Opinion » Bill Cope

The Press Conference

Part Three

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You must be thinking I have a lot of gall, trying to milk a third column out of that Alberto Gonzales press conference I went to seven weeks ago—particularly when I admitted all along that both the press conference and me going to it were as worthless as an "I love you guys" from Paula Abdul.

But here's the thing, my friends. I got it all wrong. Parts One and Two ... you might as well forget I ever wrote them—if you haven't already. I was so swept up in unrequited protesters and Secret Service spooks and shiny SUV caravans that I totally forgot to seriously consider that which I went there to consider in the first place: Alberto Gonzales. I did a lousy job of telling you what it was like being in the same room with Alberto—standing 15 feet from Alberto, breathing the same air as Alberto—and I didn't even realize what I'd missed until a few days ago as I watched clips of him testifying (once again) before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Did you see it? Leahy, Specter, Feinstein ... Republicans and Democrats alike, all talking to him like high school vice principals grilling the kid dubbed "Most Likely to Steal a Car" about an incident in the second-floor boys' room. And there was Alberto in the barrel, shuckin' and jivin' the most excuses available into the least amount of truth possible, and eventually, I quit listening to the senators' obvious scorn and Alberto's obvious crap, and I just focused on his squished-up little pixie face and peered as deeply into his eyes as you can peer in 30 seconds of CNN coverage ... and suddenly, magically, all the words, his words and the senators' and Wolf Blitzer's, receded into a shimmery, slo-mo distance like in a movie in which the tormented lead character experiences an epiphany that explains the whole rest of the movie, and it was at that moment I realized I'd seen this face before. And not just seven weeks before when I was standing 15 feet from him in that stupid press conference.

No, this was the face on every child who doesn't know whether she can trust her parents any longer. On every wife who finally realizes she's married an abusive lout and can't see a way out. On every dog who doesn't know whether his master will caress him or kick him. If I am any judge of men, I saw a man who wakes up in the night, sweating, and wonders, "How could my life have gone so wrong?"

That's what I should have told about the press conference—of a guy smart enough to realize that everything he's worked for has turned into a sour stink that will linger with him for the rest of his days, but nowhere near smart enough to know how to fix it. The slumped shoulders, the tired and forced smile, the wistful melancholy ... at the press conference, his voice was so soft and weak it's as though he knew it doesn't much matter anymore what comes out of his mouth. Whether he's gone by the time you read this or he hangs on until the end, Alberto's story has been told. All that awaits him now is a few months of being joke material for Letterman and Leno, followed by a century of historians explaining why he's precisely the sort of attorney general we never want to see again.

All this was right there in plain sight at the press conference in Boise: a man who has earned our scorn, but also a man who it wouldn't kill us to have a bit of sympathy for. With a tiny adjustment in perspective, a slightly different slant, Gonzales the Terrible—Raper of the Constitution and Scourge of "By the People, For the People"—can be seen as Poor Alberto, yet another victim bobbing in the oily wake of not only the worst president America's ever had, but the most destructive. Of a leadership so ruinous that it sucks the very people who help it stay afloat into the blades and chops them up.

I can't help it. I am feeling sorry for Alberto Gonzales. That's how low he has sunk, to such a miserable state that somebody like me feels sorry for him.

Understand, though, having pity for him is not the same as sympathizing with the havoc he had a hand in creating. "Gonzales: the Excuser of Torture," "Gonzales: the Pusher of Unwarranted Wiretaps," "Gonzales: the Axeman of Insufficiently Political Prosecutors"... for each and every one of these roles, he should lose his job and never again be allowed to soil the inside of a lawyer costume.

But ultimately, it is "Alberto: the Baggage that Came with George" that will be his tragic legacy. To think that a mere 13 years ago, he was just another mediocre Texas smoothie who probably couldn't even imagine that in the coming decade, he would rise like a hot longhorn fart into the dizzier reaches of Galaxy Bush. Texas Secretary of State, Texas Supreme Court, White House counsel, prospect for the U.S. Supreme Court, top law-enforcement official for all of America ... all this because, apparently, George Bush believed him qualified. So who is really at fault? The hand-licking puppy who only wanted sooooo goshdarn much to please the man who feeds him? Or the abusive lout who dragged him higher and higher, until even the puppy must know by now that he's way, way out of his depth?

One more—and let us pray, the last—note on the June 26 press conference: It was broadcast at the time that Alberto's micro-burst trip to Boise was to check up on the efforts of the regional anti-gang task force. Many of us wondered how much he could learn in the little time he was here—presuming our local anti-gang task force is doing something no other area's anti-gang task force is doing ... something so unique it would justify a federal jet ride across the country for Alberto and his retinue.

Well, it turns out that anti-gang task forcing was probably not Gonzales' primary reason for coming, anyway. Within days of his visit, Idaho's U.S. attorney, Tom Moss—who stood dutifully by Alberto's side during the press conference as though he had something to add, but didn't—went to Washington to serve as what's called an associate deputy attorney general. So there you have it. All the hype and Secret Service spooks and shiny SUVs amounted to nothing more than a recruiting trip.

Ah! I've just had another epiphany. Since people are scrambling off the Bush administration like fleas exiting a dead dog, could it be that the remaining faithful—in other words, people like Alberto who have nowhere else to go except back to Texas—are combing the boondocks for replacement bureaucrats. And where better than Idaho to scare up third and fourth stringers to play out the clock?