Column: Mr. Ashcroft’s America, America's Mr. Ashcroft

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Mr. Carpenter is a writer and doctoral candidate in American history at the University of Illinois.

11As the Man from Mississippi, Mr. Trent Lott, said on the heels of the narrowest confirmation in 76 years, it"would be a futile waste of time" to question our collective confidence in the new attorney general-as opposed, one assumes, to a productive waste of time. Trent was so right. It's downright silly to question or fault the attorney general for advocating military trials of immigrants in this land of immigrants, or for detaining hundreds of swarthy ethnics without constitutional accountability, or for unfettering the F.B.I. to spy on domestic religious and political groups

In general-just to tidy up all of Ashcroft's doings in one neat package-it's silly to fault the man for unleashing the gestapo-spores of a police state, for at his very core is an intolerant, racist, unfulfilled totalitarian yearning of which he has never made much of a secret. Ashcroft may be a Himmlerian doppelganger, but he's our doppelganger, straight out of the scenic, right-wing Missouri Ozarks. He did not simply materialize against our wishes. We put him everywhere he has been and where he is now, every step of the way. He is our creation.

Technically speaking, he's now the president's creation, but that is as much a technicality as this president's tenure. George is no more responsible for his own decisions than Dolly the sheep: he's merely an admixed clone of Papa George, anachronistic Cold Warriors, Calvin Coolidge and Friedrich Hayek. In the face of mandatory preppyism and seductive family money, W. didn't have much of a chance to become his own man. Lacking the inherent courage and character of an FDR, who faced the same pitfalls in his youth, W. never even tried. Now his presidency is the enactment of others' desires. In 1991, when Attorney General Dick Thornburgh took a powder, Papa's White House floated then-Governor John Ashcroft as the"favored candidate to head the Justice Department"; Junior only nodded that the dream should come true."Did I do good, pop?"

No, despite W.'s prodding, Ashcroft is our creation-and we have in the attorney general's chair what we deserve. Yes indeedy it's a"futile waste of time" to attack him now, for his curious brand of integrity for decades has been there to behold, accept or reject. It has, by and large, been accepted.

The first sign of Ashcroft's extraordinary integrity appeared at the plucky age of 25. As the war in Vietnam raged, this pro-military son of a God-and-country Pentecostal preacher opted for college deferments from the draft until he graduated from law school. Having no educational deferments left, he passed an Army physical-then, with a little help from his church friends, promptly secured an"occupational" deferment from the local draft board. John had a vision: he could best battle Ho Chi Minh's godless horde in the indispensable wartime role of teaching business law to undergraduates at Southwest Missouri State University. While on deferment he also realized the military harm to Ho of opening a private law practice. A kind of precocious integrity, you might say.

After serving an unremarkable two-year stint in the unremarkable elected office of Missouri's auditor, Ashcroft went on to serve Show-me men, women and children as their attorney general. In those hoary days he was, avowedly, a politically disinterested opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment. This he proved in 1978 by filing what amounted to an oppressive nuisance suit against the National Organization for Women for wanting to organize a convention boycott against the state when it failed to ratify the proposed amendment. Politics had nothing to do with it, said he and his angelic aides. Such speculation was misguided. His only interest was in seeing that antitrust laws were obeyed. Integrity, always integrity.

Impressed by his fairness as attorney general, Missourians next awarded Ashcroft the governor's chair. There, the gospel-singing chief executive demonstrated how fundamentalist religious beliefs need not interfere with the high-minded performance of office on behalf of all Missouri citizens and especially-again-on behalf of women. For instance, in organizing a state Task Force for Mothers and Unborn Children, Ashcroft showed real courage by not bowing to pressure to appoint at least one pro-choice member. Official integrity-not slavishness to religious fundamentalism-demanded the best possible task force. It wasn't Ashcroft's fault that not a single pro-choicer was qualified. He was willing to take the heat; to nobly face the gratuitous charge that bible-thumpism had somehow influenced his appointments.

Also as governor he rejected leftist extremist views held by such radicals as former president Gerald Ford. It was with Ford and 38 other sandal-wearing types that Ashcroft served in 1988 on a panel concerning American race relations. The other 39 members--to a person--discovered a socio-economic gap between minorities of color and white Americans that wasn't getting any better. They all signed a report that said so. Bosh, said Governor Ashcroft. His fellow board members"fail[ed] to recognize and examine important areas of progress experienced during the last three to four years." You recall those crucial three or four years that the Reagan administration devoted to improving the sorry lot of disadvantaged minorities, don't you?

