No Comment — May 20, 2007, 12:50 pm

Fredo the Yes-Man

Back in the era of the titans, the bar knew some great figures – none greater than Elihu Root – secretary of state, secretary of war, senator from New York, but he said, he wore no title more proudly than that of president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York – the greatest of the nation’s independent bar associations. I once worked at the firm where Elihu Root spent his last days of practice, and there his legend was passed down from one generation to the next. And part of it consisted of Root’s admonition to a young lawyer. Your first job is to uphold the law, he said. “About half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.” Elihu Root was a proud Republican, of course, an iconic figure of the last glory days of the party. And today, the Republican Party seems populated with lawyers like John Yoo, David Addington and Alberto Gonzales who have no inkling of the fundamental responsibilities of a lawyer.

Which brings us to this evening’s story issued by the Associated Press entitled “Gonzales rapped as president’s yes man.” After we hear from innumerable critics who pin that label on him, Gonzales is given a fair chance to defend himself. And we come to this immortal passage:

Gonzales, a friend and adviser to Bush since their days in Texas, calls their close relationship “a good thing.”

“Being able to go and having a very candid conversation and telling the president: ‘Mr. President, this cannot be done. You can’t do this,’ — I think you want that,” Gonzales told reporters this week. “And I think having a personal relationship makes that, quite frankly, much easier always to deliver bad news.”

“Do you recall a time when you (were) in there and said, ‘Mr. President, we can’t do this?’” Gonzales was asked.

“Oh, yeah,” the attorney general responded.

“Can you share it with us?” a reporter asked.

“No,” Gonzales said.

Now most readers at this point are probably inclined to be ungenerous to Fredo. They probably think that he can’t share those incidents with us because they don’t exist.

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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