Cabinet resignations during the lame duck period connecting one presidential tenure to the next are nothing out of the ordinary, yet few administrations have harbored a more controversial and radical collection of politicians than George W. Bush’s.
Thus, it is with considerable interest and concern that the nation has viewed the recent resignations of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Powell’s resignation, while certainly a loss, will probably cause little waves. Although he was the lone voice of moderation and dissent amongst radical colleagues hell-bent on achieving their own predetermined agendas, his influence in the Oval Office greatly diminished over the course of time.
His replacement, Condoleeza Rice, will most likely continue to function normally, acting as nothing more than a subservient tool for the president. Indeed, Colin Powell will be missed as a symbolic figure but not as an active politician.
Instead, it will be the resignation of Ashcroft that will have the greatest impact on both the inner workings of the administration and our uniquely American perception of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Ashcroft, most infamous for his disgraceful declaration that to disagree with any government decision is an act of aiding and abetting terrorism, left in his wake a cold legacy of failed foresight, faulty execution, infringed civil rights and a stunning disregard for human rights with POWs.
By the end of his tenure, he had been widely criticized in both Democratic and Republican circles alike. As David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center observed, “his legacy is going to be as one of the worst attorney generals we’ve ever had.”
It will be the job of his replacement, Alberto Gonzales, to restore the dignity of the post.
Gonzales is an interesting choice as Ashcroft’s successor. His recent history is blemished by his writing of a 2002 memo on the part or the Bush administration arguing thatthe Geneva Conventions did not apply to certain prisoners taken in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That is just the sort of narrow mindedness that played a hand in the exposed torture in Abu Ghraib and prisoner torture the Red Cross has accused the U.S. military of at Guantanamo Bay.
While certainly not cast from the mold that one would prefer for the man overseeing the legal workings of our nation, he is still an improvement even in initial reputation (which says a lot about Ashcroft himself).
Despite Gonzales’ shady recent history in his apparent approval of the embarrassingly inhumane incidents of torture committed at Abu Ghraib, positive initial reactions have come from Congress, even among Democratic leaders, which is already a marked improvement from that of Ashcroft, who evoked the ire of many Congressmen.
It is hard to foresee the impact that this small shakeup will have on the next four years of the Bush administration.
Will Rice assume a more active and prominent role in pursuing an agenda as she sees fit, or will the collar-and-leash previously applied to Powell be removed for her?
Does Gonzales have the intelligence, political ability and human decency to restore a broken office that has left in its wake the bitter taste of trampled freedoms and betrayed trust, or will he continue down the path blazed by Ashcroft and further distance us from the nobility of our forefathers?
The answers to these questions will not, by themselves, alter the overall course of our nation, but they can affect the tone of the administration, which in turn has far-reaching effects stretching from Capitol Hill to Iraq.
In truth, we have no place to go but up, so let’s hope these new appointees have a map in the right direction.
Noah Potvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.