- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001

Concluding a New Year's Eve day interview with Republican Sen. Don Nickles and Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle on "Meet the Press," NBC's Tim Russert asked Mr. Nickles whether the senator would acknowledge that Republicans, as well as Democrats, could stand to elevate the "tone" in Washington. Mr. Nickles agreed, of course, and so do we. Exactly how it is that Republicans go about improving their rhetorical do-re-mis, though, is a matter of opinion. Below, we offer a partial reconstruction of the "Meet the Press" interview, with a suggested Republican tune-up.

Mr. Russert asked Mr. Nickles to respond to an Ashcroft quotation the Democrats are circulating about the need to defend "Southern patriots like Lee, Jackson and Davis," lest we "be taught that these people were giving their lives … fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."

Mr. Russert: "Democrats are pointing out that slavery is a perverted agenda. Is that going to be a problem for Senator Ashcroft?"

Sen. Nickles: "No. I think John Ashcroft is one outstanding former member of the Senate … If that's all they can find … Frankly, all of us have made some statements we might want to retract … My guess is he'll be confirmed."

With all due respect to Mr. Nickles, this was not exactly a rousing, flag-salute of a defense against the Democratic race-baiting and politicking juggernaut coming Mr. Ashcroft's way. Let's take the same question and try, as they say, changing the tone:

Sen. Nickles: "Of course not, Tim. I don't know who's circulating this and what the implication is supposed to be.Is someone actually trying to suggest that Senator Ashcroft is some sort of a secret supporter of slavery? I'm sure my friend here, my good colleague, Mr. Daschle, would never sign on to such a ridiculous, indeed outrageous you know, Tim, it's actually a despicable tactic.

"But I'd like to get back to something my friend Mr. Daschle said a moment ago. I'm wondering what he meant by saying that he's going to find out whether, as Ralph Neas of the People for the American Way has charged, Senator Ashcroft's record on civil rights is 'abysmal.' After all, we've all served together in the Senate for years. And the Ashcroft record is very long and very clear as governor, Mr. Ashcroft actually had the opportunity to sign into law Martin Luther King Day and in the Senate, Mr. Ashcroft has supported 90 percent of the dozens of black judicial nominees up for federal judgeships during his tenure.

"At the same time, I have to add I'm much encouraged by something else my colleague said about the need to determine whether Senator Ashcroft and the other Bush nominees will 'live up to the expectations of the law.' We certainly welcome our Democratic colleagues back on this issue. If you remember, Tim, that whole notion of the need for government officials to uphold the law was what caused all that unpleasantness back in the bad old days of President Clinton's impeachment. Glad to see we really have moved on."

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