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Gonzales and Bush's "What is Right" Ethical Standard

April 23, 2007

Among today's least surprising developments is President Bush's latest expression of support for his embattled Attorney General. Despite Alberto Gonzales' near-death experience before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, the President proclaimed that his long-time friend "increased my confidence." What is even less surprising, of course, is that George W. Bush continues to make a mockery of his cynical campaign 2000 pledge to ask "not only what is legal but what is right."
As you'll recall, candidate Bush presented himself as the ethical antidote to the misdeeds real and imagined of the Clinton administration. At the Republican National Convention in August 2000, Bush pompously declared:

"So when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land, I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God."

That October, then-Governor Bush introduced his soon-to-be aborted "what is right" standard of White House ethics:

"In my administration, we will ask not only what is legal but what is right. Not just what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves."

As it turns out, not so much. As President Bush showed once again today with his comically aggressive support of Alberto Gonzales, that was then, this now.

"As the hearings went forward, it was clear the attorney general broke no law, there's no wrongdoing. This is an honest, honorable man, in whom I have confidence."

This is not, of course, that President Bush concluded that cowardice was the better part of valor when it came to the criminality and ethical wrong-doing of his administration. The outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame similarly demonstrated the malleability of Bush's "what is right" standard.
Early on, the President contended that the leaker who ended the career of Valerie Plame and jeopardized U.S. intelligence assets worldwide would have no place in his administration. On September 29, 2003, press secretary Scott McClellan announced that:

"He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration."

But with Karl Rove and others in his braintrust coming under scrutiny for their roles in the retaliation against the Wilsons, President Bush just a week later signaled the lowering of the ethical bar:

"I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth."

The rest, of course, is history. "Involvement in" the leak became "indicted for" the leak. After pronouncing the innocence of Bush team players including Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and Elliot Abrams on October 1 and October 7, 2003, the White House assumed its permanent position of not commenting on an "ongoing investigation."
Fast forward to today and the U.S. attorneys scandal. President Bush expresses his "full confidence" in Alberto Gonzales, just as he did with Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Harriet Miers, John Snow, Bernard Kerik and even Vladimir Putin. An unidentified Bush aide now says of Gonzales, "he's staying."
Apparently, that is now "what is right" for George W. Bush.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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