Asking All The Wrong Questions of Ashcroft

  Asking All The Wrong Questions of Ashcroft

Posted by FoM on January 19, 2001 at 08:42:46 PT
By Alan W. Bock  
Source: WorldNetDaily 

If it were not for the fact that these clowns hold and exercise real power over the lives of real American citizens, one would be tempted to view contemporary American politics as nothing more than a particularly low form of farce -- a self-referential satire on its own brand of vaudeville that doesn't even know enough about vaudeville to take it seriously on its own terms. Based on what they choose to show us on television, these guys don't even know enough about politics and governance to take them the least bit seriously. 
The latest example of the tendency can be found in the Senate hearings considering the nomination of former Missouri senator -- and governor and attorney general -- John Ashcroft to be attorney general of the United States. There are valid reasons to be concerned -- not necessarily opposed, all things considered, but at least concerned -- about elevating Mr. Ashcroft to the top law-enforcement position in the United States on policy grounds. But the manic opponents of his nomination have raised none of these valid concerns, preferring to concentrate on bogus and fanciful charges that he is a racist or an opponent of abortion so zealous he will countermand the laws of the country or encourage wanton lawbreaking. Meanwhile Mr. Ashcroft's supporters have been content to tout his supposed integrity, an integrity that vanished -- at least intellectual integrity, which seems essential to integrity in action -- almost instantly as soon as he was confronted by a tough question or two. There may be examples of integrity in Mr. Ashcroft's career, but his supporters have been little concerned to dredge any up and display them for the consideration of the American people. Instead, they seem content to chant "integrity" like a mantra, apparently viewing the fact that he hasn't been caught buggering 6-year-olds as sufficient evidence. I think I understand the emphasis on integrity by Ashcroft supporters, although few of them are even honest enough to say so out loud. The hope seems to be that a man of integrity will get right on the messy and Herculean task of cleaning up the Augean Stables into which Janet Reno has turned the more politicized than ever U.S. Department of Justice. Mr. Ashcroft alluded to the hope (without being quite forthright about it) in the opening day of hearings, when he said, "I understand the responsibility of the attorney general's office, I revere it, I am humbled by it. [Sidebar warning: almost any public figure who says he is humbled is almost surely the opposite.] And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, I will spend every waking moment, and probably some sleeping moments as well, dedicated to ensuring that the Justice Department lives up to its heritage, not only enforcing the rule of law, but guaranteeing rights for all Americans." That's not quite as forthright as "Janet Reno has politicized the department more thoroughly than any recent attorney general and I'll do the opposite," but it seems close to what Mr. Ashcroft was trying to suggest. What hopeful conservatives -- who seem to have the historical memory of a spider mite -- seem to think is that Janet Reno was a new phenomenon under the sun as an attorney general who -- gasp! -- actually let politics rather than the dispassionate judgment of the law enter into her decision-making process. That attitude ignores the fact that the attorney general's position in modern American politics has traditionally been the most overtly political of the Cabinet positions. The lately tarnished but still sainted John F. Kennedy appointed as attorney general not only his campaign manager but his brother. Talk about covering your back! But although the example eventually got the law changed to forbid presidential siblings in the position, it was hardly unprecedented. Harry Daugherty was Warren Harding's campaign manager and his attorney general. Homer Cummings was Franklin Roosevelt's campaign manager and his attorney general. (He conceived the infamous "court-packing" scheme that led to the "switch in time that saved nine.") Howard McGrath was Harry Truman's campaign manager and his attorney general. Herbert Brownell filled both positions for Dwight Eisenhower. John Mitchell was Richard Nixon's campaign manager and his attorney general. Mitchell's indictment on several charges in the wake of Watergate led to a tendency to fill the post with somebody other than the actual campaign manager, but most attorneys general since have been at least close cronies of the president. Griffin Bell was close to Jimmy Carter. Ed Meese was something very close to Ronald Reagan's best personal friend, William French Smith his former personal lawyer. All Janet Reno proved was that you didn't have to be a long-time personal friend and confidant of a president to be a willing political tool. Presidents like to have trusted personal confidants or willing shills in charge of the Justice Department for many of the same reasons Mafia chieftains like to have trusted confederates in police departments and the judiciary. Having those posts filled with people who maintain a foolish adherence to the impartial administration of the law as written can be extremely embarrassing and inconvenient -- or worse -- to such worthies. There are other reasons the Department of Justice is inherently politicized. There are simply too many federal laws on the books to enforce them all with equal vigor, even with a bloated staff of 123,000 attorneys, investigators, Border Patrol agents and correctional officers. Choices must be made and priorities must be set (given the unfortunate unlikelihood that any attorney general will spearhead a streamlining of the federal statute books). The question of how to allocate resources is invariably political, and presidents naturally want those choices to be made in accordance with their own agendas, if they have any. The romantic notion that any attorney general will disinterestedly serve an entity as abstract as "the American people" or even the "rule of law," then, is not high on any realist's list of likely outcomes. John Ashcroft may well clean up some of the messes Janet Reno is leaving behind and