By Jorge Mariscal
Latinos, African Americans, and other groups in the United States, that have pushed back against race- and class-based biases for over a century and a half, often find themselves in a double bind.
To what extent can we celebrate the success of individuals from our community if the success of these individuals is inextricably tied to people in power, whose policies have a demonstrably negative impact on the community as a whole?
And shouldn’t our celebration of individual success be subdued if the society at large continues to have a foot on our necks in terms of educational and economic opportunity?
Mexican Americans, for example even those who find reasons to be proud of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales because of his humble origins and his meteoric rise to power face the inescapable irony that Gonzales is joined at the hip to George W. Bush.
As a friend of Gonzales told the Los Angeles Times, “He is completely loyal to the president. He believes the president made him what he is.” Since 1994, Bush has orchestrated Gonzales’ every professional achievement.
Did Gonzales deserve these positions on his own? We’ll never know because he consistently chose to place personal loyalty and submissiveness above ethics and independent judgment.
What we do know is that Gonzales acted as a primary link in the chain of command that led to the torture and abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo. Ironically, another Mexican-American Horatio Alger story, Lt. General Ricardo Sánchez, was one more link in that chain.
When government officials requested information about Dick Cheney’s secret Energy Task Force, Gonzales blocked their efforts. As attorney general, he defended the National Security Agency’s massive and probably illegal wiretapping program.
Now we learn that Gonzales was at in the middle of a concerted effort on the part of the Bush White House to remove eight U.S. attorneys who refused to politicize their offices. Either he was the submissive lackey of White House operatives or was unaware of what was taking place in his own department.
At this point, the evidence suggests that Gonzales was a willing tool of ruthless partisans such as Karl Rove.
Democrats in Congress are now calling for Gonzales to resign. Even Senator John Sununu, a Republican from New Hampshire, has called for his removal. “The attorney general failed to exercise effective supervision in the recent dismissal of United States attorneys. These failures have created a deep, widespread lack of confidence in the ability of the attorney general to effectively serve the president at a very important time,” Sununu said.
There is substantial precedent for close ties between an attorney general and the White House. President Kennedy and his brother Robert come most famously to mind.
But history teaches us that the Kennedy brothers functioned as equals. According to Washington insiders, Bush’s nickname for Gonzales is “Fredo.” Fredo, of course, was Michael Corleone’s dim witted and weak brother in Francis Coppola’s Godfather series.
Some Mexican Americans may admire Gonzales for rising from a farmworker family to a lofty position in government. But there is little to admire in someone who followed his patrón so blindly that he stumbled into questionable if not quite criminal practices.
Attorney General Gonzales should resign because he chose to place his loyalty in one man rather than serve the interests of his community and of the nation.
Jorge Mariscal, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, teaches literature and history at the University of California, San Diego. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.