Here's more reason to love democracy: In the Soviet Union, you had to be thrown into internal exile before you could be rehabilitated. In Red China, you were paraded around town with a dunce cap on your head. But to be redeemed in Washington, all you need to do is say no to Alberto Gonzales.
Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee electrified Washington last week. With almost cinematic drama, Comey recounted a story of grasping Bush administration officials trying to badger then-Attorney General John Ashcroft - in his hospital bed - into authorizing sweeping domestic surveillance powers that had already been deemed unlawful by the Justice Department. Ashcroft strained to lift his head off the pillow and castigate then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card for trying an end-run around Comey, the acting attorney general. Ashcroft and his aides reportedly threatened mass resignations if the White House didn't address their concerns. President Bush apparently did that, defusing the crisis.
It now appears that the substance of the disagreement was perhaps a bit less apocalyptic than Comey and Democrats have painted it, but that's beside the point. The new villain in Washington is Gonzales, the current attorney general, and so any principled opponent to Gonzales' alleged abuse of powers must have something going for him. Even the previous villain, Ashcroft.
In 2001, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) led the Democratic opposition to Ashcroft's nomination, casting Ashcroft as a terrifying religious zealot lacking the integrity, temperament and racial "sensitivity" to be attorney general. Last week, Schumer saluted Ashcroft's "fidelity to the rule of law." The liberal Web site Wonkette praised Ashcroft's "heroic stand." The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, who has become a Jeremiah about the dangers of the Christian right that Ashcroft has long personified, dubbed him "an American hero." Ashcroft's rehabilitation was sealed by a Washington Post story about how the former AG was often the only firebreak against the Bush White House. Even Ralph Neas, the hyperpartisan president of People for the American Way, managed to mumble to the Washington Post that Gonzales had managed to make Ashcroft look like a "defender of the Constitution."