Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
February 7, 2006

Because (I Say) It Says So

Gonzales-Fisa

During his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, I found it fitting that bull-nosed Alberto Gonzales would present a marked-up book dealing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

One way of thinking about the Administration and Congress is in terms of an abusive relationship.  The White House is the domineering and willful partner; Congress represents the subjugated and taken-for-granted, yet not thoroughly submissive other partner.

In these relationships, you often see a pattern where the dominant party — used to exploiting, and taking the other for granted — will occasionally end up doing something that goes farther than usual.  When such an instance occurs, the sense of violation and offense in the weaker party can sometimes reach a degree that will override that person’s typical intimidation.

In the confrontation that follows, the weaker party will start by laying out the details of the charges (such as the fact the stronger one slept with the neighbor’s spouse, and then was caught walking out the apartment partially undressed).

What the weaker party will quickly find out, however, is that such details are irrelevant.

Imbued with righteousness, the stronger partner will argue that whatever the other person claims to think is beside the point.  The issue, for the more powerful one, is never what happened.  The question is how anybody could dare question the motives, intentions or judgement of a higher authority.

In holding up the book, and even pointing out particular passages (notice a section on the lower right-hand page faintly highlighted with red), Gonzales’ is not evoking principles of law.  Instead, he is reminding Congress that, based on the ultimate vision and authority of the Executive branch, he has every right to pick and choose between statutes, and to emphasize or ignore phrases and clauses that might supersede those statutes.

In these asymmetrical confrontations, the debate is never about the issue itself.  It’s about power, and about what basis exists for holding the conversation at all.



(image: Dennis Cook/A.P.  February 6, 2006,  Washington.  Via YahooNews)

  • http://www.futurebird.com Susan Murray

    Wow. I read about this incident and it gave me the shivers. I could not put my finger on the reason why. But it is the abusive, dismissive quality of the event that alarmed me.
    Oddly, the sixe of the book makes me think of a bible. He hold it like a chunk of meat, thought not a book, as if he could mold it in to whatever he wants. It’s not wide open enough to really see in.

  • marysz

    There’s another book or sheaf of papers on the table beside Gonzales. What strikes me is that Gonzales doesn’t put his papers in the plush, secretive, leather-bound notebooks that Dick Cheney, Condi Rice and the other Administration figures favor, Gonzales isn’t one of the “in” crowd at the White House (despite the way he’s stuck out his neck for them). And his papers look shopworn and shabby. It shows how chaotic and sloppily things are actually run beneath the smug, slick White House apparatus. If the administration is ever held accountable for its domestic spying program, the outsider Gonzales has already been set up to be the fall guy.

  • http://www.creatingisgenius.com Joanne

    I think your abusive-family analogy is quite applicable, especially when the administration cautioned Congress to complete secrecy. “You mustn’t tell a soul,” is often the invocation of child molestors.
    I also think the analogy is ironic when applied to Iraq, where we went in, threw out the abusive parent, and then told the kids to get their act together–as if the kids knew what a healthy family ought to look and feel like.

  • Aldark

    Susan Murry said.. “…the outsider Gonzales has already been set up to be the fall guy.”
    Right on point, that is why Gonzalez has been the only person in this administration that has seen a friggin’ protestor up close.

  • Mr.Terwilliger

    Sadly the similarities to an abusive relationship will continue. Even if we are fortunate enough to divorce ourselves from our abusive president, we will be paying what amounts to alimony and child support for a long long time.

  • marganonymous

    “It sez so right here, see?!” Slam!
    Reading these excerpts, listening to the hearings on the radio, seeing the television coverage… all reminds me of childhood bullying or, as Joanne suggested, the m.o. of a molester. My consistent reaction throughout GWB’s reign causes me to question whether what seems blatant hooey to me might actually make some kind of sense. Is it just me? Have I been bad? Did I really do something to deserve this?

  • http://areyoudressed.blogspot.com momly

    That’s an interesting thought, marganonymous, even if you may have meant it to be sarcastic – can’t quite tell…
    Is Bush’s popularity and rather scary loyalty due to a history of abuse in the lives of his supporters? Hmmm….. I think I need to have a serious discussion with my mother, then.

