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January 18, 2001
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William Safire in the NY Times: "...to attribute racism to Ashcroft, who appointed more black judges than any Missouri governor and whose wife is revered for her years of teaching at mostly black Howard University, is to admit the bankruptcy of his opposition."
posted by ericost (38 comments total)

 
That column seems like a flimsy excuse to jump back into this, but since I'm listening to the hearings as I work, I'm game.

By the thinking of Ashcroft's defenders, you can't question his racial sensitivity without calling him a racist. I think there's a difference between the two, and the guy has shown remarkable insensitivity in several areas.

Item #1: He granted the deeply racist magazine Southern Partisan an interview and praised it during the interview. He claimed yesterday not to know anything about the magazine's history, but if that's the case, why did he compliment it during the interview? He was given a chance to repudiate the magazine yesterday and declined to do so.

Item #2: He hasn't returned the honorary degree given to him by Bob Jones University, a school that banned interracial dating for decades. He refused to even state that he won't make future speeches at the school.

Item #3: He called judge Ronnie White a man with a "tremendous bent to criminal activity," raising the grossly offensive stereotype that this black jurist is somehow prone to engage in criminal activity. Perhaps it was a misstatement. Ashcroft hasn't ever tried to clarify his words to distance himself from the disturbing racial connotations of the remark.

Looking at these incidents, I can't believe that Ashcroft is the right person to lead the nation's enforcement of civil rights laws. I'm hoping that Democrats muster the will to block him with a filibuster, a procedural dirty trick that is no worse than Ashcroft waiting to attack White until his hearings were over and he could not respond to the charges.
posted by rcade at 9:46 AM on January 18, 2001


I don't hear a lot of rhetoric about how racist Ashcroft is. The objections I hear are related to his extreme views and his insensitivity.

I personally find the man's views to be offensive. It doesn't bother me a bit that some people on the committee agree with me and are trying to block the nomination.

Ashcroft's nomination is a sharp stick in the eye of both liberals and moderates. To me it is the best example of how Bush was lying when he said he wanted to unite the country.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:14 AM on January 18, 2001


I'm also getting sick of this "some of my best friends are black" defense that Ashcroft's supporters are using. It's not at all suprising that he appointed more blacks to the bench than any other MO governor, considering how few had ever held such positions until, say 25 years ago. Also, no one is accusing him of being a cross-burning, KKK lynchman. But he clearly has some seriously skewed views on the issue, which make him very unfit for AG, a position which requires an extraordinarily level-headed individual.
posted by jpoulos at 10:17 AM on January 18, 2001


Or what about how Asscroft lied to the senate about Ronnie White? Or the completely unbelieveable statement that he wasn't familiar with Southern Partisan -- and now we're supposed to believe him when he says he'll uphold abortion and civil rights laws? This guy is a liar.
posted by snakey at 10:25 AM on January 18, 2001


Well, I'm glad to see that "sensitivity" is now a qualification for holding a Cabinet office. It will be quite a change from the "most ethical government in history" standard that Clinton applied to his Cabinet appointees.

Of course, this "sensitivity" cuts just one way, right? We wouldn't want anyone to be "sensitive" to those who might have opinions other than those approved by the left?
posted by mikewas at 11:16 AM on January 18, 2001


Just for the sake of moving forward, rather than continuing this rehash, anyone care to recommend some names that would be acceptable for Attorney General?
posted by netbros at 11:26 AM on January 18, 2001


The phrase rcade used was racial insensitivity. Quite another thing from plain old sensitivity, say, towards kittens. And when it comes to racial sensitivity in our potential Cabinet members, yes, it cuts one way for me, Republican or Democrat or whatever: one should be able to display some.
posted by Skot at 11:30 AM on January 18, 2001


"We wouldn't want anyone to be "sensitive" to those who might have opinions other than those approved by the left?"

Depends on the opinion. The opinion in this case is his continued support for 'Southern Partisan' and Bob Jones University.

