- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

The epithets thrown at John Ashcroft make up a demagogue's catalog. Racist, sexist and ideologue for starters. The most sarcastic attacks are reserved for his Puritanism. He can't dance (don't ask him.) It's against his religion.

No one believes that his inability to do the fox trot, the soft shoe or the salsa would undercut his ability to be good attorney general, but it's enough to attract aspersions on his attitude. "What kind of man doesn't dance?" asks Bill Maher of the politically correct television program "Politically Incorrect." (Almost any wife could answer the question.)

The mere fact that he's a member of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination that frowns on dancing, turns John Ashcroft into a reincarnated Savonorola. He was taught that dancing was sexually arousing. Who could argue with that?

"The fact that Ashcroft doesn't dance is the least of our worries," the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the New York Times. The bigger problem for Mr. Lynn, as odd as this may be for a man ordained as a teacher of religious principle, is that Mr. Ashcroft allows his religious beliefs to be fundamental to his thinking about right and wrong. This puts him beyond Barry Lynn's pale.

Few critics argue that there's anything wrong with taking "Thou Shalt Not Kill" or "Thou Shalt Not Steal" from the Ten Commandments and codifying them into civil law. But John Ashcroft is accused of going over the line when his faith guides him to oppose homosexuality, abortion, pornography, needle exchanges, the National Endowment for the Arts and the United Nations.

These are in fact reasonable positions for intellectual debate regardless of religious faith. I know atheists who agree with him. We may disagree with John Ashcroft on all, some or none of these, but they're certainly reasonable moral and political points of inquiry in a free society. The question is not whether John Ashcroft's personal opinions are faith-based or secular, but whether he will uphold the law of the land as attorney general.

Few doctrines, even if commonly held, could escape the cold distortions of mean-spirited interrogators. Most Americans applauded Al Gore's choice of Joe Lieberman as a man of faith, but not even Joe could defend the letter of Jewish law and practice if it were maligned by the likes of those distorting Mr. Ashcroft's fundamentalist faith.

Who but a sadist and a pervert, for example, would mutilate a little boy's genitals? Would a father who allowed someone to slice off the end of his little son's penis be fit to administer juvenile justice? Could a Jewish or Muslim man who regards ham and shrimp as unclean be a fair-minded secretary of agriculture?

What kind of crackpot would insist he could drink the blood and eat the flesh of a man slain 2,000 years ago? Would we let such a man oversee the department of Health and Human Services? How could we turn the Army and the Navy over to someone who thinks his cheek is only for turning? Wouldn't this invite mischief from evil-doers in distant hostile lands?

A person of faith of necessity must show flexibility if put in a public position that conflicts with personal faith. Jack Kennedy understood that obligation when he promised he wouldn't look to the Vatican to tell him how to run the American government, and some of the people harassing John Ashcroft today were perfectly satisfied with JFK's promise (as they should have been). An attorney general who opposes abortion can be trusted not to interfere with the rights of women to choose if we can trust an attorney general who opposes capital punishment not to interfere with a state's right to exact that punishment.

If John Ashcroft's belief would lead him to counter the law, he should say so, and withdraw. There has been no suggestion of such conflict in his 16 years of public service. In fact, it's difficult to imagine that he could make as many disastrous decisions as Janet Reno if he tried, and no one cares whether she dances or who she dances with, or how loud she prays.

The most important qualifications Mr. Ashcroft has exhibited are those dismissed by his critics as clichs Integrity, character, principle. He can be the wallflower at the inaugural ball or continue to pray at his office, but unless he stops the rest of us from dancing or forces us to kneel in prayer, he should be confirmed as attorney general. His critics should look somewhere else for dance partners.


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