Ted Kennedy, whose belief in federal corpulence corresponds to his own indulgence, opposes John Ashcroft's confirmation as Attorney General. Senator Chappaquiddick's opposition tends to be a trusty indicator of sound policy. (Look at what a fine justice Clarence Thomas turned out to be.) Alas, a reasoned assessment of Ashcroft's suitability requires more investigation than Senator Chappaquiddick's views.
Ashcroft looks like a solid man of the right: pro-rule of law, anti-affirmative action, even respectful of the ephemeral Confederate republic. He's probably the most conservative nominee individuals on the right can expect, and there's the rub in this hullabaloo.
Joseph Farah of World Net Daily writes, "Ashcroft is a good man, a decent man, a man of principle, character and virtue." I don't take issue with any of this and particularly respect Ashcroft's familial affection, especially for his wife. ("After rebuffing me several times, my persistence overcame her better judgment. She has stuck with me for thirty-three years. Members of the Committee, her name is Janet Ashcroft. I'm privileged to have her with me today.")
Unfortunately, Ashcroft on the whole does not emerge as uniquely or even predominantly conservative. Consider this anaphora in his opening statement:
"No American should be denied access to public accommodations or a job as a result of a disability. No American family should be prevented from realizing the dream of home ownership in the neighborhood of their choice just because of skin color. No American should have the door to employment or educational opportunity slammed shut because of gender or race."
Ashcroft subsequently cited these gubernatorial accomplishments: "I signed Missouri's first hate crimes statute. By executive order, I made Missouri one of the first states to recognize Martin Luther King Day." He stated on the second day of his hearing, "Abraham Lincoln is my favorite political figure in the history of this country."
Since John Ashcroft is a good man of principle and character, I don't believe he's dissembling, which means he's a far cry from mainstream conservatism. (By mainstream, I mean philosophically, not operationally.)
We can infer Ashcroft's support for the following laws from the previous sentences:
"No American should be denied access to public accommodations or a job as a result of a disability" (The Americans with Disabilities Act).
"No American family should be prevented from realizing the dream of home ownership in the neighborhood of their choice just because of skin color" (The Fair Housing Act).
"No American should have the door to employment or educational opportunity slammed shut because of gender or race" (Titles II and VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act).
Ashcroft's gubernatorial deeds become easy to understand in this light. It would be ridiculous to call Ashcroft a leftist, but this record cannot be reconciled with federalism or property rights. None other than E.J. Dionne Jr. recently noted how "the Civil Rights Act of 1964 consciously [emphasis added] overrode both states' rights and property rights."
Like the man who nominated him, Ashcroft is what may be termed a traditionalist nationalist. They affirm a Biblical worldview and invoke the rhetoric of conservatism (adding an alliterative quality to it, i.e., "compassionate conservatism"). Their attractive syllables do not yield conservative substance, though.
It's indisputable that John Ashcroft considers Roe v. Wade to have been improper adjudication and objects to quotas. It's also indisputable that he accepts and defends an antidiscrimination apparatus antagonistic to constitutional order and proprietary discretion. As for his favorite American political figure, suffice it to say Abraham Lincoln was less than superlative in preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution.
When a Senator, Ashcroft approvingly quoted James Madison's observation in Federalist No. 46 regarding "the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation." He and the Republican Party in general would do well to consider another piece of Madisonian wisdom from Federalist No. 54: "Government is instituted no less for protection of the property than of the persons of individuals."
January 19, 2001
Myles Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.