Maybe I'm misreading what you're trying to say here, but I think it would be a very bad thing to have an AG who is sensitive to racists and hate mongers. Don't you?
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:44 AM on January 18, 2001


The first four posts to this thread clearly stated reasonable objections to Ashcroft, and I have yet to hear an equally clear and consise set of arguments why he should be appointed and doesn't have some things to explain.

Going beyond Ashcroft himself to Bush, this definitely makes Bush look like a divider.

I am kind of sick of politics too at this point, but we can't just roll over for four years.

posted by chrismc at 11:46 AM on January 18, 2001


"whose wife is revered for her years of teaching at mostly black Howard University"

Relevance?

X is married to Y
Y teaches at a "mostly black" University
Therefore, X is what, not racist? A friend to all people of color? A good candidate for Attorney General?

If his wife taught at a "mostly white" University would this be relevant to the debate? Should it be?
posted by Outlawyr at 12:32 PM on January 18, 2001


> To me it is the best example of how Bush was lying when he said he wanted to unite the country.

I am beginning to suspect that this often quotes unity claim is just another Bushism. Perhaps it would have been more honest for his to say his desire was to "untie the country."
posted by Sqwerty at 12:36 PM on January 18, 2001


Well, I'm glad to see that "sensitivity" is now a qualification for holding a Cabinet office.

I don't think it is unreasonable to expect Cabinet officials to exhibit sensitivity on the subject of race.
posted by rcade at 12:39 PM on January 18, 2001


To me it is the best example of how Bush was lying when he said he wanted to unite the country.

Could you guys tell me ONE person that Bush could have nominated for ANY position that EVERYONE would be happy with--moderates, liberals, conservatives, indifferents? Bush is trying to appeal to the ultra-conservatives with Ashcroft, just as he was trying to appeal to the moderates with many of his other appointments.

I say the real test of Bush's unifying influence will be measured by his and his cabinet's behavior once they are in office, not by whom, exactly, gets which job.
posted by daveadams at 12:47 PM on January 18, 2001


Ralph Nader for Attorney General
posted by snakey at 1:09 PM on January 18, 2001


Snakey: that brings up something I've been spouting recently to whomever would listen. Suppose Gore had been given the victory (I already know that he "won") and he nominated Nader for, say, Secretary of the Interior. I really believe, in my heart of hearts, that I would look on that as a bad move--just as I oppose Ashcroft for AG. Certain extreme ideals do not belong in certain cabinet positions. Ashcroft might be perfectly acceptable for Commerce Secretary or Transportation or whatever, but as Attorney General, he'll be a very dangerous man.
posted by jpoulos at 1:26 PM on January 18, 2001


jpoulos - Good point. I certainly wouldn't support Nader for a cabinet post.

daveadams - This is true, however, I think it's unreasonable for you to ask me to just sit on my hands and grimace through the Ashcroft/Norton nominations.

These two nominations (the only two I have a problem with BTW) are absolutely offensive to me. If they're going to change their "behavior once they are in office", then why appoint them in the first place?

If I can pull any hope from Bush's election it would be his promise of bipartisan unity. I intend to hold him to that promise and if he pulls it off I'll give him credit.

These two nominations are a really bad first step however.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:49 PM on January 18, 2001


Why would conservatives oppose Nader for Attorney General? He is much more of a moderate on the ever contentious issue of abortion than either Gore or Bush.
posted by snakey at 2:14 PM on January 18, 2001


daveadams>Could you guys tell me ONE person that Bush could have nominated for ANY position that EVERYONE would be happy with--moderates, liberals, conservatives, indifferents? Bush is trying to appeal to the ultra-conservatives with Ashcroft, just as he was trying to appeal to the moderates with many of his other appointments.

I say the real test of Bush's unifying influence will be measured by his and his cabinet's behavior once they are in office, not by whom, exactly, gets which job.


Who said that the Attorney General of the U.S. should be acceptable to everyone? No one. On the other hand, given that Dubya doesn't have a mandate to speak of, the nominee should be acceptable to a reasonable number of Republicans and Democrats. If he wishes to nominate an extreme conservative, he has the legal ability to do so. And if 41 Democrats decide to filibuster his nomination to death, they have the legal ability to do so as well.

