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Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2001/ 15 Teves, 5761


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Panic among the Dems; Looking for at least one scalp -- why not have Janet Reno conduct another Florida recount? Although the bulk of this column is devoted to the inquisitions being waged against John Ashcroft and Linda Chavez by Democratic senators and special-interest lobbyists, the hysteria that's currently on display in the small universe of politics has been generated by much more than just concern over the fate of those two individuals. A friend wrote over the weekend: "Can you please tell me why Trent Lott shouldn't be fired? Did he have to cave in [to Tom Daschle] so early in the process?"

I'm no fan of Lott's, and believe he should've been toppled after the '98 midterm elections, but he was wise to let Democrats share almost equally in the division of U.S. Senate power.

The GOP has to face reality. Sure, Dick Cheney can break a tie, but the body is now 50-50. What's more, it's possible the Democrats will regain control even before the 2002 elections. Strom Thurmond, who's 98, can't live forever, and when his day is done, the new South Carolina senator will be appointed by that state's Democratic governor. Lott's appeasement-vigorously protested by colleagues like Phil Gramm, a Lone Star State hero-has nothing to do with "bipartisanship," a word that ought to be banned along with "disenfranchisement." It's just common sense. There are so many upcoming battles between the two parties that wasting time on this power-sharing issue doesn't make sense.

As Newsweek's Evan Thomas might say, the "wing-nuts" are out in force. For example, Mike Tomasky, a political columnist for New York, is generally an evenhanded liberal, and not given to the hyperbole of his yachting-populist contemporaries at The Nation. But his Jan. 15 piece was so uncharacteristically loony that one has to assume he had a ghostwriter, maybe Paul Begala or an old hippie at Mother Jones.

Tomasky has been brainwashed by the Jesse Jackson-Maxine Waters fringe faction of the Democratic Party and is still chewing his cud over the Florida vote. Tomasky claims that once the media-directed recounts of that state's ballots-an impartial verdict, to be sure-are completed, it'll be proven that Gore actually won the state, probably by some 20,000 votes.

He adds, for flavor: "Among other things, the undercounts in Miami-Dade have yet to be counted, the same votes that county commissioners were brownshirted into not counting over the Thanksgiving holiday, the same votes that that Boss Tweed operation formerly known as the Supreme Court said didn't matter. It will be too late to do anything, but at least we'll know."

I've got the feeling that Santa didn't fill Mike's stocking to the brim this year.

Tomasky figures Bush's tax cut proposal, after the skirmishes over his Cabinet selections, will be his first crisis. But in writing that "the trick for Democrats will be in keeping them down to around, say $600 billion over ten years, instead of Bush's $1.6 trillion," the reporter is already behind the curve. Not only have leading Democrats, such as Dick Gephardt and John Kerry, indicated that the acceptable number will be higher, but there's also a growing consensus that the cuts will be accelerated-perhaps retroactive to Jan. 1-so that they'll have as quick an effect as possible on the sinking economy.

After the requisite swipe at Bush-he's "not worth hating" because he's "an accident"-Tomasky goes full throttle as a speechwriter for the Democratic Party. Get a load of this: "The opposition's attitude should instead be one of optimism... The good guys won, even though the other guys swiped the prize. The right lost. The Scriptural blowhards have had their day... In other words: The real moral majority voted for Gore. The levers of power may belong to the other side, but the mandate is ours [italics mine]. Everyone, from members of Congress to street agitators, should proceed from that assumption. This opposition will be fun."

John Ashcroft, given a stable political climate, would take a few lickings from Democrats in confirmation hearings and then be ratified by an overwhelming vote. But the Jackson-Mfume-NARAL-Sierra Club choir won't allow that; their ability to bait normally sensible men like Joe Biden and Daschle is a sad display of cowardice on the latter's part. It's increasingly likely that one of Bush's Cabinet picks will become a sacrificial lamb to the memory of Florida. My bet right now is that it'll be Linda Chavez, which would be an unconscionable travesty.

Ashcroft's credentials are impeccable. He's served as attorney general, governor and U.S. senator for Missouri; if he were the racist that detractors claim he is, then that Midwestern state must be the home of more bigots than Alabama in the 1950s. It's true that he's a hard-right Christian who's opposed to abortion and affirmative action, but that shouldn't have any bearing on his qualifications to serve. His charge will be to enforce the law: if his moral beliefs interfere with that mandate, Bush will be obliged to fire him.


Besides, Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's first secretary of labor, is an honorary pinko, and he didn't have any trouble sneaking by the Republicans. And when you consider the tenure of Janet Reno, the worst attorney general of this century-yes, including John Mitchell-Ashcroft's confirmation would be a restoration of integrity and dignity to the office.

Ashcroft's religious piety is a little too rich for my blood, and I'm not sure he'd be a lot of fun to have dinner with. I definitely don't adhere to his strict social values. For example, I'm in favor of legalized prostitution and gambling, decriminalization of drugs, and first- and second-trimester abortions. Straight Arrow John would surely wince at that. But there's not a scintilla of evidence that he wouldn't uphold the laws of the land.

