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Ashcroft is a moron - very long article(23 posts)

Ashcroft is a moron - very long articleMJ
Jul 17, 2002 4:29 AM

Ashcroft's iron will molds the law

By Fredric N. Tulsky
Mercury News

In his confirmation hearing, John D. Ashcroft assured skeptical senators that they could count on him to observe the limits of the job of attorney general. He would, he told them, enforce the law, not reshape it to fit his own political or moral code.

The Senate then voted to confirm him -- with 42 senators voting no, many saying they doubted his word.

Sixteen months later, John Ashcroft and his supporters say he has been true to his word, faithfully upholding the law through a difficult national time.

``John Ashcroft has kept his word to the president and to the American people,'' said Sen. Christopher ``Kit'' Bond, a Republican who is a former Missouri governor, like Ashcroft. ``It is hard to believe that that many senators had bitterly opposed his nomination.''

Yet Ashcroft is becoming one of the most activist attorneys general in history, working to push the law toward his philosophy on issue after issue, while the Justice Department's powers expand rapidly in the war against terrorism.

To growing criticism from judges, civil rights groups and Democrats in Congress, he has used the power of his office to detain thousands of Middle Eastern immigrants and to toughen immigration policy since Sept. 11; to nullify the nation's first state law permitting assisted-suicide for the terminally ill; and to urge a broader interpretation of the constitutional right to own guns.

A Mercury News review of Ashcroft's record in politics finds a long pattern of using extraordinary measures to shape public policy to his political agenda and religious beliefs.

His interventions are particularly evident on a handful of highly charged issues: The role of women in society, the rights of gays and the debate over when life begins and ends. And they help explain how the attorney general, one of the most powerful people in government, is also one of the most polarizing, disliked and applauded with equal intensity.

In more than two decades of public life as state attorney general, governor and U.S. senator from Missouri, Ashcroft repeatedly pursued extraordinary means to achieve his political ends. State police blocked a father from taking his brain-dead daughter to a hospital in another state so he could remove her from life support. Nurses at a rural family clinic were threatened with prosecution for distributing contraceptives. A state official assisting a voluntary integration plan for St. Louis schools was threatened with the loss of her job.

And in his term as U.S. senator, Ashcroft tried to change the Constitution to match his beliefs several times, introducing or co-sponsoring seven amendments, including ones to permit school prayer, to ban flag burning, to define human life as beginning at fertilization, and to make it easier to amend the Constitution.

The attorney general's spokeswoman, Barbara Comstock, said it is ``simplistic'' to see such actions in the context of his personal code. ``I think what people don't appreciate is his role as a lawyer, and appreciation for the law,'' she said. ``He recognizes a professional responsibility to enforce the law, not to shape it.''

What strikes many people who have encountered Ashcroft on public policies is not only the tactics that he uses, but also the personal convictions that seem to drive them.

Missouri state Sen. Harry Wiggins, for one, recalls a meeting with Ashcroft and a group of Kansas City community leaders when he was governor. The group had tried for months to see the governor about funding to keep open Kansas City's only hospice for AIDS patients.

As the meeting began, Wiggins recalled, Ashcroft appeared uninterested until he focused on the facility being a ``home,'' not a hospital.

``Then you have my attention,'' the governor said, a
That's the sorryiest excuse for journalism that I've seen...TJeanloz
Jul 17, 2002 5:51 AM
I would be embarrassed to have printed that piece. I'm not saying that I like John Ashcroft, or that I think what he's done is right, but that article is ridiculous. Here's how I read it: "John Ashcroft said he would follow the law as attorney general, not try to make the law.

'His interventions are particularly evident on a handful of highly charged issues: The role of women in society, the rights of gays and the debate over when life begins and ends. And they help explain how the attorney general, one of the most powerful people in government, is also one of the most polarizing, disliked and applauded with equal intensity.'

But he did all this as a Senator and Governer. We can't point to what he's done in his current role, only to what he used to do."