Beyond that, there is the simple matter of character -- you suck up to bigots, you are unfit to hold national office. Period. Oh, and given that witnesses are sworn in, Ashcroft's claim that he didn't know anything about Southern Partisan's racist views amounts to perjury. And we all know how opposed to perjury the Republicans are.

posted by UrineSoakedRube at 2:58 PM on January 18, 2001


USR, I refuse to quote your name -- its very presence brings the civility in this forum down a notch. Ick.

But I agree with you.
posted by dhartung at 3:18 PM on January 18, 2001


If he wishes to nominate an extreme conservative, he has the legal ability to do so. And if 41 Democrats decide to filibuster his nomination to death, they have the legal ability to do so as well.

There's a reason why politics and polite have their first five letters in common. It's the same reason why politics is often defined as "the art of the possible".
posted by holgate at 3:57 PM on January 18, 2001


netbros said:
>Just for the sake of moving forward, rather
>than continuing this rehash, anyone care to
>recommend some names that would be
>acceptable for Attorney General?

I'm not sure what skeletons might be lurking in his closet, but I suspect that Missouri's other "favorite son" would have been a pretty good choice: John Danforth.

Whoever gets confirmed, the good news is: no more Janet Reno.
posted by pixelpony at 3:58 PM on January 18, 2001


There's a reason why politics and polite have their first five letters in common.

Um, not really, unless you count coincidence. Politics has a Greek root (politikos, citizen). Polite's is Latin (polire, to polish).

Pedantic, by the way, comes from the Italian pedante. (Eleven years later, sophomore latin origins class finally comes in handy.)
posted by luke at 4:27 PM on January 18, 2001


USR>If he wishes to nominate an extreme conservative, he has the legal ability to do so. And if 41 Democrats decide to filibuster his nomination to death, they have the legal ability to do so as well.

holgate>There's a reason why politics and polite have their first five letters in common. It's the same reason why politics is often defined as "the art of the possible".

Huh, I'm missing your point here. Between 1992 and 1994, when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, Republican senators responded by filibustering appointees they didn't like. At the time, people on the left complained about the fact that the Democrats now had to have a supermajority in order to pass legislation.

You can view this in two ways. One is that the Republicans were wrong to leverage their 40-plus seats to stop any legislation they disliked. If the people voted a Democratic party into office, Republican senators should respect that. The other is that if the Republican contingent in the Senate had the constitutional right to filibuster any vote they knew they were going to lose, there's nothing wrong with using that power, if they believe that it won't damage them further come election time. (I refer you to Gerald Ford's comment that an impeachable offense is anything that a majority of the House of Representatives decides it is.)

Either way, the Democratic senators have every right to oppose Ashcroft's nomination. Bush doesn't have a mandate to put arch-conservatives in the Justice Department (and Gore wouldn't have had a mandate to put arch-liberals in the Justice Department either). If you argue that Bush is clearly acting within the constitutional limits by nominating whomever he pleases, then you should also agree that a Democratic filibuster would be within their constitutional purview. Talking about politeness and the art of the possible just confuses the issue, in my opinion.


dhartung>USR, I refuse to quote your name -- its very presence brings the civility in this forum down a notch. Ick.

Frankly, I typed it in as a joke, thinking that it would be rejected by username filtering software. To my surprise and delight, it was not. If you want to use USR instead, I'm cool with that.

posted by UrineSoakedRube at 6:33 PM on January 18, 2001


The phrase rcade used was racial insensitivity.

Here's the problem: Today, the phrase "racial sensitivity" has become co-opted to the point where it's nothing more than a veiled way of saying "agreeing politically with the leaders of liberal black special-interest groups." If you do anything they, and they alone, do not like, they will label you "racially insensitive." Regardless of what the black man-on-the-street might think. Because they know they can't get away with calling him an actual racist (even Ronnie White testified today that he doesn't think Ashcroft's a racist), they have to use a supposedly-milder word that would hopefully have much of the same effect.
posted by aaron at 10:46 PM on January 18, 2001



Between 1992 and 1994, when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, Republican senators responded by filibustering appointees they didn't like.

