- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Attacks on attorney general nominee John Ashcroft by liberal groups are based on the same formula as attacks on corporate America by many of the same groups: terrifying people with the specter of threatened disasters that will never happen.
Emboldened by their victory in torpedoing the appointment of labor secretary nominee Linda Chavez, some liberal groups have set their sights on sinking Mr. Ashcroft's nomination. In the same way, groups that target corporations for attack often use one victory as a platform to launch another attack.
If you believe his staunchest opponents, Mr. Ashcroft is a right-wing extremist who would ignore the attorney general's sworn duty to uphold America's laws. He would let nothing stop him from criminalizing abortion, reversing civil rights gains, shoving homosexuals back into the closet, eliminating gun control and enshrining Christianity as our national religion.
Such inflammatory claims remind me of sensationalist and unfounded attacks against corporations. Self-appointed consumer advocates and guardians of the public interest have created an attack industry dedicated to denouncing corporations as agents of evil that routinely lie, cheat, steal, pollute, spread death and disease, oppress the poor, exploit workers and do just about every other bad thing imaginable.
My advice for President-elect George W. Bush to combat the attacks on Mr. Ashcroft is the same advice I give corporation presidents under attack:
Recognize that the attack is not a "communications problem" that can be resolved by educating your opponents. Professional attack groups have targeted you for demonization because they need to fight villains to justify their existence. The best defense against one of their punches is a counterpunch not a lesson plan.
Don't concede that attackers represent "the public" no matter how hard they try to cloak themselves in a mantle of virtue. Just because a group gives itself an appealing name like People for the American Way, Public Citizen or Friends of the Earth does not mean it is working unselfishly for the public good.
Wrap your argument in a principle that people can understand and support. For example, in the Ashcroft nomination the principle can be that a president has the right to pick his own leadership team, and that the team will be dedicated to upholding the law.
Follow the example of Popeye the Sailor Man, who said: "I am what I am, and that's all that I am." Don't apologize for who you are and what you do. Tell the truth about yourself, and explain how the things you do and believe benefit the American people. Mr. Bush campaigned as a conservative Republican, taking the same stands as Mr. Ashcroft on many issues. Even though he won by the narrowest of margins, the public doesn't expect Mr. Bush to abandon his beliefs and appoint an Al Gore Cabinet.
Don't defend the indefensible. If you can't defeat your opponent, or if you are guilty of wrongdoing, cut your losses. For this reason, Mr. Bush was smart to signal his abandonment of Linda Chavez when it became clear she hid the soap opera scandal of her life with an illegal alien "friend" who did household chores in return for "charity." Mrs. Chavez was vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy for criticizing attorney general nominee Zoe Baird for employing an illegal alien eight years ago. Mrs. Chavez was the victim of a character attack, which carries the greatest potential for negative media coverage and disastrous results. The attack on Mr. Ashcroft is symbol-driven. He embraces conservative positions, and people opposed to those positions are opposing him. It is far easier to defend a person's beliefs than a person's character.
No president of a country or a corporation ever gained in the long-term by following the appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain. Whimpering and raising the white flag won't bring peace in our time any more than they did in his. When attackers make unreasonable demands as they are making in trying to kill the Ashcroft nomination appeasing them only whets their appetite for more.
A leader is better off fighting for a principled, defensible position than giving up more than he or she should. Attack groups can throw powerful grenades, but have a hard time engaging in sustained combat because they don't expect to get hit back.
To abandon Mr. Ashcroft in the face of criticism of his conservatism would be a sign of weakness by Mr. Bush that would simply encourage more attacks by Democrats and their liberal support groups. Such an act of appeasement would pave the way for surrender in key battles ahead. Mr. Bush is right to fight to defend Mr. Ashcroft just as corporations are right to reject appeasement and reject surrender when they can fight and win.

Eric Dezenhall is president of Nichols-Dezenhall Communications Management Group and author of "Nail 'Em: Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses."


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