Frank Rich: When will Bush's Fredo get whacked?
Writing in an op-ed for Sunday's New York Times, columnist Frank Rich points out the "Jekyll-and-Hyde contrast" between President Bush's perfunctory remarks on the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and his genuine passion the next day when defending his attorney general and longtime friend from Texas, Alberto Gonzales.
Rich goes on to suggest that for the last ten years, Bush and Gonzales have worked to protect each other from unseemly revelations -- ranging from Bush's drunk driving conviction and Gonzales's relationship with Enron to 9/11 and the Plame outing. The attorney firings, Rich believes, are just one more piece in the pattern.
"He's been present at every dubious legal crossroads in Bush's career," Rich writes of Gonzales.
Once Gonzales can no longer fulfill his role of protecting the president, he will be tossed overboard, Rich surmises in the column entitled "When Will Fredo Get Whacked?" Fredo is a reference to a character from the still-to-this-day bestselling Mario Puzo book, The Godfather, which was turned into a critically acclaimed film trilogy by director Francis Ford Coppola. In the cultural classic, Frederico "Fredo" Corleone ends up being killed by his own brother, new Godfather Michael, after betraying "the family."
"In popular culture, Fredo has become representative of the 'weak link' of an organization," an entry at Wikipedia explains. "Referring to someone as 'Fredo' indicates that the person is not competent enough to be trusted with important tasks or knowledge. It is usually used to suggest not treachery, but weakness and stupidity."
On Monday morning he observed the Iraq war's fourth anniversary with a sullen stay-the-course peroration so perfunctory he seemed to sleepwalk through its smorgasbord of recycled half-truths (Iraqi leaders are "beginning to meet the benchmarks") and boilerplate ("There will be good days, and there will be bad days"). But at a press conference the next day to defend his attorney general, the president was back in the saddle, guns blazing, Mr. Bring 'Em On reborn. He vowed to vanquish his Democratic antagonists much as he once, so very long ago, pledged to make short work of insurgents in Iraq.
The Jekyll-and-Hyde contrast between these two performances couldn't be a more dramatic indicator of Bush's priorities in his presidency's endgame. His passion for protecting his power and his courtiers far exceeds his passion for protecting the troops he's pouring into Iraq's civil war. But why go to the mat for Alberto Gonzales? Even Bush loyalists have rarely shown respect for this crony whom the president saddled with the nickname Fredo; they revolted when Bush flirted with appointing him to the Supreme Court and shun him now. The attorney general's alleged infraction -- misrepresenting a Justice Department purge of eight U.S. attorneys, all political appointees, for political reasons -- seems an easy-to-settle kerfuffle next to his infamous 2002 memo dismissing the Geneva Conventions' strictures on torture as "quaint" and "obsolete."
That's why the president's wild overreaction is revealing. So far his truculence has been largely attributed to his slavish loyalty to his White House supplicants, his ideological belief in unilateral executive-branch power and, as always, his need to shield the Machiavellian machinations of Karl Rove (who installed a protege in place of one of the fired attorneys). But the fierceness of Bush's response -- to the ludicrous extreme of forbidding transcripts of congressional questioning of White House personnel -- indicates there is far more fire to go with all the Beltway smoke.
Gonzales may be a nonentity, but he's a nonentity like Zelig. He's been present at every dubious legal crossroads in Bush's career.
FULL RICH COLUMN CAN BE READ BY TIMES SELECT SUBSCRIBERS AT THIS LINK