By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Bush gave him the job as payback to the loony Christian Right for their support in the election (it also provided him a certified extremist to hide behind). At first, Ashcroft must‘ve thought he’d landed a dream gig. It gave him a chance to roll back abortion, battle gun control, minimize antitrust prosecutions, de-emphasize civil rights laws and censor whatever art or Internet content he found offensive. But on September 11, he became responsible for protecting U.S. citizens, and from his first appearances in that role, you could viscerally feel his dread and inadequacy. On the day he announced the first terrorism alert, Ashcroft approached the podium with the slumped shoulders and the doomed expression of a man who expects that the alien will jump from his stomach any second now. Nothing he actually said was nearly as terrifying as his body language: He looked like a man who‘d been warned of a megadeath nuclear attack but wasn’t allowed to tell the public.
After that dismal performance, I felt sure that Bush‘s people would quietly arrange for him to take a professorship at Bob Jones University. Instead, he’s become Rummy‘s joyless alter ego, the face of the war at home. Ashcroft is constantly on the tube justifying the administration’s latest whittling away of constitutional rights -- refusing to name detainees, eavesdropping on prisoners‘ conversations with lawyers, creating military tribunals in a presidential directive so slipshod that the rest of the so-called civilized world was shocked. The one right the attorney general fiercely protects involves the bearing of arms: He kept the FBI from examining the gun-purchase records of illegal immigrants. You have your favorite amendment to the Bill of Rights; Ashcroft and the NRA have theirs.
In the weeks since that initial terror alert, Ashcroft has remained ”frustrated and panic-stricken“ (to use the words of William Safire), but he has grown ever bolder in asserting the administration’s right to scupper the Constitution without even consulting the Congress. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, he sat uncomfortably at his table like Jabba the Hutt, chin melting into his shoulders, face stiff with a hanging judge‘s icy rectitude: ”To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies, and pause to America‘s friends. They encourage people of goodwill to remain silent in the face of evil.“
When a Cabinet member talks like this to the majority party of the U.S. Senate, you can only imagine how he’d treat ordinary citizens who oppose his policies.
In fact, Ashcroft‘s performance on Capitol Hill last week may be the best single example of what’s dangerous in the Bush administration‘s attempts to put constitutional rights on hold. The point of such rights is to protect the accused from government officials who, out of ideology or hysteria, can scarcely be trusted to provide a fair trial. Hearing the attorney general talk to Democratic senators as if they were secret backers of al Qaeda, you knew that Ashcroft, for one, would rather punish hundreds of innocent people than worry he’d let a guilty one go free. Would you trust your life to a man who smells the brimstone stench of treason in simple disagreement?