  • http://fuming-mucker.livejournal.com Darryl Pearce

    My impression is also of the abusive/oppressed relationship in whatever form it takes… the current administration suspects everyone even their own toadies.
    So…, how do we move “victims” to being “survivors”? …there is no typical victim profile, but there is one common thread: These [victims] have lost all power. Eventually there is no self-esteem, no self-awareness, no self.”
    …battering …is a pattern of domination enforced by violence in which all parts of a [victim's] life are subject to the batterer’s control. In addition to physical abuse, battering generally includes sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and economic abuse. Battering is an intentional act …
    Speak for yourself: [be] person of faith and high honor, generosity of spirit and abundant goodwill, and shared your gifts in service to [other] people…
    “You can’t stop crime from happening, but you can help pick up the pieces.”

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    As a law school grad, I found the whole affair to be infuriating. If I ever tried to pull that kind of nonsensical argumentative prose on one of my finals or even in class I would have be laughed off the school.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/richsodergren/ rchsod

    rafael i think an eight grade student could not pull that stunt.
    he`s so pissed because he actually has to justify his and his boss`s actions thus he treating the senate and it`s members as if they were children who do not deserve an explanation. this is what this country has become and 40+% of the american people believe it`s ok.

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    rschod is right, it is as if the kids from the “In Crowd” trying to explian to evybody else why they can sit at a certain table in the cafeteria.
    “It like, you know, not done. Ok!”

  • Patrick

    God forbid the Bush administration actually quote the law that they are lawfully operating under. The pycho-babble is pure misdirection from the reality that this is a lawful, well-intentioned and useful tool in the current war agaist Islamofascist terrorism. Amnd the abuser here is the Congress, preening for the cameras, never accountabile but always willing to blame.
    The same critics of this program are and would be the first in line to lambaste the Bush administration for ‘not doing enough’ to protect America from another terrorist attack on our shores, and we know exactly how such an attack would be planned and communicated, based on 9/11 record. This is the program that the 9/11 Commission said we lacked before 9/11, bogged down by a law enforcement instead of preventative mentality that suffered from ‘walls’ of bureaucracy. Now, 5 years after, there are attacks on programs designed to correct those errors that led to 2,700 American deaths.
    The mind boggles.
    Oh, and one more thing. Sure, let’s have super public extra-partisan hearings instead of more appropriate intelligence committee hearings. Oh, and lets have Congress members and staffers leak like a seive. Showing our intelligence gathering methods and our political squabbles to the world is a great way to defeat terrorists (NOT).

  • lj

    Must read article from Fox News on what the response to the Danish Cartoon
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,183910,00.html

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    Dear Patrick:
    I don’t know which Constitution you read, but my copy makes warrantless searches to be, illegal and no amount of good intentions is going to change that. The question is not “Should we do it?” but “How we do it?” For a party that emphasizes strict adherence to the law (ever heard of Original Intent), Gonzales performance is shameful.
    Data Mining (which is what critics of the adminstration charge is doing over at the NSA) might in fact be counter productive, from an operational point view. Instead of narrowly focusing on viable leads, its simply casting a wide net, hoping to catch anything useful. Considering the shear volume of emails, phone calls and other electronic signatures created by the average American every hour of every day, the likely result of catch something uselful is low while the likelyhood of swamping the system is high.
    And why not have a public debate in Congress, the elected legislative branch of goverment? These guys (and gals) run the electoral guantlet every two years (in fact, this is a Congressional electoral year) unlike Gonzales and his ilk who serve at the pleasure (read: whim) of the President. Who is more accountable to the voters, Gonzales or the members of the committee?
    And finally, Gonzales did really qoute the law, he merely used the code book as a prop. If I had done that during my Con Law class without giving chapter and verse I would have been in very serious trouble indeed.
    “What the Good Book says!” may work in Church, but not in the law.