The article, that I saw, didn't give A SINGLE reference to an ACTION as attorney general that was an 'intervention'. It gave several references to his trying to change the law to suit his beliefs when he was a Senator and Governer, but Senators and Governers shape the law, that's why they were elected. The article, while maybe right in its premise (I don't know, but I do know that they don't offer any evidence), fails to be convincing, and serves only to discredit the writer.
why not just say "I hate all Republicans"?DougSloan
Jul 17, 2002 6:54 AM
This is another of those articles that does nothing but say, "I hate Republicans", and then states whatever to support the point. Why not just come right out and say it, and be done with it? Don't even bother with bullshit "reasons" to support the opinion. Ted is right, this piece does a pretty bad job of even doing that.

I don't think he ever said "I'll kiss Democrats' butts", which is what you really want, right?

OK: "I hate all (self-righteous, moralizing) Republicans"retro
Jul 17, 2002 7:08 AM
(nm) But only because I don't have time right now to compose one, not because I couldn't.
With two heavies like Doug and Tjeanloz weighing in fromscottfree
Jul 17, 2002 9:50 AM
the right, I sure hope another of the broad's fighting liberal will jump in here with a detailed list of Ashcroft's actual and intended fascist outrages against civil liberties. I'd do it myself -- it's easily enough done -- but I'm too busy worrying about the Tour de France to engage in dreary political debate.
I defend my post...TJeanloz
Jul 17, 2002 9:59 AM
My post was intentionally NOT right leaning or supportive of John Ashcroft. I merely point out that the writer of the initial piece did not support his assertion that Ashcroft has tried (as A.G.) to shape the law to suit his personal views.

I am interested to know of a case where Ashcroft (as A.G.; not an elected official) tried to change or manipulate the law, but the writer offered none of this evidence.
You're aware of the USA PATRIOT Act?scottfree
Jul 17, 2002 10:23 AM
Ashcroft's mindboggling attack on civil liberties, passed by Congress in the terrorism hysteria.
Did you say passed by Congress?TJeanloz
Jul 17, 2002 10:33 AM
I thought I heard a "passed by Congress" in that statement. Which would make it THE LAW, that which he is to enforce. The real worry at his confirmation was that he would selectively enforce laws that were on the books, and enforce them according to some perverse interpretation, like change the definition of 'abortion' or some such thing.

If Congress passes it, and the President signs it, then he damn well better enforce it.
Jul 17, 2002 10:46 AM
You're drawing a razor-sharp distinction that would make Bill Clinton proud. This is an Ashcroft bill, written by the Justice Department, and introduced by one of its kept Congressmen, pushed by the administration, and passed by a gutless Congress that's politically terrified to be seen as 'soft on terror.' But I guess to say it is Ashcroft's bill depends on what your definition of IS is.

You've never worked for a legislative body, have you? I have, for 25 years. I've seen these kinds of stampedes before.

No, this hideous bill sprang full blown from Ashcroft's fevered brow, and reflects his frankly scary thinking and worldview. It is fascism on grand display. If you want, Pilate-like, to absolve Ashcroft of any responsibility for it simply because Congress passed it, well then we're splitting hairs on technicalities and there's really no discussion possible here.
I agree with you in every manner,TJeanloz
Jul 17, 2002 11:01 AM
I fully agree with you, Ashcroft wrote this bill and presented it to Congress, which is well within his role, and is, in fact, his duty. The bill had to be approved by Congress (who were democratically elected, unlike the current President).

The premise of the original article was that Ashcroft has run roughshod over the law (just as Senate democrats feared he would), espousing his own beliefs. And getting a democratically elected body to pass a law hardly has anything to do with giving a wackjob interpretation of a present law. The concern, initially, was that Ashcroft would use his position to prosecute according to his beliefs and in violation of the spirit of the law, I haven't seen evidence of this (but would like to, I'm no supporter of the man). And the Patriot Act certainly is not evidence of this.
I guess my take on the original opposition to Ashcroft'sscottfree
Jul 17, 2002 11:13 AM
nomination differs from yours. Our fear was that Ashcroft had little respect for the Bill of Rights, and would in his capacity as AG seek to run roughshod over it. I guess for some people, that took the form of worrying about wacked interpretation of existing law.

