Jonah Goldberg

"Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days."

One doesn't want to begrudge Alberto Gonzales a brief, self-indulgent moment of mawkishness as he ignominiously departs the public stage. But one of his main problems was that mawkish self-indulgence was often his defining contribution to the public debate.

To the bitter end, Gonzales remained the most self-involved attorney general in modern memory. (Full disclosure: My wife worked for Gonzales and his predecessor.) Gonzales liked to give speeches - even after he left the White House for the Department of Justice - about what a great country this is that it would let a man like him drive through the White House gates. He liked to complain about how hard his job was, and he defined that job first, last and always as being the president's man. Oh, and he mentioned that he was the grandchild of immigrants, by my rough calculation, 12 trillion times.

Gonzales is no doubt sincere in his ethnic and familial pride and his fondness for President Bush. But it's hard not to see this stuff as a defense mechanism of a man long carried by a political operation with a weakness for Latino success stories and loyal cronies.

Whenever he took the initiative, he seemed out of his depth. When Gonzales took over as America's "top cop" in 2005, he insisted that his Justice Department revive the Reno-era emphasis on "the children" as a defining mission of his tenure. Never mind that Republicans had invested a great deal in the (valid) argument that the Clinton Justice Department was too distracted and mushy-minded to recognize the al-Qaida threat. He surely should have gotten the memo that the war on terror was the supreme priority for the administration because he wrote the memo.

Not since James Watt, President Reagan's ham-handed Interior secretary (he barred the Beach Boys from the National Mall for drawing "an undesirable element"), has there been a major Cabinet secretary more politically tone-deaf.

Which brings us to Gonzales' resignation.

For months, Bush's most enduring loyalist has let the Democrats be-bop and scat up one side of the administration and down the other over largely imaginary Justice Department scandals. What did Gonzales know? When did he know it? And what security program was that again? Gonzales was a piñata for Democrats; bash him from any angle and you got a prize.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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