April 1, 2007

Flame-out Imminent

Political scandals have their own predictable arcs, like exploding projectiles or episodes of Law and Order. Also, they can be characterized by the Kubler-Ross schema for the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It's all pretty self-evident, except that the role of depression is played by false-humility and the evincing of remorse, and acceptance comes in the form of tendering one's resignation. You can plot scandals along this curve and figure out when the Fates' dreaded shears will snip the thread, spelling the inescapable end.

If you want a text-book example, take a close look at the events that culminated in the resignation of Trent Lott as Senate Majority Leader. Dennis Hastert is a more recent example, though the ultimate perfection of the Cycle was, in his case, somewhat obscured by the larger context of the election that terminated his tenure as Speaker of the House. The Fates, of course, have complete discretion in determining the manner of a person's demise. (Technically, the job falls to Atropos alone, but, as in any close relationship, she probably bounces ideas off her sister Fates.) One detects a taste for irony in such moments.

This brings me to the first of two inevitable flame-outs currently underway: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, currently transitioning from denial to bargaining, as he prepares for his April 17th death march to the Hill.

I've tried hard for months now to try to picture what the moral core of this man might look like. His biography reads like that of a straight arrow: high-school honors student, attended the USAF Academy, Harvard Law School, community service, and so on. Yet his service to then-Governor George Bush is tainted by his perfunctory and biased clemency reviews, and the subsequent rubber-stamping of death penalty sentences. When George answered "none" to the question of how many innocent men were executed by the State of Texas, he was relying on Al's exacting work.

Then of course, even more spectacularly, there is the "torture memo." Another instance of giving the boss exactly what he asked for. Let's leave it at that.

Originally, I was going to call this article "Why I Pine for John Ashcroft," and then wax nostalgic over his quaint efforts to protect Blind Justice's modesty by draping a cloth over her bosom, as well as his intensely patriotic baritone crooning. But in my attempts to understand Mr. Gonzales, I have come to believe the cog that is missing from his machinery of ratiocination creates a void that, much like the nothingness that constitutes a black hole, can so readily gobble-up all known jurisprudence, that anything Ashcroft did or didn't do is almost irrelevant. A lawyer who works to undermine habeas corpus? By the actions you can deduce the deficit and begin to see how a person's flaws can be magnified by their station in life, like inclusions or clouds in gemstones, shortcomings that might otherwise be overlooked become ruinous under the lens that projects personal responsibility onto the giant movie screen of history.

What is a word for people who can't overcome their personal shortcomings and rise to the exceptional demands of momentous duties? "Incompetent," perhaps.

Before he became "America's Mayor", Rudy Giuliani, our other flame-out in progress, was New York's mayor. Consider this: taxi drivers, to a man, called him "Rudy Mussolini Giuliani". This is maybe a case of the converse of Gonzales: here is someone who did overcome his shortcomings, and rose to the occasion in a memorable and inspiring way. But that was during a singular event, and in pre-9/11 New York, Rudy was not regarded with much warmth by Gothamites. Even those who begrudgingly acknowledged his success in matters like keeping trash off the sidewalks would probably not have described him as a likeable guy.

There was also Putin-esque talk of extending his mayoral term as the elections approached, in the immediate aftermath of September 11. Rudy, like Gonzales also a lawyer, seemed to comprehend that the lack of any legal basis for such a usurpation of power might be a bad idea and it was shot down as a trial-balloon.

Be assured that, as the magnifying glass of the presidential primary focuses light on his bristly character, he will begin to smolder and burst into flames. The process is well underway.

Bernie Kerik is going to be an albatross around his neck, for one thing, even Giuliani acknowledges that. And a statement like "I'm going to invite my wife to cabinet meetings" is fissile material waiting to achieve critical mass. The campaign was forced to back-pedal on the issue the following day.

In the end, it will all unfold quickly and dramatically, I am certain. Remember, the last time Rudy faced Hillary? He quit the race because of prostate cancer and it all went down faster than you could snap your fingers. Wonder how his health is these days?

Well, I am taking a chance making my predictions. Whether they prove prescient or foolish doesn't matter much. Because unless you cache this page, I can always revise my opinion.

1 comment:

Tw said...

The Ashcroft pic made of porn images is beautiful.