Smart guy, smart choice

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Rick Horowitz
Thursday, October 18, 2007

There’s something to be said for going with the guy who doesn’t need the job.

There’s a better chance he’ll actually do the job—particularly when part of the job is telling you things you might not want to hear.

Wasn’t it strange? Strange and wondrous, watching a professional—an actual grown-up—sitting at the witness table, fielding serious questions about serious topics. The committee members didn’t get all the answers they wanted, and they didn’t like all the answers they got. But still…

My fellow Americans, our long national Alberto is over. Roll out the Welcome Wagon for Michael Mukasey.

“Mukasey Vows Allegiance to Law”—that was how the first-day story played on the Washington Post’s Web site, and that’s all you need to know to know how bad it’s been: It’s headline news when the nominee for the top law-enforcement position in the land promises that his loyalty will actually be to the law of the land—rather than, say, to the political agenda of the man who appointed him.

“I will either talk them out of it, or I will push away from the table and leave.”

You can say things like that when you’ve already built a long and distinguished career, when you don’t need yet another line, however glittery, on your resume. When you’re doing them the favor by taking the job, and not the other way around.

The problem with Alberto Gonzales was…

Where do we start?

Well, we could start with the overwhelming sense that the job was much bigger than he was, that he had neither the intellectual firepower, nor the management skills, nor the infighting savvy he needed to take a position, defend a position, and occasionally even prevail against the Roves and Cheneys and Addingtons of the world.

But those shortcomings hardly mattered because the other overwhelming sense was that Alberto Gonzales had no particular interest in taking or defending a position, or in standing up to the administration’s various hard-chargers.

Alberto Gonzales’s job was to say “Yes.” Say “Yes,” and find some way to let the big boys do whatever it was they had already decided to do. Say “yes,” and take the heat for it when Congress finally discovered how many bright lines had been blurred, and even crossed.

General proposition? It’s generally better when the attorney general of the United States is not a national embarrassment.

A little sympathy, though: It would have been hard for Alberto Gonzales to say “no” to George Bush, or to the president’s top lieutenants. Alberto Gonzales owed his career to George Bush. George Bush discovered him, and hired him. Promoted him, and befriended him.

George Bush was the rocket for Alberto Gonzales’s astonishing ascent. What were the chances that Alberto Gonzales would ever dare to cross the man who made him?

They knew that when they hired him.

But when they hire Michael Mukasey, that changes. He may wind up agreeing with the White House on most of the difficult national-security issues that cross his desk—by all accounts, he’s a rock-solid conservative—but listening to him answer the committee’s questions, you had the distinct impression that he’d reason his way to his position, whatever it turned out to be, and that if that position happened to disagree with his boss’s position, he’d say so anyway.

And on the simple stuff—the stuff that should have been simple, at any rate, like White House interference in investigations, or partisan considerations in hirings and firings, or indictments timed for political impact—Michael Mukasey has already made his position clear:


And if it comes to it, he says, he’s willing to walk away.

Amazing what you can do in a job when you don’t need the job.

Last updated: 7:47 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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