News and Features
For thirty years, since the publication of Silent Spring and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the growth of the environmental movement has been fueled with sorrow for the decimation o
That John Ashcroft is a right-wing, pro-gun religious fanatic who
laments the civil rights gains of the past decades and believes that
leaders of the pro-slavery Southern Confederacy are deserving of
veneration should not disqualify him from holding an important office.
No, indeed, he would make an excellent president of the National Rifle
Association, or leader of the Christian Coalition or an anti-abortion group.
Perhaps there's even a job for the defeated Republican senator in the
federal government, say on some historical commission devoted to the
restoration of Civil War artifacts, such as the holding cells for runaway
But how can George W. Bush appoint as US attorney general a man who
gave an interview to the pro-Confederate Southern Partisan magazine that
praised the magazine for its "heritage...of defending Southern
patriots like Lee, Jackson and Davis"? Ashcroft said it was necessary to
stand up for the leaders of the Old South "or else we'll be taught that
these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes
and their honor to some perverted agenda." Never mind that the agenda
these people were defending was slavery. This can only lead one to
believe that Ashcroft's strenuous opposition to affirmative action is
based on the view that slavery and segregation were not all that damaging
to the lives of black Americans.
Ashcroft represents the extreme flash point of the culture wars that
are threatening to tear this country apart. He's of the school that
interprets Christianity as a mandate for condemnation and exclusion
rather than tolerance and inclusion. He's so imbued with his own personal
connection to the Almighty that he interprets his electoral defeats as
"crucifixions" and his return to public life as "resurrections."
His religious arrogance allows for no other interpretation of God's
will. For example, Ashcroft has made support of the death penalty a
litmus test in his selection of judges; what about the Roman Catholic
Church's position condemning capital punishment? Ashcroft finds a
biblical basis for his stern condemnation of homosexuality, but there are
leading Christian and Jewish denominations that strongly disagree.
Ashcroft has every right to practice his variant of Pentecostal
Christianity, but the idea that the nation's chief law enforcer might
force his interpretation into the law of the land is deeply troubling.
The attorney general is charged with protecting the civil rights of
minorities and women's reproductive freedom. Yet Ashcroft's view of what
rights are protected by the Constitution is so narrowly defined as to
condone the reversal of most of the advances in human rights in the past
For example, at a time of rising hate crimes aimed at homosexuals, he
voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act as well as bills banning
discrimination in employment. He even voted against AIDS funding.
On a woman's right to choose, which is accepted by a clear majority of
Americans and by the courts, Ashcroft has endorsed the most extreme side
of the anti-abortion position: "If I had the opportunity to pass but a
single law," he has said, it would be a constitutional amendment to "ban
every abortion except for those medically necessary to save the life of
the mother." He excludes rape and incest as justification for abortion.
Ashcroft's abortion views are so extreme that he would favor banning
some contraceptives, such as the pill and IUDs, that can prevent a
fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus, thus causing, in his
view, de facto abortions. As attorney general, he would play a crucial
role in picking federal judges, including the US Supreme Court, and
there is no way that he would be party to nominating judges who accept
the court's decision in Roe v. Wade.
Finally, we don't need an attorney general who's been the NRA's most
reliable vote in the Senate and the recipient of much funding from that
organization. He was one of only twenty senators who opposed mandatory safety
locks for guns. He also opposed a ban on assault weapons, and he urged
Missouri voters to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons.
The last job in the world that Ashcroft should be offered is that of
US attorney general. Imagine the outcry if Bush had appointed Jesse
Helms to that position. Yet according to the National Journal, Ashcroft's
voting record as a senator was to the right of Helms.
Bush has betrayed the vast majority of Americans who voted for the
politics of inclusiveness and moderation advanced by both him and Al
Gore. Why is there not a single Republican senator, let alone more
Democrats, who are willing to condemn this obvious disaster of a
After thirty years spent building the Federation of American Scientists into one of the country's most valuable and venerable institutional voices for peace, democracy and real security, Jeremy S
Jared Nayfack was 11 years old and living in the heart of conservative Orange County, California, when he told his best friend from school that he was gay--"and my friend then came out to me," sa
Senate Democrats must save George W. Bush from his scarier self.
