John Ashcroft – American Hero

N.B.: This was the last freelance article I wrote before I was hired as an editor at FrontPage Magazine. The title is the work of someone else. — TRW.

Distortions, hyperbole and ad hominem defamation comprise the Left’s modus operandi when dealing with its opponents. However, the left-wing’s scheme to make Attorney General John Ashcroft the victim of a perpetual “borking” exceeds even their own low standards of debate.

The liberal media have cranked up “the politics of personal destruction” in their vilification of Ashcroft. The process began well before his confirmation hearings and has only intensified since September 11th thrust his position as Attorney General into greater prominence. The usual suspects claim the former Missouri senator is waging a “relentless assault on civil liberties.” CBS News has referred to him as the “Minister of Fear.” Artwork in The New Republic portrays an ominous-looking Ashcroft peeping Big Brother-style through a keyhole. The New York Times even belittled his father, an Assemblies of God minister, for anointing him with holy oil allegedly purchased from a supermarket. This demonized public servant is accused of trampling on civil liberties in his pell-mell onslaught against the Bill of Rights. Thankfully, reports of liberty’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. On the contrary, freedom stands stronger today because of his actions, on terrorism and other issues.

Many of Ashcroft’s proposals have removed needless fetters that had previously shackled anti-terrorist investigations. One such provision allows agents to monitor subjects if the suspicion of terrorism represents “a significant purpose,” but not the sole purpose, for their request. FBI agents would have welcomed this measure just days before the September 11th attacks. They petitioned for the right to bug Zacarias Moussaoui, “the 20th hijacker,” whom they suspected was involved in a terrorist conspiracy against the United States. Despite mounting evidence, an overly cautious Office of Intelligence and Policy Review declined to argue the agents’ request before a magistrate. The USA PATRIOT Act (USAPA) prevents semantical objections from hamstringing necessary investigations.

Ashcroft has also improved anti-terrorist investigators’ ability to share information about security concerns across federal departments. After Democratic mouthpieces (including Dick Gephardt) hammered the Bush administration for its inability to “connect the dots” in the months leading up to September 11, this reversal should have met widespread acclaim. Instead this common sense action, which has forged a new espirit d’corps within the Department of Justice, has encountered criticism from liberals attempting to have it both ways.

Other changes will save agents time and hassle in preventative stakeouts. Section 219 of the USAPA centralizes requests to “trap” telephones. Phone trapping, distinct from wiretapping, shows agents the phone numbers dialed from a particular location. This amendment allows agents to appear in one court, rather than petition each jurisdiction separately. Thus, they can devote more time to probing fanatics’ actions and less time crisscrossing the skies to request legal authority for same.

Furthermore, the Attorney General has brought the DOJ into the technological age by giving investigators broader capabilities to monitor the internet actions of suspected terrorists. Al-Qaeda terrorists unquestionably took advantage of the information superhighway to transmit their coded plans of bloodshed. In this wired era, the previous policy seems archaic. Nor are cable and dial-up surfers treated differently under the new guidelines. When fighting an enemy whose base of operations is thousands of miles away, internet inspection is a necessary investigative tool, one that the good guys now possess.

In his desire to keep America safe, Ashcroft has advanced the radical notion of implementing existing law by enforcing a long-dormant statute requiring resident aliens to notify the INS within 10 days of a change in address. The fact that the law has been on the books nearly 50 years has not stopped cries of “discrimination.”

Alleged racial discrimination has proven a strong suit of opponents critical of his efforts to question thousands of immigrants and resident aliens from the Middle East. The ACLU has dubbed this “a flagrant form of racial profiling.” Unfortunately for the politically correct crowd, it seems startlingly few Islamic extremists are surnamed O’Brien. John Ashcroft deserves praise for having the guts to seek sensitive information where he is most likely to find it, regardless of the opposition’s hysterical distortions.

Unfortunately, those distortions have proven profitable to the ACLU, People for the American Way, and other radical leftists. The ACLU, rightly derided during the 1988 presidential campaign, has seen its membership swell thanks to its $3.5 million “Safe and Free” ad campaign. Their litany of accusations against John Ashcroft range from the ridiculous to the uproarious.