There has never been a filibuster against a Cabinet nominee. Ever.

And Bush père was president in 1992.
posted by aaron at 10:52 PM on January 18, 2001



And maybe, just maybe, they don't call him an "actual racist" because they don't consider him one. Christ. Can't win for losing with this guy.
posted by dhartung at 10:55 PM on January 18, 2001


USR> Between 1992 and 1994, when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, Republican senators responded by filibustering appointees they didn't like.

aaron>And Bush père was president in 1992.


Yes, you're right about the dates, I should have said 1993 to 1995.

aaron> There has never been a filibuster against a Cabinet nominee. Ever.

Gee aaron, so what? When did I claim that one of Clinton's cabinet nominees was filibustered? And why is it okay to filibuster, say, the nominee for Surgeon General:

Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO) led a filibuster against the nomination, so senators had to *invoke cloture* (garner at least 60 votes in favor of ending the filibuster) before the final confirmation vote could occur. [Source: Family Research Council’s LEGISLATIVE HOTLINE, Friday, February 13, 1998]

But not the Attorney General? The distinction you cite is meaningless. If the President really had an absolute right to choose his cabinet members, he wouldn't need the "advice and consent" of a majority of Senators.

aaron>Today, the phrase "racial sensitivity" has become co-opted to the point where it's nothing more than a veiled way of saying "agreeing politically with the leaders of liberal black special-interest groups." If you do anything they, and they alone, do not like, they will label you "racially insensitive." Regardless of what the black man-on-the-street might think. Because they know they can't get away with calling him an actual racist (even Ronnie White testified today that he doesn't think Ashcroft's a racist), they have to use a supposedly-milder word that would hopefully have much of the same effect.

Okay, you've convinced me that Republican and Democratic Senators are too gutless to hold Ashcroft accountable for his words and actions. So they call him "racially insensitive" instead of "so morally bereft that he's willing to suck up to racist institutions and slander a Missouri Supreme Court Justice". I have no idea if he's a racist and I don't care "what's in his heart," to use Dubya's idiot refrain. If you repeatedly suck up to open racists, you are unfit to be Attorney General of the U.S. You probably think that this is just the rant of a sore-loser liberal. Perhaps you'll listen to what a conservative would have to say about Ashcroft's statements in the Southern Partisan:

Southerners knew full well that the Constitution's heart was a moral commitment to equality and hence condemned segregation of blacks. The Constitution was not just a set of rules of government but implied a moral order that was to be enforced throughtout the entire Union. Yet the influence , which has not been sufficiently noted, of Southern writers and historians on the American view of their history has been powerful. They were remarkably successful in characterizing their "peculiar institution" as part of a charming diversity and individuality of culture to which the Constitution was worse than indifferent.

Then again, if Ashcroft were confronted with these words, he'd probably respond that Allan Bloom was a homosexual and a hell-bound atheist Jew.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 12:44 AM on January 19, 2001


Here's the problem: Today, the phrase "racial sensitivity" has become co-opted to the point where it's nothing more than a veiled way of saying "agreeing politically with the leaders of liberal black special-interest groups."

I've applied the term racial sensitivity to three specific incidents that have nothing to do with the politics of "liberal black special-interest groups." Ashcroft has had an opportunity to clarify himself on all three, and has yet to repudiate Southern Partisan, reject Bob Jones University or back down from his "tremendous bent" remark about Ronnie White.
posted by rcade at 7:50 AM on January 19, 2001


One of the centrist Democrats, Evan Bayh, has written an op-ed today against Ashcroft. I think any Dem. senator with presidential aspirations will be hard-pressed to vote for this guy.
posted by rcade at 8:07 AM on January 19, 2001


'nothing more than a veiled way of saying "agreeing politically with the leaders of liberal black special-interest groups."'

Well..... I'm not involved with any black special interest groups. In fact I frequently disagree with them.

