- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2000

What could President-elect George W. Bush have been thinking? There he was, picking John Ashcroft to fill the office of attorney general, and he neglected to ask the permission of an arm of the Democratic Party. "It is outrageous for President-elect Bush to select someone who has consistently opposed civil rights and affirmative action to be responsible for enforcing the nation's laws," said Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "He received a grade of 'F' on each of the last three NAACP report cards because of his anti-progressive voting record."

Other critics sounded similar alarms. An "astonishingly bad nomination," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way. "Frightening," said the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual rights organization. A "real danger to women's rights," said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

If such groups are willing to go "nuclear" at the mere sight of a conservative, one wonders what verbal reserves they have maintained in the event of something truly "frightening" or "dangerous" to minorities, feminists, homosexual activists and everyone else say, a terrorist attack. Here's betting they didn't use such language when President Clinton ordered clemency for 16 convicted Puerto Rican terrorists, members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by the Spanish acronym FALN. For the record, Mr. Ashcroft opposed the clemency.

One premise for the vehemence of Mr. Ashcroft's liberal critics is that there are two ways to look at public-policy issues: 1) their way; or 2) the racist, misogynist, homophobic way. There is no room for someone to disagree with them in good faith. Consider, for example, one issue around which liberal groups have coalesced in their fight against Mr. Ashcroft: the opposition of then-Sen. Ashcroft to making Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White a federal judge.

Mr. Ashcroft expressed reservations about Judge White's fitness for the federal bench on grounds that the nominee seemed more guided by his own opposition to the death penalty than on the statutes that clearly provided for it. As it happens, the Missouri Federation of Police Chiefs, the Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney's office and others in the law-enforcement community urged the Senate not to confirm him, partly for the same reason. In one case, Justice White alone opposed the death penalty for James R. Johnson, who was convicted of killing a sheriff, two deputies and a sheriff deputy's wife in 1991. The wife died in her living room in front of her family. Nice touch that.

As it also happens, Justice White is black. For daring to oppose him, Mr. Ashcroft's late Senate challenger, Mel Carnahan, called him a "white supremacist." The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called him the choice for white supremacists. Today's critics are just singing off the same sheet.

If that seems like the most cynical of smear tactics, it gets still more cynical. According to accounts in both the New York Times and The Washington Post, few people think these complaints will be enough to stop the nomination from going forward. Rather, the critics are simply calling fellow activists into spring training for the grueling months ahead. "[B]oth Democrats and leaders of liberal advocacy groups see the Ashcroft hearings as an opportunity to begin to mobilize two key constituencies African Americans and suburban women who support abortion rights in preparation for battles over nominees to the Supreme Court and the 2002 House and Senate elections."

Concern for the politics of personal destruction having faded with the election of a Republican president, perhaps Mr. Ashcroft's critics should consider what he said on learning of his nomination. "Political defeat, as my old colleague and college classmate [Sen.] Joe Lieberman has written, brings more than emotion and pain," Mr. Ashcroft said. "It brings perspective. Today, for [wife] Janet and me, it brings a renewed and noble call to public service."

What Mr. Ashcroft's critics have in mind for him is no public service.

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