specter on January 18, 2007, of the
constitutional right to Habeas corpus:
Gonzales: The fact that the Constitution—again, there
is no express
grant of habeas corpus in the Constitution. There is
a prohibition against taking it away. But it`s never
been the case, and I`m not a Supreme—
Specter: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. The
Constitution says you can`t take it away, except in the
case of a rebellion or invasion.
Doesn`t that mean you have a right of habeas corpus,
unless there is an invasion or rebellion?
Alberto Gonzales, it is true, has only been trying to
aid, abet, and please his
apparently quintessentially American boss, the
President of the United States. And others in the
Administration, most notably
Vice President Cheney, the man from
Alger Hiss came from a
background very similar to Bush`s.) Even so,
America`s experience with its “First Hispanic
Attorney General” seems not to augur well for
tomorrow`s involvement in American politics by the
children and grandchildren of today`s illegal
Mexican immigrants—a prospect
welcomed by some (including especially
the government of Mexico) and feared by many others
It may be, on reflection, that
multicultural studies in America`s schools might cut
Perhaps, in addition to learning the history of the
American Revolution, the American young should be
reading about the history of the lawless,
Mexican Revolution (circa 1910 to 1928).
That could be a real eye-opener for everybody concerned.
Chilton Williamson Jr. [email
him] is the author of
The Immigration Mystique: America`s False Conscience
and an editor and columnist for
Chronicles Magazine, where he writes The Hundredth
Meridian column about life in the Rocky Mountain West.
latest book is
The Conservative Bookshelf: Essential Works That Impact
Today`s Conservative Thinkers.