Consider this: Forty years ago, Bobby Kennedy, then 35, was approved as his brother's attorney general. He attracted just one nay vote, that of Sen. Gordon Allott of Colorado, despite his paucity of legal experience, his close association with Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the obvious charges of nepotism. (Frankly, despite Kennedy's complex record in that Cabinet position, I think it was smart for JFK to yield to his father's insistence on Bobby's selection. No matter what you hold against the Kennedys, the bond between the siblings made RFK indispensable to the young, distracted and untested president.)

Another charge against Ashcroft is that he once gave an interview to Southern Partisan magazine in which he praised Confederates such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Southern Partisan is a wacko journal, much like The Nation, but it's not as if Ashcroft is an editor there.

Here's another question for pious journalists to ponder: Suppose Sen. John McCain, a pro-lifer, were nominated as attorney general? Does anyone believe there would be a single vote against him? Yet back in the South Carolina primary early last year, McCain engaged in some ugly campaign tactics-which have been erased from the record by now-that, but for his sainthood, might lead the same people who are criticizing Ashcroft to express misgivings about him.


I quote from Jacob Weisberg, a onetime McCain apostle, in his Slate dispatch from Feb. 26, 2000: "McCain displays a similarly egregious double standard when it comes to his contention that the Bush campaign courted bigots in South Carolina. All the time he was blasting Bush for campaigning at Bob Jones, McCain himself was paying $20,000 a month to South Carolina political consultant Richard Quinn, a neo-Confederate revanchist who is one of the leaders of the state's pro-flag faction.

Quinn is editor in chief of Southern Partisan, a magazine that publishes apologias for slavery and sells paraphernalia celebrating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln...

"When asked about this background on Meet the Press the day after the South Carolina primary, McCain didn't distance himself from Quinn.

Instead, he professed ignorance about Quinn's writings, just as Bush did about Bob Jones' policies, and argued, as Bush also did about Bob Jones, that Ronald Reagan had done the same thing he had. But where Bush criticized Bob Jones in stringent terms after the fact, McCain continues to describe Quinn as 'a man of integrity' who isn't responsible for what appears in his own magazine. Though McCain's Richard Quinn connection is arguably worse than Bush's Bob Jones faux pas, it never turned into a big deal for one simple reason: The press let McCain get away with it, even as it held Bush's feet to the fire on Bob Jones."

Then there's the lightning rod of Ronnie White, the black Missouri judge whose nomination for a federal post was torpedoed by Ashcroft. Despite the fact that Ashcroft, as a senator, voted to confirm 23 out of 26 black Clinton candidates to the federal courts, he's still unfairly tarred as a racist by Democratic enemies. White's dissent over the death penalty for a heinous cop-killer-he was the only one of seven Missouri Supreme Court judges who dissented-was the prime reason Ashcroft led the charge against him. In a Jan. 3 article for MSNBC's website, John Fund noted that, as Missouri's governor, Ashcroft appointed the first black woman to the state court of appeals, and signed into law the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. The racism label simply has no legs.

But that's not good enough for Jim Dwyer, an ostensibly local columnist for the Daily News. Citing Ashcroft's minimal Southern Partisan connection, as well as the Senator's impolitic acceptance of an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, Dwyer zeroes in on White.

He writes on Jan. 7: "The slimy defeat of Ronnie White is the defining moment of John Ashcroft's public life... With all this history, John Ashcroft couldn't beat a dead man, and didn't." Talk about cheap shots.

The Missouri Senator was heading for reelection-Bush won the state-when his opponent, Gov. Mel Carnahan, was tragically killed in a plane crash. Democrats pressed his grieving widow into service, just days after she buried her husband and oldest son (who also perished in the accident), and Carnahan won by some 50,000 votes. Ashcroft immediately conceded-unlike Al Gore-even though he could've made an issue of the result, since the deceased Carnahan was no longer a resident of the state.

The Washington Post's Richard Cohen is typical of the Beltway pundits who refuse to acknowledge Bush's right to form his own government. On Jan. 2, Cohen wrote: "[Ashcroft] is, in short, the sort of nominee you might expect from a president who had won a mandate. This president did not even win the election. Bush seems to have forgotten that... Ever since Election Day, Bush has proceeded as if he were president by divine right. Ashcroft is evidence of that delusion. He is the choice of a man who does not yet know his own limitations, who sees a single vote in the Supreme Court as a landslide, who cannot or will not appreciate that he must earn his mandate after he takes his oath of office, not before."

In 1992, Clinton didn't receive a mandate either. In fact, he won 43 percent of the vote in a three-man race. Yet he wasn't ridiculed, despite a very checkered ethical past, as Bush has been by the Georgetown party set. And the men and women Clinton chose for his administration-mostly pygmies who wouldn't outshine their boss-didn't have nearly the breadth of experience or the real, not token, diversity of Bush's team. Even had Bush won a decisive victory-perhaps by the same margin by which his father defeated Michael Dukakis in '88-the liberal media and flimflammers like Jackson would be squealing just as loudly about his Cabinet selections.

The New York Times' William Safire, although sometimes given to excessive conspiracy theories, wrote most clearly about the Ashcroft witch hunt in his Jan. 8 column. Just the first paragraph says it all: "No partisans are more eager to derail the Bush nomination of John Ashcroft than high officials of the Clinton Justice Department. They much prefer someone who will not flip over the flat rock of the blocked prosecution of heavy Clinton contributors."

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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