But the larger concern would include the totality of his tenure as AG, everything he did by virtue of his office. Drafting, pushing and getting passed an abomination like the PATRIOT Act is an even bigger confirmation of Ashcroft's discomfort with the Bill of Rights than just twisting the interpretation of abortion law. We had no idea, back then, that something huge like the War on Terror was just around the corner. Had we known, we would have been even more terrified of Ashcroft. He is exactly the wrong man to be in such a job in such a charged atmosphere.

It seems like the libertarian (as opposed to authoritarian) right wing would be with us on this one. How's your side gonna respond to the next Ashcroft initiative -- national ID cards? Seems like left and right alike would shudder at that one.
What I can't help here,TJeanloz
Jul 17, 2002 11:22 AM
I would love to agree with you, that the Patriot act is a disaster, and that it's all Ashcroft's fault. I really would. I don't think much of it.

But it was passed by Congress. I might even be worried if both chambers were controlled by one party; but it passed in the Republican House and the Democratic Senate- you're telling me that 50 democratic Senators didn't have the balls to keep it off the table?

I'd like to villify Ashcroft on this one, I really would like to help, but Congress passed the law. All he did was write it; all they had to do was say no. I'll even be a little disappointed in the President for not vetoing it. But I can't blame Ashcroft for asking for what he thinks he needs to keep the country safe. Now it's up to the Supreme Court to decide whether or not he was reasonable.
libertarian views on Ashcroftweiwentg
Jul 19, 2002 5:07 AM

I can't say that the author speaks for all libertarians (and I'm not a libertarian myself), but you would seem to be right in that they would mostly disapprove of Ashcroft.
That act passed 99-1 in the senate. That's a stampede alright.Sintesi
Jul 17, 2002 11:33 AM
Russ Feingold (the lone objecting senator) wrote this very eloquent criticism given on the senate floor. It's a tough bill for me to decipher, it's so complex, so I'm undecided on many of his objections but it is serious. A lot of stuff on the bill (likened to an "FBI Christmas wish list")got tacked on by senators so I don't think you can fairly say that Ashcroft is wholly responsible, not to mention plenty got cut out of the original bill submitted by Bush's team. The Senate examined the bill, excised portions and added others, and ultimately passed it. The responsibility lies with them I believe.

If the legislature truly passed something unconstitutional isn't it open to challenge and ultimate review by the Supreme Court? Isn't that the American process? Takes time I know, and people might unduly suffer in the meantime, but it's the best system we got.
and 357-66 in the HouseDougSloan
Jul 17, 2002 12:00 PM
The overwhelming majority of members of both parties passed this. How in the heck can anyone blame that on Ashcroft? I don't get it.

You would get it if youscottfree
Jul 18, 2002 5:58 AM
had any familiarity with politics in a legislative body. I have more than 20 years in politics, and I know political suicide when I see it, and so do the members of Congress, and voting against that bill would have been political suicide, pure and simple (except in certain very liberal districts). Imagine the TV ads next election!

It was a runaway bill, pushed by the fears and emotions of the moment and the imperatives of politics. Terrible bills are passed that way. (Something similar is happening right now in the rush to criminalize almost anything CEOs and CFOs might do short of working for free and guaranteeing stockholders profits without losses forever. Even as a leftist, I hate to see this lynch mob craziness because horrible bills will be passed.)

As an aside, if Ashcroft, the author of the bill, cannot be blamed for it because Congress passed it, then George Bush can't get credit for his (insane) tax cut for the same reason. Bill Clinton can't be blamed for his tax increase. Come ON. Being disingenuous doesn't carry an argument forward.
I think this is missing the pointDougSloan
Jul 18, 2002 6:43 AM
The point is that Ashcroft is not ignoring the law and substituting his personal views. This bill was passed overwhelmingly by both houses, fair and square -- political pressure or not. With "over 20 years in politics" (which, by the way, is not necessarily a iron clad credential -- I know, I worked with plenty of political lackeys in my earlier days (not saying you are one, just saying that 20 years in politics doesn't itself make one an authority), I'd think you would at least grant that this is not a case of Ashcroft bending the law to fit his religious or political perspective, that's all.

