Talking back to Alberto Gonzales
As a fellow Chicano, I read former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales’ recent Op-Ed article, “What Latinos want from their president,” with interest. I can assert with confidence that he remains hugely unpopular in our community. Latinos have called him everything from a token to a sellout to a “Pancho” -- a derogatory term for a Mexican American who exists only to serve a white man.
Also, as a fellow attorney, I was curious to read what Gonzales had to say now that he has been out of office for nearly a year. His tenure in the White House and the Justice Department was stormy to say the least, culminating in his leaving office in disgrace. I wondered if Gonzales, like former Bush spokesperson Scott McClellan and a host of other Bush administration refugees, might provide new insights into his role in history.
I admit to having reservations about Gonzales presenting himself as a commentator on Hispanic issues, because there is little in his career to evince interest in any Latino other than himself. His Department of Justice failed to pursue violations of civil rights and voters’ rights laws. He has been at best a lukewarm supporter of affirmative action.
Still, I felt that I owed it to Gonzales to read his words with an open mind -- if for no other reason than the fact that, at one time, he was the most powerful Latino in the country. In his Op-Ed article, however, Gonzales offers only the most basic analysis of Latinos and the presidential vote.
And reading his Times essay, it struck me repeatedly that Gonzales is simply not a credible voice on justice and equality. “Although we know America strives to be a fair country,” Gonzales writes, “the harsh reality is that we are not one nation with liberty and justice for all.” Was he not aware of the irony of these words? As attorney general, Gonzales was America’s lawyer, in an extraordinary position to work toward precisely these aims. Yet he continually placed his loyalty to President Bush above all else, to the detriment of our constitutional separation of powers and civil liberties. Gonzales supported the USA Patriot Act, which greatly expanded the powers of the executive branch. He defended warrantless wiretapping of ordinary citizens. He also condoned the use of harsh interrogations and torture in the war against terror. Who can forget his calling certain provisions of the Geneva Convention “quaint”?
Gonzales had the audacity to maintain that “equal opportunity -- to a job ... is a cornerstone of American success.” Considering that he has yet to fully explain his role in the apparently politically motivated firings of federal prosecutors, I found this assertion breathtaking. Weren’t fired U.S. attorneys David Iglesias and Carol Lam deserving of equal opportunity?
If I seem hard on Gonzales, maybe it’s because -- like so many other Latinos -- I feel a profound personal sense of disappointment in him. His early accomplishments at Harvard and as a lawyer exemplify the American dream, and President Bush gave him the opportunity of a lifetime by appointing him White House counsel. I myself once had hopes that Gonzales might be the first Latino on the Supreme Court. Then he let all Americans down with his misplaced devotion to the president and willful undermining of our justice system. For Hispanics, it’s precisely because we once grasped Gonzales’ seemingly limitless promise that today we view him with such deep anger and shame.
Finally, I most especially took issue with Gonzales’ closing statement that most Latinos want “a chance to succeed.” A chance is a possibility or a probability, dependent on fate or the generosity of others. Thank you, but this Latino does not want a chance. I would much prefer having my full constitutional and civil rights, por favor.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney in New York City.
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