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Gene Lyons vs. the "Fruitcake Right'

by Elysian Saturday, Jan. 13, 2001 at 7:07 PM

Gene Lyons editorial on John Ashcrofts fitness for the job of Attorney General in light of Ashcrofts extremist views.

Editorial Section / Wednesday, January 10, 2001


Ashcroft's views make him unfit to serve as attorney general

Here we are fewer than two weeks into 2001, and we already have a favorite for Unsolicited Opinions Inc.'s annual "Swifty" prize.

Inspired by Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, this prestigious award honors

the Democrat-Gazette Voices contributor who best employs wit, irony or sarcasm for humane purposes. Future entrants will find it hard to surpass Paul Kirkpatrick of Fayetteville's pledge of allegiance to the

president-select, George W. Bush.

"I will give our new president the same level of support and encouragement that was given to the current administration by such luminaries

as Tom DeLay, Trent Lott, Rush Limbaugh, Richard [Mellon] Scaife, Ted Olson, [Paul Greenberg] and, of course, George W. himself," Kirkpatrick taunted.

"In other words, I will badmouth the president daily, I will work in whatever small way I can to defeat and undermine his programs and agenda, I will believe every scurrilous lie told about him and I will criticize and

ridicule his wife and children at every opportunity."

On the same day this sublime missive appeared, Washington power-lawyer Ted Olson wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times piously lamenting what pundits call the "politics of personal destruction." Today, Olson is best

known for arguing Bush's case against counting Florida's votes before the Supreme Court. But to anybody familiar with his history as a GOP agent provocateur, there's a bitter irony in his shameless invocation of a

phrase coined by Bill Clinton.

From 1992 onward, Olson did everything in his power to humiliate Clinton.

A close friend of Kenneth Starr, Olson did more to build the legal/political snare the president stuck his, er, neck into than anybody. He represented Whitewater con man David Hale and The American Spectator magazine. He assisted right-wing lawyers representing Paula Jones. He wrote

pseudonymous articles in the Spectator urging Clinton's impeachment. If Bush does pardon Clinton, it'll have more to do with keeping the activities of patriots like Olson off the front page than compassion.

Today, however, Olson thinks Democrats should adopt an attitude of patriotic reverence toward the incoming president. Specifically, they shouldn't question Bush-Cheney's choice of former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general, because "presidents are customarily given great latitude in selecting members of their cabinets, and the Senate historically accords special deference to nominees from its own inner circle."

Is that so? Not only do we recall Republicans trashing Clinton's AG picks eight years ago, but we have an even more basic problem with the Bush ascendancy itself. University of Texas government professor James K. Galbraith may have said it best in The Boston Globe: "The key to dealing with the Bush people, however, is precisely not to accept them. I have nothing personal against Bush, Dick Cheney or other members of the new administration, but I will not reconcile myself to them. They lost the election. Then they arranged to obstruct the count of the vote. They don't deserve to be there, and that changes everything. They have earned our civic disrespect, and that is what the people should accord them. . . . The conventions of politics remain: Bush will be president; Congress must work with him. But those outside that process are not bound by those conventions, and to the extent that we have a voice, we should use it. Politically, civic disrespect means drawing lines around the freedom of maneuver of the incoming administration."

Nothing shows the emptiness of Bush's "uniter, not a divider" trope more clearly than his choice of Ashcroft. Naming the former Missouri senator, a dogmatic champion of the religious right, has evoked hosannas of joy from Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Charlton Heston. Ashcroft, see, isn't just a right-to-lifer, he's sponsored legislation to make abortion illegal even in cases of rape and incest. A 13-year-old gets raped by her uncle? She has to keep the baby.

Ashcroft had no problem accepting and keeping an honorary degree from

Bob Jones University, the South Carolina institution that once forbade interracial dating and whose officials have denounced the Mormon and the Catholic churches.

In 1998, he gave an interview to a neo-Confederate magazine called Southern Partisan Quarterly Review. In it, he argued that

"traditionalists" needed to defend Jeff Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee "or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing

their sacred fortunes and their honor, to some perverted agenda." Unless we're badly mistaken, the agenda he's talking about would be slavery.

In 1999, Ashcroft launched an attack upon Ronnie White, a black

Missouri Supreme Court justice whom President Clinton had nominated to the federal bench. Falsely charging White with opposing the death penalty (which the Missouri Democratic Party says he'd upheld in 41 of 59 cases), Ashcroft actually accused the judge of being "pro-criminal" and said he "would use his lifetime appointment to push the law in a pro-criminal direction." White's nomination was eventually rejected by the U.S. Senate on a 55-45 party-line vote.

So Democrats are supposed to make nice because Bush owes one to the Fruitcake Right? Look, Ashcroft may be a fine husband and father, a devoted churchgoer, a congenial colleague and an exemplary pet owner. Here at Unsolicited Opinions Inc., we don't know or care. Nor are we buying Olson's warning that there's no "constitutional justification for opposing a cabinet nominee on the basis of deeply felt religious convictions . . . shared by millions of Americans."

Millions more find those deeply felt convictions somewhere between laughable and offensive. Had Bush announced he'd appoint an Ashcroft in

October, Al Gore would have won the presidency in a walk.

Opposing Ashcroft needs no constitutional justification and has

nothing to do with "personal destruction." It's purely political. The man's dogmatic, intemperate views make him unfit for the job of enforcing laws he clearly doesn't believe in. That's really all we need to know.

Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award. His column appears on Wednesdays.

This article was published on Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Amen to Gene Lyons for not following the majority of the talking heads in the 'mainstream' media who seem less able every day to cut through the rosy cheeked, all is well, we couldn't be happier, thanks Gore for being a gentleman and stepping down, daddys in charge, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and not worry about sex in the White House anymore, b.s. I see expounded upon- ad nauseum- on television and in newsprint.

This editorial (and Kenneth Galbreiths from the Boston Globe submitted elsewhere on this forum) will give many a glimmer of hope that there is actually a press that has not totally sold out to the Plutocratic Jackboot Cartel taking control of this country.

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