To many folks' way of thinking, the highlight of Ashcroft's subsequent U.S. Senate career-highlight in the sense of revealing his"inner soul," the sort of thing his boss is fond of selectively peering into-came in his 1998 interview with Southern Partisan Magazine. To those who might casually assume the publication is put together by harmless, adolescent history buffs who like dressing up as weekend Dixie warriors, think again. Under its website's heading"What Is Southern Partisan?" the publishers proclaim the magazine is the"unreconstructed voice of the conservative South." There simply ain't any two ways of reading that."Unreconstructed" conveys only one thing: postbellum efforts at guaranteeing social and political rights for freed blacks were wrongheaded. The South, and by inference the nation at large, would have been better off had whites kept"Sambo" in his place-as was done so charmingly in those happy-go-lucky antebellum or Jim Crow days, as though Reconstruction never happened.

One would think a University of Chicago law graduate, state attorney general, state chief executive, and member of the United States Senate would have sensed Southern Partisan's ideological mission to have been at least a trifle distasteful; and if an interview was to be granted, it would be only for the purpose of wringing its racist neck. Not so for John Ashcroft. Instead, he praised the publication for having"a heritage of defending Southern patriots like Lee, Jackson and Davis." Further,"traditionalists must do more . . . or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives . . . to some perverted agenda." Next our children may be falsely taught that Nazi patriots, who just as assuredly gave their lives in the promotion of racist ideology, did so out of"some perverted agenda."

Ashcroft was at home with the cretins of Southern Partisan. He said he was. It is in print that he said he was. Yet presumably more progressive-minded Democratic Senators-duly elected voices of the American electorate-failed to filibuster this totalitarian throwback. Eight Democrats even voted for him.

With the shameless support and acquiescence of the Democratic Party, Ashcroft, after sending up warning flares for more than 3 decades, was again handed the keys to high public office. And now the country cries foul? And now the country asks, how could this-our rapid transmogrification into a secret-police state-be happening?

It's simple. We asked for it.

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Citzk - 12/8/2001

Thanks for your insightful article. I know it is not much, but we are doing our part tow ake up America!

On December 12, 2000, five U.S. Supreme Court Justices betrayed the American people and abrogated the U.S. Constitution by usurping OUR right to vote and be counted. The Court’s majority decision to end the ballot count will go down in history as a flagrant denial of our right to freely elect the President of the United States.

Please join us on Wednesday, December 12, 2001 to light a candle of hope for true Voter Reform, and to remind all Americans that it is our patriotic duty to uphold the democratic process. This candlelight vigil is not sponsored by any organizations. We are local women who mourn the assault on our basic democratic rights. We are putting our elected and non-elected representatives on notice to defend the Bill of Rights, protect civil liberties, and enact real voter reform – now!

11Please bring :

·11Candles to help light up our message

·11Your letters to the Supreme Court Justices: We will deliver them in a cardboard coffin, symbolizing the death of our Constitutional rights.

·11Your singing/reading voice as we raise our voices for what true American values are.

Shine the Light of Justice for American Voters

WHERE: Oakland Federal Building
1301 Clay – between 13th and 14th Streets
2 blocks from the 12th Street Bart
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, December 12 at 5 p.m.

email at

magicmel - 12/4/2001

I think macnpat missed the author's point when he mentioned Vietnam. Mr. Carpenter was not simply digging up an old ghost. Rather, he was pointing out the hypocrisy of conservative ideologues who condemn anti-war protestors but who used the system to avoid the war. To say it bluntly, Ashcroft is not a man of integrity. His whole career is based upon smoke and mirrors.

macnpat - 12/3/2001

Attorney General Ashcroft may be the product of America, but I'm seeing a distinct pattern.

The purpose of the Attorney General is, among other duties within its legal/political ramifications, to fight enemies of the Constitution, is it not?

All Attorney Generals take a hard line because of the elements with which they deal. Although I do not agree with Janet Reno's actions in Waco and am saddened that her mistakes cost innocents their lives unnecessarily, the hardline stance is not unusual.

I thought our Constitution was specifically designed to protect the freedoms of those who Ashcroft is scrutinizing in this time of war? Is Ashcroft wrong in what he proposes, or is he too extreme? There is a significant difference which the Constitution should discern and protect us from during his attempt to enact certain proposals during wartime.

Viet Nam history is so irrelevant. We can't always put a Viet Nam Veteran up for office because we can't find anything on him that looks self-serving. Ashcroft was a man of his times.
I'll bet he even smoked pot. Good men do bad things and bad men do good things.

Sure we can smear Ashcroft. Name someone we can't. The real question is can he do the job under the Constitution? Of course, I do realize mud-slinging is part of politics. It just doesn't get us anywhere but further demoralized in a time of crises.

If Ashcroft is using gestapo tactics, "just say no". Hmmm, that's a familiar line.