  • Hobbes

    Say what you will but the guy is almost as funny to watch as Bush.
    Who else could tell Congress that it is ok for Bush to wiretap because George Washington also used electronic surveilance, and keep a straight face!
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/huffpost/20060207/cm_huffpost/015225;_ylt=A86.I2GZ0.hD1_UAyg_9wxIF;_ylu=X3oDMTBjMHVqMTQ4BHNlYwN5bnN1YmNhdA–

  • jt from BC

    PATRICK, “…the current war against Islamofascist terrorism”.
    This label is for CNN EXPERTS and ex officials eg Woolsey & crew and mandatory for all neo-cons..
    Share a chuckle, of labels from official sources as observed by Tom,
    “…war on terror,” aka, “the Global War on Terror,” aka “GWOT,” aka “World War IV,” aka “the Global Struggle against Violent Extremism,” has just become, by administration fiat, “the Longest War”
    “While the Joint Chiefs face down a cartoonist and the administration fights its war on T-shirt terror”.
    They Fought the Law and the Law Lost:
    “….there was the President, at the State of the Union, insisting, as in some Avon ad, that al-Qaeda was calling and it was darn tootin’ constitutional as all get out to listen in on what’s conveniently been relabeled “a terrorist surveillance program” (no genuine citizens allowed to join!).
    http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=56990

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    You know, I always wondered what Islamofacisim was and what an Islamofacist looks like, cause if they look like Bin-Laden (or is that Bin-Laiden, I can never get the spelling right!) I think I better sleep under my bed tonight.

  • floopmeister

    Rafael: while you sleep under your bed tonight, make room for the geriatric Communist who’s still hiding there…

  • readytoblowagasket

    Whether you find Gonzales funny or frightening, he was not legally required yesterday to tell the truth. Senate Republicans managed to get him off the hook for testifying under oath:
    http://thinkprogress.org/2006/02/06/gonzales-under-oath/
    Maybe that’s why he looks, oh, I don’t know, less than truthful here?
    That red power tie with the concentric circles certainly matched his testifying in circles. Or was it a hypnotic device?

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    Whomever do you mean floopmiester? Mayhap Castro? Or the Red Chinese? Or that mean old crazy midget from the North Korena wastes?
    Come to think of it, those guys, at least some of them are really scary! Hiding under my bed now!

  • readytoblowagasket

    Patrick, I don’t even know where to begin with you, not that you’ll be back.
    Here is one point you are missing, blinded by your fear of evil-doers: If the king, I mean, the president wanted to expand surveillance to include (wireless) wiretapping of international phone calls and e-mails, why didn’t he just *ask for it* specifically in 2001? Congress and the American public — hell, nearly the entire world back then — would have given him anything in 2001.
    Now, in the bright, cynical post-Iraq-disaster-and-where-is-Osama-by-the-way light of 2006, he doesn’t get say, “Well, that’s what I *meant* by ‘necessary and appropriate force.’ ” Um, sorry.
    Now, Patrick Leahy gets to say to Gonzales: “This authorization is not a wiretap statute. . . . We know what the wiretap statute looks like. This is not it.” How embarrassing. Because Leahy is right, and Gonzales and Bush are wrong. I can see why you’re crabby about the American public witnessing this bumbling farce.
    If the current president were a Democrat, however, I bet you’d have a far different view about the president breaking the law, usurping power, overriding the Constitution, and violating your rights.

  • floopmeister

    rafael: it’s the old 50’s mantra Reds under the Beds all over again…

  • dissector

    check the image of the hearings at the CSM today:
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0208/csmimg/p1b.jpg
    if that is not an image of a frustrated powerless opposition, I don’t know what is.
    full story here:
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0208/p03s03-uspo.html

  • SEAS

    I share Rafael’s (and others’) views of Gonzales’ legal arguments: they are outrageous. (And I do statutory construction for a living.) Any “appropriate” force must include as one of its attributes “legal”, and within the authority of the entity that created the right to use it – i.e., Congress’ laws must be constitutional. The first goal of statutory construction is to harmonize statutes, not imply from such general language an extremely specific contradiction in a completely unmentioned statute. Gonzales’ interpretation is premised on the argument that Congress unknowlingly implicitly allowed what the constitution expressly forbid. If “necessary and appropriate” force allows warrantless domestic wiretapping, it would also allow the use of necessary and appropriate bulldozer force to crush the homes of political opponents who were giving aid and comfort to the enemy by objecting to the use of the very minimal amount of force necessary and appropriate to destroy their homes.
    The reason Gonzales is showing a vague, tiny version of his statutory authority is because he knows he doesn’t have any. If he had any decent statutory language it would appear repeated in clever graphics behind him as he spoke (on the Fox News version, anyway), or at least on a Powerpoint slide.
    As others have alluded, I’m sure Bush will be totally shocked that a court would tell him that Gonzales had tricked him into thinking that he was supposed to be violating the constitution as a matter of law. If only they had known that this person was leading them astray.

