- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

With a glee reminiscent of that of Madame Defarge by the guillotine, the activist opposition to President-elect Bush's conservative Cabinet nominees claimed its first trophy this week Linda Chavez. As the National Abortion Rights Action League's Kate Michaelman told the Wall Street Journal, this "just frees more time, more energy and more resources" to defeat former Sen. John Ashcroft, Mr. Bush's choice for attorney general. Just why is it that this defeat is so important to the gathering armada of special interest groups on the left? The case they make against the former senator, governor and attorney general from Missouri is so broad, so scattershot, it verges on the incoherent. In one instant, the opposition is philosophical; the next, it becomes a matter of temperament. Mr. Ashcroft is "extreme," we are told; he's "religious"; he's "moral" to the point, the New York Times rather ridiculously informs us, "that he views morality as integral to good government."

Which makes one wonder: Does the left believe that the prospect of an attorney general who actually "views morality as integral to good government" will send shivers down the spines of anyone other than crime families and certain alumni of the Clinton-Gore administration?

Then there is the oft-made point that, as a staunch opponent of abortion, Mr. Ashcroft is incapable of enforcing the nation's abortion laws, or even prohibiting violence against abortion clinics. The implication is that Mr. Ashcroft's national allegiance and respect for the law are suspect, one of the more indecent reaches made so far by his opponents. Still worse are the casual charges of racism that have been leveled, tarring an honorable man with a dishonorable and possibly indelible term of opprobrium. The evidence is so wanting in this regard that activists are focusing on Mr. Ashcroft's opposition to the elevation of a black Missouri state justice, Ronnie White, to the federal bench, treating it as part of a pattern which it is not (just as a senator, Mr. Ashcroft voted to confirm 26 out of 28 black judges) with no non-racial basis. In fact, it was primarily Justice White's startling, lone vote to overturn the death penalty conviction of a (white) murderer that solidified his opposition.

There must be something else generating the feverish vigor with which the left is fighting. In a recent column, Cal Thomas reprised excerpts of an extended interview he once conducted with Mr. Ashcroft. In making a perceptive distinction between the different ways culture and law shape behavior, "culture shapes behavior in an anticipatory or preventive way," Mr. Ashcroft said, while "laws shape behavior by punishing after" an infraction the former senator went on to explain the proliferation of certain kinds of laws (sexual harassment laws come to mind) as having come about to "make up for" the disappearance of culture-shaped behavior. "The higher the level of morality" in a society, he explained, "the lower the need for government legality."

In the name of tolerance, beginning with the successive revolutions of the 1960s, both government and society have effectively eliminated all such moral mechanisms. While there is no quick fix for restoring them, Mr. Ashcroft knows a simple place to start: "We should take the hostility to morality out of the system," he says. This is what makes the liberationist left quake. It is also what could make John Ashcroft a great attorney general, one which all conservatives should fight for.

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