- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

Republican Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire made a provocative point in this week's debate on the Senate floor over the nomination of John Ashcroft for attorney general. Discussing what's probably the most flammable issue setting the leftist opposition afire Mr. Ashcroft's unyielding opposition to abortion Mr. Smith said, "You know, [according to the Ashcroft opposition] there's a long line of people who, on the basis of their position on life, couldn't be attorney general. We could start with Jesus Christ himself. We could also add to that list the Pope, Mother Theresa, all the cardinals of the United States."

There's a captivating thought: imagining any of the above taking a seat in the ring to face off against the rapid-fire lies, half-truths and blustery exaggerations of a Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Sen. Patrick Leahy or a Sen. Charles Schumer. You might say that Mr. Ashcroft managed to turn the other cheek throughout his confirmation ordeal; of course, without getting too biblical about it, a little more eye-for-an-eye-style repartee during the proceedings would have been immensely satisfying.

Now that the Ashcroft battle is behind us, though, as eight valiant Democrats Sens. John Breaux of Louisiana, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska stood up to their party and the special interest groups to join 50 Senate Republicans to confirm Mr. Ashcroft, what can we learn from the fight?

First of all, it's important to remember that there was little doubt, if any at all, that Mr. Ashcroft would be confirmed. A better question might be, what motivated the Democratic opposition in this no-win contest? The answer is that Mr. Ashcroft was just batting or, better, battering practice for the Democrats and the ad hoc league of liberal special interest groups, from NARAL to NOW to People for the American Way, that comes together during Republican administrations to play that noxious blood sport of "borking" conservative nominees to the federal bench.

"This is all a dress rehearsal for Bush's first Supreme Court nomination," Rich Bond, a former Republican national chairman, told the Wall Street Journal. "They've got a lot of networking done. They've got the talking points down. If you're them, you consider this a wise investment." Or, as Mr. Schumer described the opposition's showing after the vote, "It's a shot across the bows in terms of the Justice Department and how it conducts itself; it's a shot across the bows in terms of the Supreme Court nominations; it's a shot across the bows in terms of the Bush administration and whether it decides to be moderate and bipartisan, or to play to the far right."

It's "a shot across the bows"? That doesn't sound very moderate or bipartisan. Getting back to Mr. Smith's point about the apparent unsuitability of some rather holy personages for government service, it's worth considering the sort of nominees who may expect to come under Democratic fire in the future. Forty-two Democrats opposed Mr. Ashcroft because they decided to believe that the new attorney general is an extremist, someone whose views on religion, abortion, judicial philosophy, guns and civil rights place him, not just outside the mainstream, but beyond the pale.

Is he? Consider the key points. For opposing a costly and controversial (not to mention subsequently failed) court-ordered "voluntary" desegregation plan in Missouri, Mr. Ashcroft was depicted as an opponent of civil rights by Mr. Kennedy a smear suggesting that reasonable people cannot disagree on the role of the courts or the government in desegregation matters without fear of slander. For opposing the lifetime elevation of one black judge, Missouri State Justice Ronnie White, to the federal bench, Mr. Ashcroft was tarred as being "racially insensitive" despite, for example, an almost perfect record of voting to confirm 26 of Bill Clinton's 27 black judicial nominees. For opposing abortion out of a deep-seated religious conviction, Mr. Ashcroft was painted as a kind of delusional nut who is constitutionally or rather, religiously incapable of enforcing, or even recognizing, the law.

The dishonorable fact is, Senate Democrats had to trash John Ashcroft to hold their opposition together. This does not bode well for the next "John Ashcroft," a nominee whose conservative or traditional beliefs could be (mis)construed as being so far out of bounds so downright uncivilized that they become disqualifiers for the bench. Whether this happens will depend on whether the American people are forget conservative, or traditional just anywhere near as tolerant as the left so laughably claims to be.

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