They must reject the appointment of John Ashcroft as attorney general, an
appointment that gives the extreme right its most cherished prize--the
power to undermine decades of progress in civil rights, free speech and
abortion rights. This is not a position for a right-wing ideologue, which
Ashcroft certainly is.
Outwardly, Bush plays the moderate. That's why he came so close to
legitimately winning the presidency. During the campaign, he kept his
distance from the GOP right wing while battling Al Gore for the support
of centrist voters. Now, obviously not at all chastened by being the
first president in more than a century to have lost the popular vote,
Bush has boldly appointed Pat Robertson's favorite senator to the most
important domestic position in his administration.
Ashcroft believes that moderate is a dirty word. "Two things you find
in the middle of the road: a moderate and a dead skunk, and I don't want
to be either one of them," he thundered during his brief primary campaign
as the far right's alternative to George W.
All one needs to know about Ashcroft is that he achieved a 100 percent voting
record from Robertson's Christian Coalition on every major vote he cast
in the US Senate, from abortion and the environment to the arts and the
economy. But it's a voting record that cost Ashcroft his Senate seat in
Clearly, the political center is where Ashcroft's former constituents
and most Americans want their government to be. The voting public's
inability to decide between two moderate candidates for President was
just one indication of its rejection of extreme politics. People expect
the Justice Department to enforce laws regarding a woman's sovereignty
over her own body, civil rights, gun control and drug treatment, among
Yet here we have Ashcroft, a man who sponsored a constitutional
amendment to ban abortion even in the case of rape and incest. How can we
expect him to protect a woman's right to a medical procedure that he
regards as murder?
As for civil rights, Ashcroft was notorious in the Senate for
systematically blackballing President Clinton's judicial and
administrative appointees solely because they possessed a strong
pro-civil rights record. Indeed, Ashcroft, in an interview with the
neosegregationist Southern Partisan magazine, even flirted with the
notion that the wrong side may have won the Civil War. Can he now be
trusted to follow through on the Justice Department's ongoing
investigation into the abysmal treatment of black voters in Florida?
Just go down the list of issues, and Ashcroft is farthest to the right
on most of them.
He's a stern opponent of laws that would prevent discrimination
against homosexuals and was particularly mean-spirited in his attacks
during the confirmation of James Hormel, who happens to be gay, as
ambassador to Luxembourg. He's a darling of the National Rifle Association. And,
at a time of growing recognition, even by the retiring drug czar, that
the drug war has failed, we face the prospect of an attorney general who,
as a senator, voted against a law to provide funding for treatment. This
measure was so noncontroversial that even Republican hard-liners like
Orrin Hatch and Strom Thurmond were sponsors.
Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who at first said he
was inclined to grant Bush his choice as attorney general, says upon
further reflection that Ashcroft must prove to his former colleagues in
the Senate that he "will vigorously pursue the civil rights laws that he
has--with good reason from his perspective--argued against for the last
Too late for such proof. Biden and his colleagues should make it clear
that there can be no bipartisan cooperation if the Bush Administration
insists on insulting the majority of American voters by putting extreme
ideologues in charge of Justice. They have an obligation to keep the
faith with voters who gave Gore a more than 500,000-vote margin of
victory in the popular vote and the Democrats a tie in the Senate.
Those voters, as well as many who voted for Bush thinking he was not
beholden to the right wing of his party, should not be betrayed in
deference to the clubbiness of the Senate. Ashcroft took the gloves off
when he blocked Clinton's appointees. It is time Senate Democrats showed
the voters they can dish it out as well as take it.
Ashcroft's supporters assure us that he will have no trouble enforcing
laws that he disagrees with. But since he profoundly disagrees with so
many, why put the man through such a test?
Senate Democrats should spare Ashcroft the anxiety that derives from
pretending to enforce laws he finds deeply immoral.
Isn't it curious how often the policy disaster that is posited as the thing that will never happen takes place within minutes?
Dentists and cardiologists warn their patients about plaque, harmful to both teeth and arteries.