The ACLU objects that the USA PATRIOT Act bars individuals “involved with an organization that engages in domestic or international terrorism” from purchasing biological toxins. The ACLU, which has labored for years to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, apparently feels everyone should have the right to a doomsday device.

They object that non-citizen suspects, including enemy combatants who tried to kill U.S. servicemen, are not provided legal counsel at taxpayer expense.

They also grumble that Ashcroft “(h)as called for the use of local police for enforcement of immigration laws” and “asked Neighborhood Watch groups to work with the federal government to identify terrorists.” One is hard-pressed to see how such measures repeal the Bill of Rights.

The ACLU flesh out Ashcroft’s other “violations of civil liberties” with these gems: Ashcroft has “(f)ormed regulations that do not explicitly provide federal compensation to the partners and non-biological children of lesbian, gay and bisexual victims of September 11; “(s)aid that he believes that ‘there is no evidence of racial bias in the administration of the federal death penalty’”; and “(h)as blurred the line between church and state by conducting daily sessions of prayer and Bible study at the DOJ.”

These complaints reveal the true nature of the de-humanizing of John Ashcroft: Ashcroft embodies everything the radical Left despises. The straight-laced evangelical could have been the poster boy for the Silent Majority. He has thankfully taken heartland values into Washington, D.C., enacting conservative policies on a host of issues.

He served a behind-the-scenes role as advocate for arming commercial airline pilots, even as the more vocal and visible Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta and Undersecretary John Magaw (a Democrat and a Clinton-appointee, respectively) publicly testified against the measure with the Bush administration’s imprimatur. Nor was that the only time he stood up for conservative principles in a fractious administration. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, Ashcroft spoke up for immigration reform, while the rabidly pro-immigration James Ziglar headed the INS. Today, Magaw is gone, and the administration sings Ashcroft’s tune.

Ashcroft has made an historic contribution to the modern debate over the Second Amendment: he has instructed Solicitor General Ted Olson to argue for an individual reading of the right to keep and bear arms. Janet Reno’s Justice Department decreed the Second Amendment applied collectively, promising the right to keep and bear arms only to the National Guard or state police forces; thus, individuals had no guaranteed right to own weapons. Such a view is preposterously at odds with the will of America’s founders. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper # 29, “Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped,” and “(the standing) army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms.” The Founders’ perspective stymies radical gun control advocates from implementing their social agenda. Reintroducing it has upheld the most fundamental of American rights.

Leftists who criticized Ashcroft for shunning collectivism in this case, though, adopted different tactics when they found it advantageous. The state of Oregon passed an assisted suicide law in 1997, enabling doctors to prescribe deadly doses of medication to their patients. Attorney General Ashcroft reminded members of the healing profession that prescribing certain drugs for the purposes of death violates the federal Controlled Substances Act and would be considered a punishable offense. In reaction, the state of Oregon brazenly demanded the right for its view to supersede federal law. Since the case involved easing the path to euthanasia, the media suddenly discovered a use for “states rights,” which they had previously derided as “racist code words.” Ashcroft made no infringements on the doctrine of federalism; he simply guaranteed the laws of the United States applied to all citizens equally.

It should be noted not all of Ashcroft’s critics are on the Left. His more principled conservative critics recall the writings of Murray Rothbard, the quirky and occasionally brilliant libertarian who opposed Cold War military expenditures. Rothbard’s America would have proven helpless to stop a Soviet invasion. The new class of “ACLU Republicans” would do well to study which set of policies ultimately toppled the worldwide Communist threat. And those members of the Democratic Party who stood by while their most recent leader pardoned radical Puerto Rican terrorists and bomb-throwing ‘60s radicals like Howard Mechanic, Susan Rosenberg, and Linda Sue Evans should refrain from advising John Ashcroft on how to keep the nation safe and free.

This article originally appeared as the lead on Tuesday, January 7, 2003, on FrontPage Magazine.