May 21, 2007

Vote of No Confidence

Democrats have planned to stage a "no confidence" vote with respect to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. This really tears me in two directions.

On the one hand, Gonazles has been somewhere between a very prominent example of the Peter Principle in action and an abject failure as an Attorney General. He has lost the confidence and respect of the Republicans who should be supporting him as well as the federal prosecutors who report to him. He has demonstrated little but contempt for the individual rights described in the Constitution in his zeal to support his friend the President. He is the poster boy for buying in to the false choice between liberty and security. When even John Ashcroft had to be rousted from his sickbed to stand up for civil liberties, you know something is very seriously amiss. The only thing that has me hesitating to call for his resignation myself is the tremendous fear that President Bush would somehow find someone even worse.

Note to my Republican friends: it is not the hallmark of a good conservative to knowingly subvert the Constitution. Quite the opposite.

But on the other hand, the fact of the matter is that Gonzales has the trust of the President. That is pretty much the only job qualification for the role of any political appointee, and it pretty much has to be that way. While in some cases, Congress can play a role in deciding whether someone can get a high level governmental job in the first place, it is not for Congress to evaluate whether a Cabinet official's job performance is acceptable or not. The President ought to be able to pick his own advisers and use them as he pleases to implement the policies he likes. By the same token, if one of those advisers does their job poorly, it should reflect on the President and he should take the political heat for their poor performance.

As someone who is concerned about principled decision-making, I have to side with the second impulse. As much as I dislike Gonzales, it should be the President's decision, and not Congress', as to when he goes. While I realize that the resolution being proposed is non-binding and will have no particular effect, it will not force the President's hand in requesting Gonzales' resignation -- to the contrary, it will trigger an obstinate steak in Bush's personality and make him dig Gonzales in even deeper, much as he did with the Secretary of Defense from 2003 to 2006.

And it sets a bad precedent for our system of divided government. Congress' role in the appointments process is limited; the President proposes, Congress disposes, and after that, Congress steps out of the way and addresses its concerns to the President. I think this goes beyond expressing concern about Gonzales and represents an encroachment on the President's ability to administer his own Cabinet. So as much as I wish Gonzales would step down (or get fired) it's worth it to insist that George W. Bush do it, and not Harry Reid or Dianne Feinstein.

No comments: