In Nightline's interview series on the Clinton years, erstwhile Clinton adviser, Dick Morris, recycles an anecdote from two years ago -- how he warned the president not to expect the voters' forgiveness should they ever find their leader had lied under oath concerning that woman, Lewinsky. To which the president replied, resolutely: "Well, we just have to win, don't we?"
It sets the tone nicely, as well as the pattern. In politics, there's a time to make nice and a time just "to win." That latter time, for the Republicans, is when the Ashbrook nomination comes before the Senate.
A gauntlet has been hurled at the feet of George W. Bush. Two of the Democrats' main constituencies -- blacks and feminist pro-choicers -- inform a Republican president-elect that they, not he, will decide who is fit to serve as attorney-general.
OK. If that's how they want it, Bush just has to win. He has to put these folk soundly, and if possible nonrancorously, in their place.
Why? Because John Ashbrook is our answer to William Blackstone or Perry Mason at the least? No. Because letting Ashbrook down at this point -- irrespective of his merits, which in fact are considerable -- would amount to hanging a "kick me" sign on the presidential derriere. It wouldn't be the last time someone took him up on the offer.
Times are getting rough for the Bush administration -- with no administration yet sworn in. It isn't just Ashbrook. It's also Labor Secretary-designate Linda Chavez, calumniated by yet a third Democratic constituency, the AFL-CIO and now accused on mangled evidence of employing an illegal immigrant in the early '90s.
For Ashbrook supporters, reiterating evidences of democratic virtue -- e.g., Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate and so on -- frankly won't help their man much. The senator's foes, if they can get away with it, mean to define him as a "narrow ideologue" (Al Hunt, in the Wall Street Journal) who is soft on racism, hostile to women's "rights," and conceivably ready, psst, psst, to turn public school biology classes over to the creationists.
Isn't he, after all, pro-life? Didn't he (along with 53 other Republicans) vote to defeat a black nominee to the federal bench? Isn't he a fervent Christian fundamentalist?
Guilty on all counts -- if you consider guilt as attaching to wholly honorable courses of action.
On the first count, what's wrong with supporting unborn life? On the second count, the nominee in question -- Ronnie White -- engineered his own defeat: the lone dissenter in the gruesome case of a white man who had murdered three law-enforcement officers and the wife of one of them (at her Bible study, yet!).
Permit me to interject here that the Democrats who voted 10 years ago against Clarence Thomas -- an indisputably black jurist -- continue to preen themselves on that act of witness. You can't have it both ways, guys: Either a vote against a black is always racist, or race isn't the determinative factor -- ever.
I really do think the third count -- Ashbrook's evangelical Christianity -- is the one that genuinely galls his critics. You just can't trust sincere Christians with high office. It's that sense of connection they have with a power supposedly higher than any on Capitol Hill; their view that conversation with God -- i.e., prayer -- neither pollutes nor debases public discourse; their inability to regard Roe vs. Wade as final and definitive.
John Ashbrook's hitherto unquestioned integrity as a public man should protect him against such specious, mean-spirited accusations. It hasn't. Now, in his behalf, the Bush administration just has to win -- as I think it may. You could say, if nothing else, that Bush's client, Sen. Ashbrook, isn't half as tough a case as the one Dick Morris sought to help.