- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

The Senate Judiciary Committee will soon vote on the confirmation of former Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general. In all likelihood, the full Senate will vote to confirm Mr. Ashcroft. But Mr. Ashcroft deserved better.

That is, when Mr. Ashcroft becomes the next attorney general of the United States, he will bring an abiding dedication to law and order to a department that has been corrupted into an institutional accomplice in Clintonian politicking and scandal control. But it is bound to be a different John Ashcroft who will take office from the man who was nominated last month by George W. Bush. That's not to say that the belief isn't there; or that the principles have been shaken. Even the smile is the same, almost. But having undergone what can only be described as a savaging confirmation hearing, Mr. Ashcroft must now contend with a reputation in tatters, willfully distorted, shredded and sullied by his political opponents.

He has been caricatured by Senate Democrats, special interest groups and the media elite as one blinded by his faith to law and reason. He has been branded an unregenerate racist or "racially insensitive," to use the phrase of choice and an "anti-choice" homophobe. This big smear wasn't easy. There were setbacks, as when Mr. Ashcroft's long lost address to Bob Jones University, breathlessly awaited by opponents seeking a smoking gun or maybe a smoking Bible proved to be utterly non-incendiary. And, of course, Mr. Ashcroft's actual record as a senator, governor and state attorney general kept getting in the way (although that never stopped the explosive garble of Sen. Ted Kennedy).

Take the issue of "racial insensitivity." As governor, Mr. Ashcroft appointed so many black judges to the Missouri bench, pushed his state to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday, and voted, as a senator, to confirm so many of Bill Clinton's black judicial nominees (26 out of 27) that this quickly became a laughable charge. (Mrs. Ashcroft even teaches law at historically black Howard University.)

Never ones to display a sense of humor, of course, the Ashcroft opposition persisted in trying to hang its race-case, first, on Mr. Ashcroft's opposition as governor to a dubious and costly court-mandated desegregation plan (also opposed by his Democratic predecessor), and, later, on the single black Clinton judicial nominee whose elevation to the federal bench Mr. Ashcroft had opposed (with several state and national law-enforcement organizations) on philosophical grounds. So while even Sen. Charles Schumer could concede that Judge Ronnie White's judicial philosophy was debatable, he claimed that because Mr. Ashcroft had approved some unnamed white nominees with records more liberal than Judge White's "according to the people who prepared the documentation," Mr. Schumer said Mr. Ashcroft had managed, in one fell swoop, to show "a real insensitivity to our long and tortured history of race relations."

Then there were the "homophobia" charges or, rather, charge. While no one claimed that Mr. Ashcroft had ever, for example, discriminated in the hiring or promotion of homosexuals, the left gleefully pointed to his opposition to philanthropist James Hormel's nomination to be ambassador to Luxembourg. To be sure, Mr. Hormel is a homosexual. But what concerned many conservatives was not his homosexuality, but rather a homosexual activism that ranged from funding a documentary film for schoolchildren that promoted the homosexual lifestyle, to harboring a fond indulgence for an anti-Catholic transvestite troupe known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Hip and trendy though such pursuits may be, they still give off a whiff of hostility toward such creaky old pillars of traditional society as family and religion which at least tend to get lip service from the nation's representatives.

To the end, Mr. Ashcroft's adversaries seemed to know he was always just out of range; they just tried to wound him as grievously as they could. Even so, Mr. Ashcroft will certainly be confirmed to serve his nation once again, this time as attorney general. No small triumph. But what a cost.

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