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Jewish World Review Jan. 17, 2001 / 22 Teves, 5761

Bill O'Reilly

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Sifting Ashcroft's record -- WITH JUST DAYS before George W. Bush assumes the presidency, there is a major problem looming for the former Texas governor. The nomination of former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general could deal Bush a staggering defeat if Ashcroft is denied the office by the Senate. On the heels of Linda Chavez, Ashcroft crashing and burning would be a huge debacle for the Republicans. So let's take a look at what's in play here.

John Ashcroft was about as conservative as they come in the Senate, and his nomination to head up the Justice Department has sent shudders through the liberal community in America. He is a true believer, a man who wears his fundamentalist Christian faith on his sleeve; a man who firmly believes the USA would be a better country if everyone followed the word of Jesus. In this age of diversification, the hard line that Ashcroft takes toward social problems such as drug addiction and unwanted pregnancy is frightening to many that do not share his beliefs.

The question is: Should the senator be disqualified from public service because of his zealous Christianity? On the surface, his stance against abortion and gay rights, based upon his religious beliefs, seem to be a major obstacle for him. That, of course, is wrong. Christians have a right to serve in public office, and because someone is pro-life should not disqualify him or her from any government position.

The hypocrisy here is staggering. There was absolutely no "diversification" in the Clinton Cabinet. There wasn't a pro-life person near the president. But when Bush won the election, the scream from the left was, you guessed it, all about a mixture of views in the Cabinet. Even a Jimmy Carville could see the double standard here, although he would never admit it.

So if it were just about Christian beliefs, Ashcroft would glide into the attorney general's office. But there is another problem in play: race.

This is a more troubling situation. The left has pointed to a black judge, Ronnie White, that Ashcroft blocked from a federal seat. I have thoroughly checked this out, and this fight was personal between the senator and White. They simply did not like each other. Ashcroft voted for plenty of black judges in other situations.

But the senator's fight against voluntary busing in St. Louis must be explained. The idea was to try and desegregate a poor school district on a limited basis by seeking student volunteers to switch schools. Ashcroft was firmly opposed. Why? He needs to explain his actions.

The senator also accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, perhaps the most controversial college in country. I spoke with Bob Jones III last week, and the interracial dating ban was still in effect when Ashcroft showed up. He needs to explain his appearance.

The race deal is much more important than the bogus concerns about whether the senator would enforce laws protecting abortion clinics. Of course, he would. If he didn't, Bush would fire him. But all Americans should be confident that the attorney general of the United States will aggressively protect them from criminals. Ashcroft is against hate-crimes legislation, and his segregation and Bob Jones positions cannot be reassuring to African-Americans.

Thus, it is imperative that Ashcroft explain his racial views and his decision-making. Just as an aside, Bob Jones University has not been a friend to Roman Catholics either. Dr. Jones boycotted the Pope's visit to South Carolina and has embraced the violent Protestant militant minister, Ian Paisley, of Northern Ireland. Millions of Americans disagree with Dr. Jones on a number of issues and believe any public servant that accepts an honor from that school should provide an explanation.

I am willing to give John Ashcroft a chance to explain himself before passing judgment on him. Unlike the ideological left and right who want only one set of values in government -- their set -- fair-minded Americans should accept sincerely held beliefs if they do not interfere with the pursuit of the public good. It rankles to me to see the left out to crucify Ashcroft on the basis of his voting record. Yes, he's conservative. But there are plenty of very effective conservative public servants.

Ideology should not disqualify him, but poor judgment and poorly thought out philosophical opinions could. The senator has engaged in some questionable entanglements and decisions. He may have some very good reasons for doing so. I am looking forward to hearing them.

JWR contributor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," and author of the new book, The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and The Completely Ridiculous in American Life. Comments by clicking here.


© 2001 Creators Syndicate