Late breaking news has it that John Ashcroft has tendered his resignation. Only their joy at his departure could stimulate the liberal media into using the words “Ashcroft” and “tender” in a single sentence. If you think that sculpting Moses with a horn is funny, then the depiction of Ashcroft with two horns and a tail is hilarious. And four out of five liberal dentists recommend painting Ashcroft holding a trident. Not to put too fine a point on it, he has been mythologized into everyone’s favorite monster.
How did this happen? This is a mild-mannered Missourian whose Senate office was noted among Washington staffers as a pleasant and respectful work environment. Some years ago, tragically, his wife had been raped, and the gentleness with which he shepherded her through the recovery was the stuff of legend. Yet his confirmation battle was scabrous, overlaid with a hostility that bordered on venom.
True, he was not born with the perfect face for playing Mr. Nice Guy. George W. Bush has enough of Alfred E. Neumann about him to make his grin endearing, and Dick Cheney looks like the faux-grumpy uncle that keeps slipping you hundred dollar bills. But John Ashcroft has no fizz in his phiz, nor can he mug with that mug. He looks like a permanent “Before” picture in a TUMS ad. Still, that is not enough to explain his accession to the status of Public Enemy Number One of the Left.
My theory is that he is a victim of the turnabout-is-fair-play obsession of Democrats to undo the Republican version of the Clinton reality. We have just witnessed the psychopathological glee with which the Dean and Kerry acolytes insisted on crowning every Bush error with the stigma of “LIE.” This had little to do with politicking; calling your opponent a dunce might be a stronger argument for his removal than labeling him a clever manipulator. It was all a retroactive exercise in expunging Clinton’s record.
In much the same way, the lawless tenure of Janet Reno as Attorney General can only be deterged by muddying her successor. Whatever Ashcroft might have done or not done would have met with the same fate: the Democrats and the media portraying it as more wacko than Waco and more alien than Elian. Whosoever would have been tasked, or taxed, with holding the office would have been tarred with that same brush. So Ashcroft went out and took one for the team and held his head relatively high.
Speaking of his willingness, as a member of the Bush league, to absorb some beleaguering from bush leaguers, there was no more shameful instance of that than the utter lack of class shown by the Widder Carnahan. Ashcroft had lost his Senate seat in 2000 by a handful of votes to the deceased Governor Carnahan, yet he conceded the seat to the widow without challenging the validity of votes cast for a corpse. In an act of altruistic gentlemanliness that was a startling departure from the norm in our Federal politics, he walked away from a case that he should have won with ease. What Court could uphold an election victory by a dead guy? Yet Ashcroft thought that only a cad would aver that claim; he forfeited to the cadaver.
But when it came to the vote on his confirmation for Attorney General, Mrs. Carnahan raised the bar on ungrateful and ungracious behavior in Washington by entering a ballot in the Judiciary Committee against Mr. Ashcroft. Her husband’s plane crash left us with this train wreck. How very sad.
Old John soldiered on and ran a fairly decent office. While liberals fussed that he would use the Patriot Act to subpoena their library lists, he continued to do things by the book. Some of the brass at Enron acted brassy before Congress, thinking that their Texas connections would hold ’em out of jail. John took no prisoners and made them prisoners. Even Martha Stewart discovered that there are limits to self-help; now she’s getting all her information inside. And his fine execution of the office was on display when Timothy McVey and Jose Luis Garza were the first Federal prisoners executed in three decades.
The toughness was solidity, not malevolence. No witch hunts on Salem cigarettes. No rental tanks to overrun quirky cultists. No FBI sharpshooters picking off women and dogs on Idaho ridges. No eight-year-old boat people corralled by agents with machine guns. The media bugaboo of perverted Jesus freaks swooping down on contraband copies of Tropic of Cancer remained the stuff of paranoid frenzy.
Still, it is fair to say that in running his office he exhibited no flair for stoking positive public relations; he could learn a great deal from Rumsfeld in the art of conducting a press conference. We give him three-and-a-half stars for four years of loyal drudging amid an atmosphere of undeserved grudging. And we wish him good health and godspeed, even as we pity the poor cannon fodder who comes next down the line.