The Sunday Gazette Mail, January 21, 2001
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, January 18, 2001
George W. Bush campaigned for President as a "uniter, not a divider," a "compassionate conservative," who was going to "bring civility back to government."
"I'll work with Republicans and Democrats," he said.
He didn't even wait to be sworn in before launching a jihad-- a holy war-- against the enemies of his party. How else to describe the nomination of a man with such an atrocious civil rights record for the nation's top legal officer? Not to mention an anti-environmentalist to protect the nation's federal lands and forests, and an anti-labor crusader for Secretary of Labor.
That last one, Linda Chavez, got "Borked" last week. (The reference is to Robert Bork, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Reagan in 1987 and rejected after a harsh fight in the Senate). But Chavez was defeated on a technicality. John Ashcroft, George W. Bush's nominee for Attorney General, hasn't been caught with any undocumented workers doing his housework. So the Democrats may have to reject him on more substantive grounds.
This shouldn't be all that hard to do. The man has a record. Take voting rights-- given what happened in our last Presidential election, it's probably more of an issue today than at any time since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
As Governor of Missouri, John Ashcroft did his best to keep the number of registered voters to a minimum-- at least in those areas with higher concentrations of African-Americans, poor and working people, and of course Democrats.
In 1988 the Missouri legislature passed a law that allowed for deputy registrars to go out and register voters in the city of St. Louis, just as they did in the outlying counties where there were more Republican and white voters. Ashcroft vetoed that bill on the grounds that it wasn't fair for the state government to apply this law to St. Louis and not to the rest of the state.
So the next year the legislature came back with a bill that applied to the whole state. Governor Ashcroft vetoed that one, too.
As anyone who has been involved in voter registration drives can tell you, these outreach programs can be very effective in increasing voter participation. This is especially true for people who might otherwise find it difficult register at city hall or another municipal office during working hours. To deny this opportunity to one part of the population, while allowing it for others-- this by itself should be enough to disqualify John Ashcroft for the position of U.S. Attorney General.
But there is more-- a lot more. He fought vehemently against even voluntary desegregation of St. Louis public schools. In 1999 he accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, which had a ban on interracial dating. And then there is his very friendly interview with the white supremacist magazine Southern Partisan, in which he defended the cause of the Confederacy.
Ashcroft's record on women's issues is also that of an extremist. He supported legislation that could be used not only to ban abortion but even some forms of contraception such as birth control pills. His efforts to restrict access to abortion while Attorney General in Missouri showed little respect for the law-- for example, requiring hospital rather then outpatient treatment in order to make the procedure more expensive and difficult to obtain; or attempting to limit the professional services of nurses.
And when it comes to gay rights-- whether it's hate crimes legislation, protection from discrimination in employment, or the appointment of a gay official, Ashcroft has found himself in the hard-core opposition.
There are a lot of good reasons that Mr. Ashcroft lost to a dead man in his Senate race last year. The question now is: will the 50 live Democrats in the Senate have the spine to stop him from taking a much more powerful position in which he is clearly not fit to serve? Or will they kick up a lot of dirt and then cave, deferring to a President that lost the popular vote (and never really won the election, either)?