Bush Picks An Extremist For Attorney General
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Source: Common Dreams
Published on Sunday, December 31, 2000 in the Boston Globe
Bush Picks An Extremist For AG
by Robert Kuttner
WILL THE DEMOCRATS insist that George W. Bush, as a minority president, govern from
the center? Or will Bush just roll over them?
The early signs are not encouraging. In the post-election posturing, Republicans created the
presumption that Bush had won and that any demand for a complete recount was
illegitimate. They did this, it is now clear, mainly by shouting louder and outmaneuvering the
Now, the four-year sequel. Bush is acting as if he had won in a landslide. The Republican
far right made angry noises when the first appointments, Colin Powell and Condoleezza
Rice, went to relative moderates. So when former Senator John Ashcroft was named
attorney general, the press dutifully reported that this appointment was necessary to
appease the Republican right. But what about appeasing the 52 percent of Americans who
voted for a progressive candidate and the 50 Democratic senators?
The one good thing about this nomination is that it is so bad, it may actually rouse
Democrats from their torpor. Ashcroft is not just a sworn enemy of Roe v. Wade and
reproductive choice. He was one of three co-sponsors of the Human Life Amendment,
which, astoundingly, defines life as beginning not just conception, but at fertilization. The
amendment would make illegal not just abortions, but IUDs and birth control pills.
Ashcroft is a darling of the religious right. His record on church-state issues is abysmal. He
gets a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition, while National Journal ranks him as
the most conservative member of the Senate. He ranks at the bottom on environmental
issues, receiving a zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters.
Among other key votes, Ashcroft voted against extension of employment discrimination
laws, against legislation to ban assault weapons and to require trigger locks, against hate
crimes laws. He accepted an honorary degree from racist Bob Jones University. He
singlehandedly blocked the nomination of Ronnie White to the federal bench. White, a
member of the Missouri Supreme Court, is African-American. Until Ashcroft weighed in,
White had cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, 15-3, with a majority of Republican
senators voting in favor.
In persuading the Republican Caucus to block the nomination, Ashcroft criticized a handful
of White's votes to reverse criminal convictions or death penalty cases. But in fact, White's
record was comparable to the rest of the Missouri court, including Republican appointees.
Supporters of Ashcroft are trying to depict opponents as painting Ashcroft as a racist. So if
they can refute that charge, Ashcroft should be home free.
But hold on. Ashcroft would be the nation's top law-enforcement officer, and his record on a
broad range of law-enforcement issues is far-fringe. Democrats, you would think, would be
lining up to block Ashcroft. But no. One Democrat, New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli
(also the first to suggest Gore concede) is on record in favor. Exactly none is on record in
Why not? First, Democrats want the confirmation process to be fair. They want to wait for
evidence. But of course the man's record is an open book.
Second, John Ashcroft is a fellow senator, a member of the club. Russ Feingold, a
Wisconsin liberal, serves with him on a key subcommittee and finds him a congenial
colleague. James Jeffords, a moderate Republican from Vermont, sings with Ashcroft in a
Senate choral quartet.
Third, Democrats don't want to oppose unless they are sure they can win, which sets up a
chicken and egg problem. It takes just 41 senators to block, but 41 must be willing to
block. The Senate includes 50 Democrats, and five moderate Republicans, two of whom are
prochoice women, Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine.
Finally, there is the general convention that a president has a right to name his Cabinet,
barring disclosures of personal impropriety. But this president and this nomination are
Bush lost the popular vote. He basically stole the White House because his lawyers
outfoxed the Democrats' legitimate demand for a recount. The attorney general is no
ordinary cabinet position, since this official enforces the nation's laws and passes on all
proposed appointments to the federal courts. Nor is this a mainstream nominee.
Bush should be accorded all the usual perquisites of an incoming president - as long as he
appoints moderates. Ashcroft is an extremist. If the Senate Democrats fail to block this
appalling nomination, they will spend the next four years getting trampled and they will
deserve to. But the rest of us will pay the price.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company
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