Washington -- WHAT DOES IT MEAN for the United
States to have, for the first time in history, a Latino attorney
For many Latinos, it means a lot. That includes the leader of the
National Council of La Raza, one of the nation's largest Latino
"I think (Alberto Gonzales' appointment) is very meaningful, and I
think it's something we should take pride in as Latinos," NCLR President
Janet Murguia recently told Hispanic Business magazine. "He's in a
position no Hispanic has ever been in, and I think we can benefit as
Latinos by that."
So what does Gonzales make of such talk?
"Well, you know," he said. "I'm the attorney general for every
American no matter their skin color or heritage and my first obligation
is to the Constitution and to all of the American people.
"I do understand that there is a significant population in our
country that takes pride in the fact that I am the attorney general. I
think it shows there are wonderful opportunities in this country for
people who work hard and who prepare themselves for the wonderful
opportunities that do come along in this country."
Gonzales doesn't wear his ethnicity on his sleeve, and that's
refreshing. Nor does he hide it, and that's refreshing, too. He readily
accepts the role his ethnicity may have played in his nomination.
"It's like when (George W. Bush) appointed me to the Supreme Court of
Texas," Gonzales said, "and he was asked if it made a difference that I
was Hispanic. And he said, of course it made a difference. He said,
'Now, the No. 1 thing I look at is qualifications. Is the person
qualified to serve in this position?' But he did feel that it was
significant that I was Hispanic. And I think that was certainly true in
this particular case as well."
But not everyone is happy or impressed with Gonzales' appointment. I
asked about the accusation by his critics that it was his memo to
President Bush that paved the way for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and
at Guantanamo Bay prisons, and about whether he would give different
Absolutely not, he said. "My job was to solicit advice from the
Department of Justice as to what was the appropriate range of conduct,
and the Department of Justice provided that. I asked questions. I
accepted their advice. I think it was the right advice."
Even so, it's clear that he thinks the lawyers in Washington had a
tough job making their way through largely uncharted legal territory and
that what they said had very little to do with the misconduct of
soldiers half a world away.
"I think what happened, say at the night shift at Abu Ghraib, in this
one particular cell bloc, was an aberration," Gonzales said. "And this
is not just me talking. You can look at reports like the (former Defense
Secretary James) Schlesinger report that concluded that it was an
aberration. We had the day shift of that same cellblock that was not
engaged in that conduct. They obviously received the same instructions,
so you had a group of people on the night shift that just did these
crazy things. And it is abhorrent and we condemn it, and the people
involved in that conduct should be held accountable. "
In the highly partisan atmosphere of Washington, Gonzales is a man
with no constituency. Those on the left -- who aren't interested in
promoting diversity unless they get credit for it -- have no respect for
what one letter writer recently labeled Bush's "token showcase
appointments." Meanwhile, those on the right -- having spent years
railing against affirmative action -- find it hard to turn on a dime and
boast about appointing minorities to high-level government positions.
His constituency is outside of Washington, made up of all those
Americans who haven't given up on their own dreams.
So I wanted to know what message Gonzales would give young people of
all colors who are wondering what's ahead in their own lives. "They need
to get an education," the attorney general said. "They need to prepare
themselves in the best possible way so, and I have said this many times,
so when the next George W. Bush comes along and he's willing to give you
a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you're in a position to take it."
You see, this American success story is all about opportunity. Bush
saw an opportunity to put a qualified Latino where none had gone before.
Gonzales took the opportunity that was offered him. In turn, both men
gave the nation the most valuable opportunity of all -- a chance to
glimpse a world of unlimited possibilities.
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