Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The "Passive Exonerative"

An article in today's New York Times repeats Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's statement that "mistakes were made" in the recent firings of several U.S. Attorneys, and refers to the statement as a "mea culpa."

A "mea culpa" in the passive voice?

Sorry, but "mea culpa" means "my fault" and you can't have admitted it was your fault when you haven't yet admitted that it was you that made those mistakes. Until someone moves from the passive voice and into the active voice, those mistakes are going to hang in the air without any fault attaching to any person.

Gonzales's biggest "mistake" might be that he forgot to tell his subordinates that they would be reporting to him and taking their orders from him, and not Karl Rove. Or perhaps Gonzales himself didn't know that? In any case, the man who is supposed to be in charge of the Department of Justice cannot provide any consistent, coherent explanation for major personnel changes, and my suspicion is that his ignorance and confusion are not an act.

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