- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

The columnists are beginning to thunder against the nomination of John Ashcroft as attorney general. The columnists thundering against him for being too conservative are liberals, so-called. They are the species of liberal who reveal their own ideological rigidity and extremism by the alacrity with which they call conservatives rigid and extreme. They are the kind of liberal who does not tolerate disagreement, particularly from the right.
As Mr. Ashcroft disagreed with these liberals over the years, first as Missouri's attorney general, then governor, then senator until his defeat last fall, they are now insisting that his nomination be defeated. Are conservative columnists rushing to his defense? Not at all; it is a characteristic of conservative columnists that they do not rush to their fellow conservatives' defense until that defense is hopeless and they can lament another lost cause. Apparently the conservative columnists will let Mr. Ashcroft be vilified while they drone on about policy matters: school vouchers, affirmative action, family breakdown and so forth. Meanwhile Mr. Ashcroft is being vilified for working to implement these policies. The conservative columnists' natural habitat is the ivory tower.
Naturally, the most incendiary vilifier of Mr. Ashcroft is the New York Times's moral peacock, Anthony Lewis. Among his other false charges, in a recent column he called Mr. Ashcroft a liar, lacking "a fine-tuned ethical sense." Mr. Lewis began his screed saying Mr. Ashcroft "is on the extreme right of American politics" who, while in the Senate, "worked to block the confirmation process, without a hearing, of any judicial nominee he suspected of the faintest liberal taint." "Of the faintest liberal taint" is that charge even plausible against a man who voted to confirm scores of Clinton appointees? Moreover, Mr. Ashcroft voted to confirm 26 out of 28 Clinton judicial nominees who were black, a point that makes nonsense of the liberals' charge he is a bigot. Yet Mr. Lewis finds Mr. Ashcroft extreme and a liar. Whatever happened to these soi disant liberals' remonstrances against "the politics of personal destruction"? The liberals now intoning abuse against Mr. Ashcroft claim a particular reverence for the office of attorney general. They stress that the Justice Department is to be administered with delicacy. It worries them that the department might be run by an attorney general of "rigid" principle. Perhaps that is why they were so acquiescent during Janet Reno's tenure. Better to have an attorney general with no principle doing whatever it took to protect an unethical president than an attorney general whose principles discomfit them.
Mr. Ashcroft's principles are pretty much those of the social conservatives. While in the Senate he opposed abortion, favored capital punishment and law and order, and was a dreadful fuddy duddy on lifestyle and government funding of the arts. There is an amusing symmetry here. During the administration of Bush I, Sen. John Tower's nomination for defense secretary was slaughtered by his former colleagues because of his love of the high life OK in the Senate, but not the Cabinet. Now some of the same Democratic senators are going to slaughter the Cabinet nomination of a former senator because of his strait-laced life. Along with all the aforementioned policies, Mr. Ashcroft also disapproves of tobacco, alcohol and dancing. Now those are three of my favorite indoor recreations, but I do not fear that as attorney general he will tread on my rights. We are a nation of laws, and the attorney general is no more going to ban dancing than he is going to ban abortion. The abortion issue is another of the liberals' false issues. It will have to be banned by the law before Mr. Ashcroft can act against it.
Yet Mr. Ashcroft's liberal opponents are desperate. As was seen in the last election, if a disagreement over policy gives them any opportunity to charge racism, they will. Hence they have raised this shameful charge against Ashcroft. As evidence they note that in an obscure intellectual review he called Confederate soldiers patriotic and in the Senate he opposed a black judge's nomination to the federal bench. The first charge is sheer desperation. The second is sheer viciousness. Mr. Ashcroft opposed the judge for dissenting against Missouri's execution of a particularly brutal murderer. He thought the judge's decision revealed a callous disregard for human life, and, incidentally, the murderer was white. I cannot say Missouri's Judge Ronnie White displayed a disregard for life by opposing the execution of Jimmy Johnson, for I oppose capital punishment. I can say his reasoning showed a capricious regard for the law. It is Mr. Ashcroft's deep learning in the law, respect for the rule of law, and long years of an impeccably lived public life that make him fit to head the Justice Department. After eight years of Janet Reno, are our liberals really going to oppose this man and not by reasoned arguments but by slander?

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the editor in chief of the American Spectator.

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