The Enemy of My Enemy May Still Be the
Enemy of Democracy
July 13, 2005
By Paul Rogat Loeb
right-wing religious leaders attack Alberto Gonzales for being insufficiently
doctrinaire, it's tempting to accept him as the best we can get
for the Supreme Court. In a recent Huffington Post blog, Rob McKay
suggested we mute our opposition voices precisely because a Gonzales
nomination would divide the political right and fracture their coalition.
But accepting someone with the track record and values of Gonzales
would be a grievous mistake. We're in our current mess in large
part because our culture has been unable to confront the profoundly
destructive consequences of the choices made by our leaders. To
equivocate about Gonzales's role in these choices is to accept a
culture of lies.
Of course, we don't completely control the outcome in this fight.
It depends on the Democrats showing enough spine and the half-dozen
supposedly moderate Republicans placing democracy ahead of short-term
partisan advantage, and refusing to eliminate the judicial filibuster.
But when someone exhibits as much contempt for due process as Gonzales
does, we have to challenge him, in every way we can.
Gonzales is not David Souter, a relative unknown. He's someone
who's embraced the most radical extensions of presidential power
and most radical contempt for human rights. He called the Geneva
Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete." He chaired the 2002 meetings
that that argued that interrogations were not torture unless they
produced "injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment
of body functions." He wrote the Presidential Order saying that
terror suspects could be tried and sentenced to death by secret
Gonzales has also consistently promoted questionable corporate
interests. While on the Texas Supreme Court, he accepted major donations
from corporations, like Halliburton, with cases before the court
(Halliburton had five separate cases). Then he consistently supported
the positions of these companies while refusing to recuse himself.
He similarly refused to recuse himself from the Bush administration's
investigation of the Enron scandal, though he'd received $14,000
from the company of "Kenny Boy." When the Government Accountability
Office asked who participated in Dick Cheney's secret energy policy
meetings, Gonzales blocked release of the documents.
Maybe a Gonzales nomination would temporarily split the right.
But he isn't someone to embrace, either morally or politically.
And if we let his potential nomination go through without a fight,
Bush can still heal the wounds in his coalition by nominating a
"real" conservative to William Rehnquist's seat. Meanwhile we'll
have raised the bar still further till we're unable to challenge
anyone short of Attila the Hun or Vlad the Impaler, and then only
if they've spoken too bluntly.
We may not win in challenging Gonzales, but at least we will make
clear why giving him a lifetime appointment is an outrage to democracy.
We can highlight the profound destructiveness of the values that
he and this administration represent. We can challenge the Republican
"moderates" to stay true to their word and maintain the option of
the judicial filibuster.
If we do this successfully, we'll help define Bush's Republicans
not just as captives to some vague notion of extremism, but to specific
policies that assault our democracy, endanger the lives of its citizens,
and plunder the planet that we inhabit. If swing Republicans still
vote to eliminate the filibuster, or insist on the confirmation
of Gonzales, we can and should hang this action around their necks,
and brand them, come election time, not only for embracing legal
torture and unalloyed giveaways to corporate interests, but also
for annihilating 200 years of democratic checks and balances in
the service of a raw power grab.
Those on the political right have split and reunited too often
for us to count on their rupture over even something as consequential
as a Supreme Court nomination. When election time comes, they'll
cut their losses and work together to elect those who will give
them the maximum power. Learning from this means not giving up on
challenging reprehensible nominees before we start.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take
a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear,
winner of the Nautilus Award for best social change book of last
year. He's also the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living With
Conviction in a Cynical Time, and three other books. See http://www.theimpossible.org
for more on Paul's work.