President Bush, we have been hearing for at least a year, likes to compare himself to Harry Truman, who spent the last two years of his Presidency with approval ratings at least as low as his own, largely because of an unpopular war. The resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales provides an interesting test of that comparison because President Truman, at the same point in his presidency, also had to deal with the problem of an embattled cabinet member—Secretary of State Dean Acheson.
Acheson, a conservative Democrat and a leading
A Proquest search for the keywords “Acheson” and “resign” for the years 1950-2 turns up 160 entries. Virtually every leading Republican officeholder joined the hue and cry, including Senator Robert Taft (widely assumed to be the 1952 candidate), Governor Harold Stassen of
President Truman stuck by Acheson for several reasons. Truman himself was loyal to a fault. After Acheson had refused to condemn Hiss, he remarked to the Secretary that he himself had recently taken some heat for attending the funeral of Tom Prendergast, the
Truman repeatedly refused Acheson’s offers to resign and the two men left office together on
Surely it is not too soon to note the critical difference in these two cases. Although Acheson had certainly made some debatable decisions and a controversial public statement, he had conducted his office honestly and he had never shrunk from giving the Congress and the people a full accounting. Gonzales was deeply involved in the politicization of the Justice Department and refused to “recall” what he had done, and when. Unlike Acheson, he acted like a man with something to hide. What is noteworthy, however, is the contrast between Truman’s repeated, straightforward affirmations of support for Acheson, and President Bush’s statement yesterday,. Here it is.
“This morning, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that he will leave the Department of Justice, after two and a half years of service to the department. Al Gonzales is a man of integrity, decency and principle. And I have reluctantly accepted his resignation, with great appreciation for the service that he has provided for our country.
"As Attorney General and before that, as White House counsel, Al Gonzales has played a role in shaping our policies in the war on terror, and has worked tirelessly to make this country safer. The Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act and other important laws bear his imprint. Under his leadership, the Justice Department has made a priority of protecting children from Internet predators, and made enforcement of civil rights laws a top priority. He aggressively and successfully pursued public corruption and effectively combated gang violence.
“As Attorney General he played an important role in helping to confirm two fine jurists in Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. He did an outstanding job as White House Counsel, identifying and recommending the best nominees to fill critically important federal court vacancies.
“Alberto Gonzales's tenure as Attorney General and White House Counsel is only part of a long history of distinguished public service that began as a young man when, after high school, he enlisted in the United States Air Force. When I became governor of
“These various positions have required sacrifice from Al, his wife Becky, their sons Jared, Graham and Gabriel, and I thank them for their service to the country.
"After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position, and I accept his decision. It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.
“I've asked Solicitor General Paul Clement to serve as Acting Attorney General upon Alberto Gonzales's departure and until a nominee has been confirmed by the Senate. He's agreed to do so. Paul is one of the finest lawyers in
In other words, the President tells us, although Attorney General Gonzales has performed brilliantly and has done nothing wrong, he has to resign because of purely partisan political attacks—exactly what Truman refused to let Acheson do Bush may know (perhaps because of some impending bombshell involving Gonzales, Karl Rove, or both) that the Attorney General’s position was about to become completely untenable. But in any case, he is proving once again that the slogan he likes to use to characterize the days of his youth—“If it feels good, do it, and if you’ve got a problem, blame some one else”—is nothing but projection of the most blatant kind. His Attorney General has to quit—but it’s all the fault of those wicked Democrats.
Mr. President—you’re no Harry Truman.