Ashcroft gets bad rap

Posted: Jul 23, 2003 12:00 AM

My wife is an aide and senior speechwriter to Attorney General John Ashcroft. This can be a big drag. First of all, I know she knows all sorts of cool stuff - the real score on Osama, where Jimmy Hoffa's buried, how Col. Sanders puts an addictive chemical in his chicken - and just won't tell me.

But on a day-to-day basis, the most annoying aspect is that whenever I mention John Ashcroft, I have to follow it up with "great dancer." Oops, I mean "full disclosure." And for some readers that "full disclosure" actually means "don't believe anything I say." The fact that my wife works for the AG means that I'm automatically in the tank for him.

What makes this so annoying is that I honestly don't understand what Ashcroft has done wrong.

According to a recent article by Adam Nagourney of The New York Times, there is no single figure more universally loathed by liberals, Democrats and - Nagourney seems to imply - all intelligent and decent carbon-based life forms.

But let's start with Democrats. "In my first five seconds as president, I would fire John Ashcroft as attorney general," Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri recently told a cheering audience of Hispanic leaders in Phoenix.

"We cannot allow people like John Ashcroft to take away our rights and our freedoms," Senator John Edwards of North Carolina told an audience in Concord, N.H., "drawing a nearly instantaneous standing ovation," Nagourney wrote.

John Kerry promises that "When I am president of the United States, there will be no John Ashcroft trampling on the Bill of Rights."

Chris Lehane, Al Gore's former press secretary and now an adviser to Sen. Kerry, told the Times, "Ashcroft has become a symbol of ideas and doctrine and ideology that are just unacceptable in the Bush administration." He continued, "He is a living, breathing troglodyte who happens to run the Justice Department."

Nagourney even approvingly quotes a student from Dartmouth who says, "I think he might be the most loathed man in America."

This is all nonsense on stilts - on top of a ladder, on the roof of a very tall building. First of all, someone needs to tell these people that America isn't populated entirely by irrational liberal Ashcroft-phobes.

A Harris Interactive poll last month found that 54 percent of respondents had a positive view of Ashcroft's job performance and only 32 percent had a negative view. This makes Ashcroft more popular than Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Dick Gephardt or John Kerry. His positive rating is higher than the Congressional Democrats as a group and Congressional Republicans as a group. He is 20 points more popular than the avuncular Denny Hastert and a few points better than Dick Cheney.

Now I don't put much stock in polls, and I'm sure other polls say different things, but only someone deeply enmeshed in groupthink could believe that Ashcroft is the most hated man in America. It reminds me of when Richard Nixon said that it's obvious the world's overpopulated since everywhere he goes he sees huge crowds.

The Ashcroft-haters also say that all clear-thinking, liberty-loving people know that Ashcroft's demon child - the Patriot Act - is a Great Evil. The problem is that 99 percent of these people don't know what they are talking about. When I ask people why they think my wife's boss is the devil or what's wrong with the Patriot Act, I get ill-informed mush or untrue propaganda.

Just to be quick: Despite the ACLU's insistence that the Patriot Act gave the executive branch "sweeping new powers that undermine the Bill of Rights," all of the snooping, sneaking, spying and other prying powers allegedly granted to the Feds still have to be approved by judges, as always.

Most of these powers already existed for criminal investigations, but the government thought it might be a good idea to use them against al-Qaida as well as the mob. What about the government's newfound power to read all of your e-mail through systems like "Carnivore"? Well, maybe that should bother you, but the Patriot Act constrained the scope of the government to use Carnivore, not the other way around.

I'm not saying a sane person cannot quibble with the Patriot Act or that you have to be crazy to dislike John Ashcroft. But the rhetoric is so far above the reality on both scores, it makes many people and institutions look crazy.

In fact, the Patriot Act is so reasonable it passed the Senate 98 to 1 and the House by 357 to 66. Indeed, with the exception of Dennis Kucinich, all of the senators and representatives currently running for president on John Ashcroft's back voted for it.

So again, I ask, what in the world are these people talking about?