True Faith And Allegiance: A Story Of Service And Sacrifice In War And Peace, by Alberto R. Gonzales
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
When one decides to read a book that is nearly 500 pages in length, it is worthwhile to know the scope of the work before one is too far along the task. In many ways, this book is a straightforward memoir, written by a person of great political importance in the context of George W. Bush’s time as governor of Texas and President of the United States, and it offers much of interest from the point of view of a loyal subordinate. That said, the memoir focuses most of its attention on the life of the author in Austen and then in Washington DC, ending somewhat abruptly with very little discussion of the author’s actions after about 2007 or so when he retired in some political disgrace, with the fact that his experiences were deemed by country luminaries Brooks & Dunn to be “too sad for a country song,” and he was more or less blackballed from the lucrative jobs as corporate directors or legal partners that people with his integrity and political visibility are wont to use to increase their net worth after service to their country. At any rate, if this book is an attempt to get the author into the public eye and to restore his reputation, it makes for a brave and honest effort that deserves serious reflection by students of contemporary public affairs.
In many ways, this book serves as an antidote to conspiratorial theories that are popular among the general public . As the author spends a great deal of time talking about the political behavior that he witnessed and his own service as President Bush the younger’s counsel as well as Attorney General during the first half of Bush’s second term, and as there is a lot of material included about 9/11, the buildup to the war in Iraq, the implementation of surveillance as approved by the Patriot Act, personnel decisions and the choice of Supreme Court justices, and policy relating to affirmative action. This book is a dream for students of the political behavior of the second Bush presidency, and demonstrates a few aspects of contemporary political culture that are important to remember if unpleasant to think about. For one, rather than an all-powerful office, the president serves as the leader of a fractious big tent of various factions and groups that have different agendas and different ways of acting. A president wanting to be re-elected and see his party and his agenda successful must work with Congress despite their high tolerance for political corruption and grandstanding, must seek to rise above partisanship even when his own allies and enemies drag him down by demanding partisan actions or by considering someone a partisan opponent regardless of how moderate they think themselves or they in fact act. As a moderately conservative lawyer from an impoverished Mexican immigrant background, the author shows himself to be a picture of the strains and difficulties of the Republican coalition, where his drive for self-improvement and general political worldview win him points but where his background serves as a difficulty in certain matters of race and class.
This book, in terms of its approach and style, is a well-written defense brief. Throughout the narrative of the author’s discussion of his background and public service, there is a clear and consistent aim both in defending the author’s own conduct and reputation and also showing the author as a loyal defender of President Bush from the slanders that are often tossed about his time in office. In both defending himself and his former boss, the author is able and persuasive, and whether or not his political reputation can be retrieved to the point where a future in public service may be conceived, this book at least serves as a thoughtful testament to the author’s own legacy. The book begins in media res by talking about the 9/11 experience, then goes back to the author’s personal background growing up in a poor Catholic home to two Mexican-American parents, with a religious mother and an alcoholic father, to his experience using his service in the Air Force to provide him with an education, to his failing eyesight which derailed his plans in the military, to a failed first marriage and an entrance into the world of law, to a detour into many years of work in public service in Texas and then in Washington DC in a variety of offices like Texas Secretary of State, Texas Supreme Court justice, counsel to President George W. Bush, and then Attorney General. Throughout the book is decidedly wonky, talking about the technical details of various proposals and appeals, showing the author as a person with great attention to detail and a firm desire to set things right that have often been gotten wrong. Instead of sounding defensive, the author is somewhat endearing for showing himself as trying too hard, and in many cases the author has a vivid description for the scenes of life in the public sphere, whether that is being the designated survivor within the cabinet for a State of the Union speech, or whether it is discussing a scene at a hospital with an ailing predecessor at the Department of Justice.
So, how does one assess this book as a weighty and significant work of political history? For one, this book shows a great attention to aspects of faith as well as public service. For another, the author’s detailed discussions and close argumentation make this book an essential one for understanding the significance of legal precedence within the Bush presidency, including the fact that Obama’s behavior by increasing the scope of the Patriot Act and other acts of domestic surveillance belied his own political grandstanding against such matters before taking office. While destroying any sort of idea about conspiracies within Bush’s own administration, this book makes the reader think even less of the moral decency of Democrats in general or Congress in general than one would otherwise, and the author is pretty fierce given his own experience, and understandably so. Perhaps most poignantly of all, the author quotes Reagan’s secretary of labor Roy Donovan’s haunting question: “To which office do I go to get my reputation back?” Those of us who can understand and be haunted by that question ourselves, this book provides a great deal of thoughtful and reflective material that is worth reading.
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