While the first 100 days of an administration usually set the tone for a presidency, President Bush’s nomination of John Ashcroft for Attorney General set off a firestorm of controversy before Bush ever set foot in the Oval Office.
Ashcroft’s supporters cite his extensive governmental experience (Missouri Attorney General and Governor, U.S. Senate) and assert that he is being opposed solely because of his staunch conservative viewpoint. Ideology should play no part in the confirmation battle.
It is Ashcroft’s pattern of irrational behavior that makes him a poor choice for Attorney General, the highest law enforcement official in the nation.
While serving Missouri, Ashcroft displayed a clear insensitivity toward minorities. He vigorously defended the state in its refusal to desegregate St. Louis schools. He also denied the Voting Rights Act, which would have made it easier for African-Americans to register to vote.
He granted interviews to an openly racist southern magazine, and also appeared as a guest speaker at Bob Jones University, which, until this summer, maintained a ban on inter-racial, dating. Bob Jones University is also fiercely anti-catholic. During a nationally televised interview, University President Dr. Bob Jones actually referred to Pope John Paul II as the “anti-Christ.” Ashcroft holds an honorary degree from Bob Jones University.
While a member of the U.S. Senate, Ashcroft viciously defamed Federal Judge nominee Ronnie White. Ashcroft distorted Judge White’s record, painting him as “pro-criminal” despite the fact that White voted to uphold capital murder convictions more than any other member of the Missouri Supreme Court except one.
At the time, Ashcroft was embroiled in a heated senate race with the late Mel Carnahan, and he attempted to use Judge White as a political pawn to establish himself as tough on crime. This behavior is completely unbefitting of any man nominated for such a prestigious and honorable position.
The question that must be posed to President Bush is “Why?” Why after promising to unite the nation, would he pick such a divisive figure to head the Department of Justice? Why would he choose someone who galvanizes the anger of so many?
Another simple, but particularly poignant “why?” must be asked of Ashcroft himself. Why would he want the job? It will be his daily duty to enforce laws he doesn’t agree with, such as gun control, affirmative action, and abortion. Isn’t he compromising himself by fighting for laws he doesn’t believe in?
While the Attorney General is an enforcement position, not an enactment position, a large amount of personal interpretation is involved. The Attorney General chooses what crimes to prosecute and determines how each law should be read.
Despite the controversy, Ashcroft will likely be confirmed by the Senate, and only time will tell if he will live up to his promise to protect and serve. In the meantime, agree with him or not, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
America should always unite behind its public officials, and support them in their quest to advance our shared nation. Hopefully, Ashcroft will employ the same traditional doctrines of equality, open-mindedness, and justice.