And I think Ashcroft is racially insensitive. If that term has been co-opted for you then I think you should try to think beyond that. (I'm kidding)
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:26 AM on January 19, 2001


"Mr. Ashcroft's dealings in the affair of Judge Ronnie White--his description of the judge as having a 'bent toward criminal activity' and the misrepresentations of his attitudes toward crime -- are undeniably a stain on his career."

This quote is from Dorothy Rabinowitz today in the Wall Street Journal. Since she's a conservative, maybe it's time to consider the notion that concerns over Ashcroft go beyond partisan politics.

posted by rcade at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2001


I don't see why Ashcroft should be expected to repudiate Southern Partisan or Bob Jones University. If some university wanted to give me an honorary degree, I'd probably take it. If some university wanted me to speak, I'd probably go. If some magazine wanted to interview me, I'd let them, and I'd probably butter up the interviewer a little. If Ashcroft were to say he wished he'd never given the interview to Southern Partisan or accepted the degree from BJU, it would likely be seen as mere political expediency. "I can't be AG until I jump through these two hoops? All righty then, hold them steady, 'cause here I come." It would mean nothing and Ashcroft knows that.

Now, his comments about Ronnie White are fair game and I believe should be sufficient reason to disqualify him. He should have clarified his statement long ago if he misspoke, and the fact that he hasn't is pretty damning. The SP and BJU incidents are only disturbing because of this one, I think.
posted by kindall at 8:49 AM on January 19, 2001


[y6y6y6] If they're going to change their "behavior once they are in office", then why appoint them in the first place?

Well, the real test of Ashcroft's behavior as AG would be his record as Governor and AG of Missouri, not his positions while serving as a Senator. Legislative and executive roles are different, and I would imagine Ashcroft realizes that fact.

My stipulation was that if Ashcroft does a good job of enforcing federal laws while serving as AG, then his behavior is acceptable. His legislative positions are (or at least should be) separate. If he is lax in enforcing laws he has in the past attempted to revoke or change, then I'll join you in being upset about it.
posted by daveadams at 8:53 AM on January 19, 2001


A lot of what Ashcroft is saying during the hearings could be interpreted as political expediency, especially on the subject of upholding the nation's abortion laws.
posted by rcade at 9:42 AM on January 19, 2001


daveadams - Ya, well..... I guess I can agree with that. I'm keepin' my eye on him though. I don't trust him.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:35 AM on January 19, 2001


Um. The north wasn't any more tolerant than the south at the time. Except for a (very) few extremists (extreme in that cliimate), the north's plan was to free the slaves, then ship them back to Africa, as it was obvious that blacks and whites could never coexist.
Not defending Ashcroft, I've got no opinion, but don't rag on the south exclusively, coz the north had something of a plank in it's collective eye, as well.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:46 AM on January 19, 2001


sonofsamiam> Um. The north wasn't any more tolerant than the south at the time. Except for a (very) few extremists (extreme in that cliimate), the north's plan was to free the slaves, then ship them back to Africa, as it was obvious that blacks and whites could never coexist. Not defending Ashcroft, I've got no opinion, but don't rag on the south exclusively, coz the north had something of a plank in it's collective eye, as well.

Fine, but that's not the argument that the CCC or the Southern Partisan folks make. They are arguing that the Confederacy fought for great and noble principles. The Civil War was fought over slavery, pure and simple. The question of "states' rights" only came into the picture insofar as the slave states saw that they were going to be forced to end slavery a lot sooner than they would have liked.

I'm not ragging on the South at all with my previous posts. I'm just saying that the defense of the Confederacy given by Ashcroft, the SP, the CCC, etc. is morally bankrupt.


posted by UrineSoakedRube at 4:17 PM on January 19, 2001


Theory: "Bent toward criminal activity" could be a clunky way of saying "defendant's judge." (Enhanced by knowledge that a defendant which White said should be "given a second chance" went on to murder several people including the wife of a Missouri Sheriff who is good friends with Ashcroft.) Discuss.
posted by Dreama at 7:48 PM on January 19, 2001


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