No, writing to law to fit his religious/personal agenda.scottfree
Jul 18, 2002 6:58 AM
But we're just going to split hairs on this unto eternity, so I'll retire.
Political Suicide...TJeanloz
Jul 18, 2002 7:20 AM
If it is political suicide to vote against something that you believe to be morally and ethically contrary to why you were elected, how can you live with yourself having not made a stand. I admire far more the 1 Senator that had the balls to vote against than the 99 who voted for.

As for blaming or crediting Ashcroft/Clinton/Bush, the difference is plain as day to me: Ashcroft can merely propose the bill, he has NO vote in its passage. The President, however, must sign the bill into law, and thus deserves some credit or blame- he is responsible to act as a balance on the Congress.
Concerning balls, I agree.scottfree
Jul 18, 2002 7:52 AM
Unfortunately, balls are rare in politics.

I'm just flabbergasted that anyone would absolve Ashcroft of any blame for the Jackboots-in-the-Night Patriot Act. It's his vision of America, it wouldn't exist without him, and it's exactly the sort of anti-Bill of Rights crap I expected from him. Sure Congress passed it, and -- yes-- Ashcroft's boss signed it into law. I blame 'em all. A pox on all their houses. But where did it originate? In the tortured mind of a fellow who thinks the Bill of Rights is just a provisional thing we can ignore if it becomes inconvenient.

But let's accept your argument; I'll concede, just to get it past us. This abomination of a law is Congress' fault. Ashcroft had nothing to do with it becoming law. He merely proposed it, and that's nothing, really. Just a teensy tiny thing. Hell, ANYONE can propose something, right? You or I or Radical Ron Pruitt can propose something. Doesn't mean shit.

But the question remains, do you and Doug and your libertarian conservative friends feel comfortable with an Attorney General with the attitude toward civil libery revealed clearly in this teeny tiny proposal? I would imagine you'd be scared to death to have this guy as attorney general.

Me, I'd rather have Radical Ron Pruitt.
I can't speak for Doug, or my friends,TJeanloz
Jul 18, 2002 9:09 AM
Partly because I don't have any friends.

But yes, I'm fine with having Ashcroft as A.G.; just like I would have been fine with Bobby Kennedy (had I been alive when he was A.G.).


Because, you may say, I'm a dreamer. I believe that the system in place is larger than any man, and no single person, be they in Congress, the President, Secretary of State or A.G. wields enough power to do real damage to myself and what I will call the American system.

The man is temporary, the system is forever (or at least until the world merges into one big happy family).
That's real wisdom, & very inspiring to hear fromscottfree
Jul 18, 2002 9:13 AM
a young person. True words, well said.

I may be a political hack with no authority to speak on anything, but I do know that this one little civics class sentiment is what keeps the whole American ball of wax going.
And a popular Act it is128
Jul 17, 2002 12:28 PM
Is anybody seriously arguing that Congress is doing the will of the AG? I didn't see that.

Excerpt from the New Republic (Peter Beinhart):

Liberals have been screaming about this for weeks now, and they should keep on screaming. But they don't matter to this administration. The people who do are on the right. The Washington Times has come out against Bush's military tribunals, and the Cato Institute plans to file a brief arguing that they are unconstitutional. Keene's American Conservative Union lobbied to include sunset clauses in certain provisions of the now-passed USA Patriot Act so extraordinary governmental powers will not automatically continue if we return to ordinary times. Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, and the National Rifle Association also insisted that the original legislation didn't adequately protect individual rights. The influential conservative strategist Grover Norquist told The Boston Globe, "We don't like bad guys, either, but let's not sacrifice our freedoms because the FBI and CIA want more power." William Safire has accused the president of "seizing dictatorial power" and establishing "kangaroo courts."