He is unfit for the job.
Ashcroft as the nation's top enforcer of civil-rights laws is Mahatma Gandhi as secretary of war. It isn't merely that he's not the right person for the position: He's the polar opposite of the right person.
Confirmation hearings were set to begin Tuesday afternoon (as the RFT went to press) before the same Senate Judiciary Committee in which member Ashcroft got his biggest headlines attacking President Bill Clinton's nominees -- often viciously -- during his one term as Missouri senator. But irony isn't the reason for rejecting Ashcroft, and neither is conservatism.
This is about documented extremism on the most sensitive issues facing the attorney general. It's about intolerance. And it's about dishonesty.
Here are the top 10 reasons the Senate should reject Ashcroft's nomination:
1. Race matters, and Ashcroft is racially challenged. Ashcroft's first big political success came as state attorney general with his costly crusade against Missouri's voluntary-desegregation program (at the time considered a national model in education circles), a fight he continued throughout his tenure as governor. He showed similar passion in dismantling affirmative-action programs, to the point where he led the charge against Clinton nominee Bill Lann Lee as assistant attorney general solely because Lee supported such programs (see point 7). Ashcroft led public crusades against only four other Clinton nominees -- Henry Foster and David Satcher for surgeon general, Frederica Massiah-Jackson and Ronnie White for federal judgeships -- all of whom happened to be black. He has embraced racist groups and individuals, including Southern Partisan magazine and Bob Jones University (see point 10). He maintained virtually all-white staffs as governor and senator. His best defense: He "supported" 23 of Clinton's 26 black judicial nominees (who happened to be slam-dunk, virtually unanimous choices).
2. Sane gun-control policy matters, and Ashcroft is an NRA soldier. Ashcroft has long been a major client of the National Rifle Association, which last year gave $34,900 directly and a staggering $339,237 in independent expenditures to his unsuccessful Senate campaign. Why? Ashcroft has opposed a ban on assault weapons and a measure requiring safety locks on firearms. He favors having the FBI erase records it keeps on gun transactions immediately instead of holding them for future reference. Two years ago, he took the highly unusual step (for a senator) of immersing himself in a state issue when he led the failed charge for a ballot measure that would have almost unconditionally legalized concealed carrying of firearms in Missouri.
3. Women's reproductive rights matter, and Ashcroft would destroy them. Outlawing abortion has long been Ashcroft's signature issue, dating back to his days as state attorney general. But he isn't merely anti-choice. Ashcroft refused almost all state funding for family planning as governor, and as attorney general he sued Missouri nurses to stop them from distributing contraceptives. He was among a handful of senators to advocate outlawing much of what is currently legal birth control. He was one of just a few senators honored by the extremist American Life League, which opposes all abortions for any reason, and he has backed a constitutional amendment that would do the same. He also opposed the Equal Rights Amendment.
4. Environmental laws matter, and Ashcroft would pollute their enforcement. Ashcroft compiled one of the Senate's worst environmental-voting records, according to the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters (which gave him a zero rating in five of his six years in the Senate). He favored lead mining near the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He supported rolling back clean-water protections and opposed funding for enforcement of federal clean-air and -water laws. According to the Sierra Club, he voted to prevent the EPA from enforcing arsenic standards for drinking water and to allow mining companies to dump cyanide and other waste on public lands near their sites. And now he'll enforce laws protecting Mother Nature?
5. Campaign-finance reform matters, and Ashcroft has been for sale. Ashcroft's Victory Fund received $50,000 in campaign contributions from Schering-Plough, maker of the allergy drug Claritin, after which he was one of just nine senators to co-sponsor legislation to extend the company's patents that would have been worth $9.64 billion to the company (and $11 billion to the company overall). His spokesman said there was "no relationship" between the company's largesse and the senator's support for its legislation, just as Ashcroft would deny that the NRA's kindness has any influence on his actions. But don't expect these examples of Ashcroft's "candor" to trouble him in the glass house of the U.S. Senate: Liberal Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) struck up the same cozy friendship with Schering-Plough (based in his state), and almost all the others have their own instances of having had their votes purchased.
6. Independence matters, and Ashcroft is a fierce Republican Party loyalist. Throughout a 30-year career of holier-than-thou moralizing, there is no record of Ashcroft's publicly criticizing a fellow Republican for moral transgressions. Despite all his ad nauseam talk about the sanctity of family-values issues, they didn't rate a mention during morals-related scandals involving Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, Dan Burton, Bob Barr or Helen Chenoweth. In Missouri, Ashcroft never criticized Attorney General William Webster, who went to federal prison on charges related to scandals that took place during the Ashcroft administration. Conversely, he led the pack in criticizing Clinton's morals.
7. Golden Rule, part 1: Only right-wing senators need accept Ashcroft. On Lee's appointment to a position directly below the one Ashcroft now seeks, Ashcroft had no hesitation in voting his "conscience" on affirmative action without respect to the traditional presidential prerogative to choose men and women who share the president's views. As much can be said about other nominees Ashcroft opposed, but Lee -- who had no other baggage -- is the perfect example. And civility toward Ashcroft should be no bother on the basis of the Ashcroft model of receiving nominees. He intentionally distorted White's Supreme Court record on the death penalty, ignoring the fact that it didn't differ substantially from those of Ashcroft's own nominees and, more important, that the "death penalty" votes in question pertained to procedural and technical questions and weren't referenda on the hot social topic. In short, Ashcroft opposed White and the others because he disagreed with their politics, with no deference to Clinton, who held contrary political views. So why should moderates and liberals now defer to President-elect George W. Bush on the confirmation of a right-wing extremist?
8. Golden Rule, part 2: Ashcroft's words may be twisted against him. In opposing Massiah-Jackson, Ashcroft argued that "there can be no excuse" for an outburst she made 15 years earlier against a lawyer in her courtroom that Ashcroft called "an embarrassment to judicial office." Well, here's Ashcroft speaking to Southern Partisan magazine: "You've got a heritage of defending Southern patriots like Lee, Jackson and Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda." Using Ashcroft's standards, shouldn't there be "no excuse" for these words, spoken just two years ago, when Ashcroft was the presidential hopeful of the Rev. Pat Robertson and the Religious Right? (This wasn't idle chatter: He whipped the "W" in the South Carolina straw poll that year.)
9. Honesty matters, and Ashcroft is not a credible witness. It is almost a certainty that the Ashcroft America sees at the confirmation hearings will be a kind, gentle, color-blind man of warmth and moderation -- just like the U.S. Senate candidate whose Web sites and campaign materials scarcely mentioned abortion, affirmative action and other top Ashcroft priorities. Ashcroft is the pious version of the politician who will say or do anything to get elected (or, in this case, confirmed). Being a chameleon has served him well.
10. "America's only King is Jesus," says Ashcroft, and he means it. These aren't private religious thoughts, they're the commencement-speech theme of a man who -- as the would-be national darling of the Religious Right -- accepted an honorary degree from virulently anti-Catholic Bob Jones University (which also opposed, among other things, interracial dating). This is Ashcroft unplugged, a hypermoralistic holy roller with little use for those who don't share his fundamentalist values. Another case in point: homosexuality. Says Ashcroft: "I believe the Bible calls it a sin, and that's what defines sin for me."
Is he entitled to such views? Of course. Is this attorney-general material?
Not in America.