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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 Democrats.

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 opposition.

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 different.

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 Globe.

Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company

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