The Color of School Reform represents the kind of scholarship that by rights should influence the design of smart policy.
The right wing has long believed that the best defense is a good
offense. Not surprisingly then, they accuse those who dare criticize
George W. Bush's attorney general nominee, John Ashcroft, of engaging in
the "politics of personal destruction," as the President-elect's
attorney, Theodore B. Olson, put it in a L.A. Times column.
That is nonsense. The criticisms of Ashcroft have nothing to do with
his personal behavior and everything to do with his long and consistent
advocacy for an extreme right-wing political agenda. It's perfectly
reasonable to question whether an attorney general who has celebrated the
angry mobs demonstrating at abortion clinics will also defend the legal
right of those clinics to function.
Ashcroft is an avowed enemy of moderation, as he spelled out to a GOP
gathering in 1998: "There are voices in the Republican Party today who
preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I
stand here today to reject those deceptions. If ever there is a time to
unfurl the banner of unabashed conservatism, it is now."
To place such an ideologue in charge of the Justice Department was
Bush's payoff to the right wing, but it is at best a cynical choice that
certainly deserves to be strongly challenged in the Senate. Such
challenges were a specialty of Ashcroft, who turned the Senate into an
ideological black hole for Clinton nominees. Yet his defenders now claim
that Ashcroft should be immune to criticism because, as Olson claims,
"Presidents are customarily given great latitude" in such nominations.
How hypocritical to make that argument on behalf of a man who
specialized in savaging Clinton's choices. Ashcroft held up the
nomination of two of Clinton's picks to head the Justice Department's
Civil Rights Division. Bill Lann Lee, who has impeccable credentials, now
serves in that capacity on a temporary basis only because he was
appointed when the Senate was not in session. "I doubt seriously whether
the nomination will get out of committee," Ashcroft boasted, claiming
that Lee could not enforce the laws fairly because he had worked as a
lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is the fabled organization
that successfully sued to end segregation in the United States.
Ashcroft has been the Senate's leader in blocking many of Clinton's
judicial nominees, including Margaret Morrow, a centrist and highly
regarded leader of the bar, because he did not agree with a sentence she
wrote in a Law Review article. Morrow was finally approved, over
Ashcroft's objections, when many of his Republican colleagues came to
recognize that there simply was no basis for rejecting someone as
qualified as Morrow.
In another among many such cases, Ashcroft held up the appointment of
Missouri's Supreme Court Justice Ronnie L. White, an African-American, to
the federal bench. White was twice approved by the Senate Judiciary
Committee, but Ashcroft managed a two-year delay in the vote coming
before the full Senate, where Ashcroft managed to get White defeated on a
Ashcroft was less successful in blocking the appointment of David
Satcher to become US surgeon general because they differed on
partial-birth abortion. The Senate handily approved Satcher, but it was
over Ashcroft's strenuous objections. How ironic that Ashcroft's
supporters now ask that he be treated with kid gloves during his own
Such obstructionist tactics in the Senate came to an abrupt and
embarrassing end with Ashcroft's defeat in November by a deceased
opponent, providing as clear a case of voter rejection as one can
imagine. Obviously, voters were not swayed by the huge publicity Ashcroft
received for his vitriolic campaign demanding the impeachment of
President Clinton. Given that the charges against the President have not
been fully resolved, are we to expect that Ashcroft will dispose of them
in an objective manner?
Ashcroft's hysterical attacks on Clinton and his fervent embrace of
the right-wing social agenda led him to explore a bid for the presidency
as the ultra-right alternative to Bush. He seemed to be attacking Bush
when he told a New Hampshire television interviewer that there are "two
things you find in the middle of the road: a moderate and a dead skunk,
and I don't want to be either one of them."
Surely most Americans would insist that the man who oversees the FBI
and all federal prosecution be a genuine moderate capable of evenhanded
enforcement of the nation's laws. The voters gave the Democrats equal
strength in the Senate and defeated Bush by more than half a million
votes in the popular election. That is a mandate for Bush to appoint
moderates and for Democratic and reasonable Republican senators to hold
him to his pledge, with a thumbs down to Ashcroft.