I have a 4-year-old daughter who has an amazing gift for telling fanciful tales, making them up on the fly to fit any situation. I'm thinking of loaning her storytelling services to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, since it's clear she tells much better stories than he does.
I'm not sure I can recall anything so irritatingly painful to watch as Gonzales' testimony before Congress last week.
A lot of attention is being paid to Gonzales' account of his 2004 nighttime hospital visit to see then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Oh, he wasn't there to talk about the Terrorist Surveillance Program with an incapacitated Ashcroft; he was there to talk about another secret program he can't talk about, because it's classified. But of course he didn't talk about any classified material in an insecure hospital room in front of Ashcroft's wife. He would tell us more, but it's classified.
Too bad his account is being disputed by nearly everyone involved, including FBI director Robert Mueller and then-acting Attorney General James Comey. But what may be the final nail in his coffin is a document from the director of National Intelligence at the time, John Negroponte, that disputes there was some other surveillance program under discussion.
In other words, if Gonzales really believes he was talking about a different secret program, then Ashcroft wasn't the only person in the room who was heavily medicated.
And while this part of Gonzales' testimony is the most legally troubling, I found another part even more disturbing: Questioned by Senator Diane Feinstein about the firing of U.S. attorneys, Gonzales could not answer the basic questions of how many attorneys had been fired — or what they were fired for.
This scandal over the firing of these attorneys has been raging for months. It has been the subject of several congressional hearings, has led to the resignations of six people, and even has Republicans calling for Gonzales to go.
You would think that given all that, Gonzales would have been prepared to answer such simple questions. His dodgy replies made him look like a complete imbecile in front of the entire country.
His testimony leaves only two possible conclusions: Either he is the most incompetent attorney to ever hold a government job or he is hiding something so shocking and dangerous that he's willing to purposely destroy his reputation and even risk perjury charges to keep it secret.
My bet's on the latter.
If Gonzales were this incompetent, I can't see how even his good friend George W. Bush could stand by him. Not only is Bush resisting bipartisan pressure to fire Gonzales, he's giving him a strong vote of confidence, well beyond "Heckuva job, Brownie" status.
You've heard of honor among thieves. It works for liars, too.
At every turn, Bush and his associates are at war with the truth. The president's every utterance on the war in Iraq has to be sifted to remove the falsehoods. He gives Scooter Libby a get-out-of-jail-free card for his lies. Vice President Dick Cheney can't seem to pass up an open microphone without making up claims out of thin air. And the attorney general, the person who is in charge of the department that prosecutes people for dishonesty, has become so outrageously dishonest that it's a wonder he hasn't been struck by lightning yet.
What Bush, Gonzales & Co. are learning now is the lesson of the boy who cried wolf, that after having been caught lying so many times, no one believes what they say, not even a sizable chunk of their own party. Whatever statements they make — even on important matters of war and national security — are open to increasing skepticism because they continue to abuse the truth, over and over.
That means at a very basic level, they have lost the ability to govern, to carry out policies, and to do the work of the people. We no longer have a viable president, vice president, or attorney general. They are dead weight, an anchor on the ship of state that prevents moving forward and repairing the damage they have wrought. If they truly believed in the oath of office they took, they would lock themselves up in prison for the good of the country.
But since they are incapable of holding anyone accountable for their actions, they will continue along their merry, destructive way until Congress grows a backbone and impeaches the lot of them.