  • marganonymous

    Thanks to dissector for the link. Beautiful. Thanks, SEAS, too…”unknowingly explicitly allowed” is exactly the sort of mental knot in which I find myself tied, so often, when I observe these wankers. Jimmy Carter has volunteered to clarify the intent of the Foriegn Intelligence Surveillance Act,which he signed way back in 1978, since Mr. Gonzales seems to have unknowingly intentionally misconstrued it.

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    SEAS made an accurate description of what the administration is doing. They are pretending to extrapolate legal principles from language that in no way reflects, authourizes or reflects the uses that the Administration claims. In many ways this the worse lawyering I have seen, and the reason why people hate lawyers in general.
    This is legal interpratation on demand as in “I want to do this and I demand that you interpret the law accordingly.”
    This is one of the reasons I hated Property law. For those who are not familiar with the subject, lets just say that the field is innundated with archaic concepts (some dating back to the 1066!)which has allowed judges to dictate whatever resolution they saw fit.

  • jt from BC

    MARYSZ said, “the outsider Gonzales has already been set up to be the fall guy.”
    Interesting has a background check been done on his parents, were they -’wetbacks’- ‘illegal’ immigrants’- ‘undocumented workers’-expired temporary green card holders’ or waiting for ‘guest worker status’. If 10 million Latinos are in the country illegally and he’s one this would soften the fall especially if awarded a meritorious metal for loyal service. W’s last act of an executive pardon, makes happy happy all around.

  • Erika

    I hope that these investigations are only the beginning. In the aftermath of 9/11, the president was given many powers, many powers that are kind of unconstitutional. I find it disgusting that he and his administration would use the fear of most Americans to gain powers that he has no right to. The government can for example, go into your house, search it, ransack it, then put everything back in its place, and none would be the wiser. The owner would certainly never know, and according to the PATRIOT Act, the government would have no obligation to inform them prior or after the search. The Wiretap controversy puts such a disgraceful light on this country. How can the administration be “defending democracy” overseas if it’s own citizens cannot boast the rights the government hopes to implent in the middle east? Hopefully congress will grow a backbone and check the presidents obscene amount of power that he has, or believes he is entitled to have.

  • http://www.thenewpolitics.com Chiaroscuro

    Waving papers while speaking/testifying is a time-dishonored trick of charlatans and demagogues. Just remember Joe McCarthy brandishing his bogus lists of secret communists in government. It’s a prop to lend the appearance of legitimacy to the lies being uttered. So here we have a toadying hack for an attorney general who would like to give the impression that he actually knows the law–at least more of it than those parts he’s schemed to undermine on behalf of his master. He surely knows he’s a hack and a slave to Bush. His only hope is that he knows the Republican members of the committee are also totally shackled to Bush. Still, it’s a nerve-wracking ordeal, so he pulls out his prop book to wave around. In it’s solidity and dry printed words, he hopes to project more than the airy fantasies he’s cooked up to enable dictatorship. A disgusting, hollow non-entity, like his master.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Ha! Excellent point, Chiaroscuro. Gonzales is talking out of his ass but if he waves a book around, it’ll *imply* that everything he just said can be found in that book. “It’s all right here, ladies and gentlemen. You can’t *touch* this.”

  • http://nope.com me

    gonzales has the same smirk that bush has. That bright-eyed sneer
    that looks a little bit surprised and a little bit vicious.
    Simultaneously, it says, “Hey! isn’t this surprising?” and “If you
    don’t agree, my teeth are just a little bit behind my lips.” They likely are trained from the same book.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes