Nothing so became his (public) life as the manner of his leaving it

By lex, on August 27th, 2007

Turns out that the August congressional recess is not just a good time for junkets, it’s also a swell opportunity to resign from public office. If brevity is the soul of wit, Attorney General Al Gonzales showed more of all three – brevity, soul and wit – than he had at any time in his previous tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement officer:

“Good morning.

Thirteen years ago I entered public service to make a positive difference in the lives of others. And during this time I have traveled a remarkable journey, from my home state of Texas to Washington, D.C., supported by the unwavering love and encouragement of my wife Rebecca and our sons Jared, Graham and Gabriel.

Yesterday I met with President Bush and informed him of my decision to conclude my government service as attorney general of the United States effective as of September 17th, 2007.

Let me say that it’s been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice. I have great admiration and respect for the men and women who work here. I have made a point as attorney general to personally meet as many of them as possible, and today I want to again thank them for their service to our nation.

It is through their continued work that our country and our communities remain safe, that the rights and civil liberties of our citizens are protected, and the hopes and dreams of all of our children are secured.

I often remind our fellow citizens that we live in the greatest country in the world and that I have lived the American dream. Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father’s best days.

Public service is honorable and noble. And I am profoundly grateful to President Bush for his friendship and for the many opportunities he has given me to serve the American people.

Thank you, and God bless America”

The clumsy way in which his office handled the manufactured outrage following the termination of 9 US attorneys – nothing more or less than politically appointed, at-will employees – was worse than a crime. It was a blunder, and one that cast into doubt his understanding of the political environment in which he operated. If that was all the nation had at stake it might have been worth the pain to continue in a separation of powers debate with congressional critics.

But the Justice Department has a much more to do these days than shout defiance and tug at senatorial beards. There is, after all, the war on terror to wage and the focused efforts of national law enforcement are crucial to that effort. Mr. Gonzales’ tribulations, no matter their iniquitous provenance, were a distraction from the important tasks at hand. The only plausible reasons remaining to continue his struggle were 1) to clear his name, 2) deny the hounds their carcass to go with the scent of blood, and 3) prevent the circus that confirming his replacement will undoubtedly occasion.

The latter two reasons are tempting to those who relish the whistling arc and crash of political scimitars but potentially damaging to the mechanisms of actual good government. And at some point in a beleagured public servant’s career he must ask himself whether preserving his own good name is sufficient reason to let the functions of his office slip.

Mr. Gonzales chose wisely.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Politics and Culture

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