Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Content of His Character

Ruben Navarrette of the Dallas Morning News is one of Texas' best newspaper columnists. But on the subject of Alberto Gonzales, he's allowed his pride to overcome his good sense.

Navarrette believes Gonzales and Condoleeza Rice, apparently because of their skin color, should not be questioned or criticized about their records or beliefs. He declares that
"white liberals ... are thrilled with the idea of minorities doing well – as long as they can claim credit." Any criticism of Gonzales, or Rice, though, must just be sour grapes.

That caught my eye, because I strongly believe Alberto Gonzales, who I've watched since his tenure on the Texas Supreme Court, is unfit for service as U.S. Attorney General.

If you don't think Gonzales would make a good AG, Navarrette opines, you're somehow engaging in "racism," a "high tech lynching," as Clarence Thomas put it, so just shut the hell up, okay? As evidence on Rice, he cites a foul cartoon and a spontaneous line from one local talk-radio host. On Gonzales, he cites a couple of emails he received, one of which compared Gonzales' disdain for workplace safety enforcement to the line from
Treasure of the Sierra Madre, "We don't need no stinking badges."

"Others, like syndicated columnist and cartoonist Ted Rall," Navarrette wrote, "have tried to paint Mr. Gonzales as Attila the Hun with a law degree, an advocate of torture, someone inspired by Nazis, "one of the most twisted minds the American legal system has ever produced" – and, most incredible of all, someone to the right of John Ashcroft."

Several substantive critiques have appeared in reputable media, but to read Navarrette, Gonzales' only critics are nutballs. I haven't seen anyone except Navarrette compare Gonzales to the Nazis or Attilla the Hun, but the rest of that paragraph is defensible. Advocating torture. Twisted mind. As for, "to the right of John Ashcroft," while Gonzales' pro-torture and states-rights-trump-federal-treaties positions might legitimately be interpreted that way, I'd say a fairer statement would be that he's just a yes-man, another sock puppet telling George Bush whatever he wants to hear, reality be damned.

I don't think that has a damn thing to do with race.

Navarrette's argument that liberals' criticism of Gonzales is racist drips with unintended irony. Last year, he was the first to criticize Dallas Latino leaders, rightly so, for giving bad Latino cops a pass when they set up undocumented immigrants in dozens of cases in the Dallas fake drugs scandal. Police told Hispanic leaders such criticism would hurt Latino officers' advancement in the department. Navarrette argued those leaders eschewed their responsibility to their constituents; he was dead right, and courageous to say so.

Now, though, when Alberto Gonzales is named the nation's top law enforcement official, Navarrette wants to portray his critics as opposing Latino advancement.

Cheap shot, Ruben.

Like a lot of smart people, Navarrette's rhetorical analysis focuses on logical consistency of arguments made at the extremes, but ignores power relations and thus portrays a false image. Those emailers, or the person who years ago accused Navarrette of benefitting from affirmative action, don't represent all liberals any more than a handful of Klansmen represent all southerners. They're just a straw man, to avoid addressing substantive issues.

Navarrette ignores the bevy of reasons Gonzales' record deserves reproach. Gonzales' advice to ignore the Geneva Conventions resulted in rape, torture and prisoner abuse. The Reporters Committee for a Free Press didn't like his legal opinions authorizing secrecy for documents from the Cheney energy task force and the first Bush presidency, or his support for making military tribunals secret. He doesn't think states have to abide by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which protects foreign travelers in the U.S., and Americans abroad. As counsel to then-Governor Bush advising on death penalty cases, Gonzales' legal work merited the recent conclusion that his "advice has not always been of the highest professional or ethical caliber."

Frankly, when you look at the details, that's a dramatic understatement.

Dr. King looked forward to the day when people would be judged not by their skin color, but by the content of their character. He still thought poor character worthy of judgment, though! For this white liberal, it's not Gonzales' skin color, but the content of his character I find troubling. I'll stick by that regardless of any race baiting.

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