- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2000

The change in demeanor of president-elect George W. Bush as he introduced attorney general-designate John Ashcroft to, and responded to questions from, the press was remarkable indeed. In less than 10 days, the transformation from uncertain winner to man-in-charge was evident for all to see. He said what he intended to say, and the messages addressed to all present were crystal clear.

Students of history might contemplate the life of Henry, Prince of Wales, son of King Henry IV, affectionately known as Hal one of Shakespeare's favorite characters.

In his early years, Prince Hal got into some questionable company and engaged in activities best forgotten, much of it connected to the excessive enjoyment of intoxicating beverages.

When suddenly, upon the death of his father, he became King Henry V, many who had known him during his years of abandon thought little of the event. They presumed only that they would now have an old crony on the throne. "King Hal, my royal Hal," exclaims Sir John Falstaff, expecting to encounter the same person who had spent countless rowdy nights in the tavern he calls home.

The young king's stunning answer to Falstaff is commended to the attention of friend and foe: "Presume not that I am the thing I was."

Henry V, too, was underestimated by his adversaries. In response to English territorial claims, the Dauphin of France sent him tennis balls, accompanied by sarcastic reminders of Henry's youth. The message carried to the king by the French ambassadors was tantamount to a declaration of war.

NAACP Chairman Kweisi Mfume's statement in response to John Ashcroft's nomination for attorney general, as well, is tantamount to a declaration of war. Mr. Mfume is entirely too knowledgeable and experienced to believe that the objections to Mr. Ashcroft as articulated in his statement are bona fide. Born Frizzell Gray in Baltimore, this country provided him with an excellent education before he changed Frizzell Gray to Kweisi Mfume, which in Swahili means conquering son of kings. Thus the parallel with the dauphin of France becomes irresistible.

But there that particular parallel ends. President George W. Bush is unlikely to mount a campaign against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and it will not be one decisive battle, such as King Henry's at Agincourt, that deflates the derision and bombast of his adversaries. Instead, it will be the gradual recognition that he is "not the thing he was."

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats and the media both (are they in fact a single entity?) operate under the delusion they can dictate policy because of the narrow margins in the last elections. They obviously are unclear as to what we call a candidate who has received a majority of only four electoral votes.

We call him Mr. President.

And, according to Article II of the U.S. Constitution you know, the document congressional Democrats suddenly remember every time it promises to support their agenda all executive power is vested in a single person we call Mr. President.

While there is much talk about the softening economy and about the Middle East, the mettle of the new president will probably experience its first real test during the confirmation hearings of John Ashcroft. Not because anyone has the slightest doubt he would do an excellent job at Justice, but precisely because many fear he would do an excellent job at Justice. And, significantly, because it will be the earliest opportunity to cripple the new president for the duration. Ronald Reagan was close to the end of his tenure when Judge Robert Bork was Borked, and George H. Bush had the success of Desert Storm behind him when Clarence Thomas was Hilled. If Mr. Ashcroft can be Ashed right at the beginning … well, you draw the conclusion.

Just now, friend and foe look upon the choice of Mr. Ashcroft as a gesture to please conservatives in general, and the religious in particular. Without the slightest claim to knowing the president-elect's mind, I would propose a different interpretation.

From Day One, the Clintons took aim at the Justice Department. The summary, unprecedented dismissal of all U.S. attorneys was followed by placing into high positions those with undisguised contempt or outright hostility toward America and Americans. Appointments such as Bill Lann Lee, Norma V. Cantu, Isabelle Katz Pinzler illustrate the point. The Clintons then supplemented these operatives who fit our concept of commissar far more accurately than that of "servant of the people" with similar appointments in so-called Civil Rights divisions of other departments, such as Education.

On the European Continent, departments of the Interior are responsible for the internal order. The country's police force comes under their purview and, hand-in-hand with extensive administrative prerogative, the Interior Ministry wields enormous power. Among other things, it regulates and monitors the movements of persons by requiring the reporting of addresses and address changes within a tight deadline. It is also the central authority for regulating behavior.

Significantly, the United States of America was not to have a comparable institution. Nonetheless, a network operating as a de facto Interior Ministry has come into being. It usurps the original legitimacy of the civil rights movement, exploits the ideological opposition of the 1960s generation to the military, to business and industry, and thrives on the breakdown of ethics in the legal profession. The Justice Department is its hub.

George W. Bush is unlikely to have contemplated all details of the foregoing discussion. But his instincts prompted him to select an attorney general who is most likely to restore Justice to its constitutional role, so that the Constitution will once again be a set of laws, and it is We the People who are living breathing freely.

May he also have the determination and strength King Henry V mustered at Agincourt, for the vast armies of the French defeated on that day will pale when measured against the awesome forces marshaled against our new president as the United States Senate takes up John Ashcroft's nomination.

Balint Vazsonyi, concert pianist and political philosopher, is a senior fellow of the Potomac Foundation and director of the Center for the American Founding.[p]

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