prosecute some malefactors who richly deserve it. He is most unlikely to be an objective, impartial servant of "the law," if only because the federal law in its current condition is bloated and rife with contradictions. And while the emphasis in the hearings may dictate that he is unlikely to stand idly by as violent protesters overrun abortion clinics, to take one example, you can be sure that he will make political choices. The most troubling aspect of John Ashcroft's record, especially from the standpoint of the concept of the rule of law as an instrument evolved over the centuries to protect the rights of citizens, is his zealousness as a drug warrior. The only time, during the first day of the hearings, that he shed the cautiousness that dictates behavior for any nominee facing hostile questioning and became animated, was when he talked about how much more vigorously he plans to pursue the drug war and clean up America's bad habits. He displayed real passion and conviction in these statements, as compared to the discomfort compounded by a certain smarminess and smugness when cheerfully announcing he was willing to sell out (or at least compromise what some naifs thought were his firm convictions) on gun control (Mandatory trigger locks poll well? I'm all for 'em.) and illegitimate federal power in general. Now I didn't really expect any of the worthy Honorables to ask the question that should be posed to anybody who views himself as a constitutionalist and a conservative: "Mr. Ashcroft, you have taken the oath many times, in many positions, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Can you explain to me where, in the enumerated powers of Article I, Section 8, which creates a national government of strictly limited powers, the national government is given the power to prohibit the ingestion of certain drugs?" Back in more innocent days, when legislators wanted to prohibit beverage alcohol during the 'teens of the century now blessedly past, they understood that the Constitution didn't give the national government the power to do so. They understood that an amendment to the constitution would be necessary to give the government such power, so they duly proposed, campaigned for and passed an amendment. Since the New Deal, however, such niceties seem anachronistic, and the national government does whatever it wants to do, relying on pliant courts to approve most of the unconstitutional grabs for power while striking down a law from time to time to maintain appearances. Whether the constitutional argument about the drug war is politically viable or not, however, the maintenance and (if Ashcroft is to be believed) potential intensification of the drug war raises serious questions about the administration of justice and the protection of constitutional rights that deserve much more serious attention than is likely in the provincial precincts of the Imperial City. Trying to enforce drug laws -- which are "victimless crimes" not necessarily in the existential sense that nobody else but the drug user ever suffers or is victimized, but in the narrower jurisprudential sense that there is unlikely to be a "complaining victim" eager to bug the police and demand that the perpetrator be found and prosecuted, as in a burglary or a mugging -- requires police work of a type that is bound to raise questions and ultimately to erode constitutional rights. To catch drug offenders police must penetrate private places, get in on transactions in which great pains are taken to keep them hidden, and snoop into peoples' private ways in increasingly intrusive ways. If they don't, there's simply no hope of ever enforcing such laws. So, police use informers, often of dubious character and reliability. They go undercover, often at serious risk to themselves and others. They push the courts to allow more wiretaps, more exceptions to the constitutional provisions that require warrants and probable cause to break into peoples' homes. They are forced to rely increasingly on forced entrances, and on quasi-military tactics. They use entrapment and "sting" operations more frequently. When these tactics don't work, they request ever more liberal asset-forfeiture laws, under which property can be seized on the basis of suspicion of its being involved in drug crimes, and the owner then has the burden of proof to demonstrate that the property is innocent, even when no charges are ever filed. If that doesn't amount to a systematic erosion of the concept of property rights that was one of the mainstays of the American founding, I don't know what is. The drug war, then, has created what many refer to as the "drug war exception" to the Fourth Amendment, and it has encouraged the militarization of the police. Where do you think America's cops learned the kind of "dynamic entry" tactics they used during the first assault on Waco or the kidnapping of Elian Gonzalez? Indeed, the BATF was able to get equipment and training from the military to organize the legally and morally unjustified assault at Waco by lying, almost certainly knowingly and consciously, about David Koresh and his band maybe violating drug laws. That's because the futility of the drug war led to lawmakers creating the only exception to the principle that the military should not be used for domestic law enforcement purposes -- the military can be used if it's to conduct the "war on drugs," which clarifies the fact that it is really a war on the American people. Not only is the drug war the proximate cause of a number of erosions of constitutional rights and liberties that should be of concern to Americans, there is evidence that the American people are beginning to understand it and to demand changes in the prohibitionist policies to which most politicians cling so stubbornly. Despite opposition from almost all elected and law enforcement officials, people have passed medical marijuana laws, by margins that would be viewed as landslides if any politician garnered them, in every state where they have been put on the ballot. California voters in November passed Proposition 36, which requires probation and treatment instead of jail for simple possession of drugs, and voters in Oregon and Utah approved reforms in the asset forfeiture laws. Even outgoing drug czar Barry McCaffrey has said often (though he hasn't adjusted his budget accordingly) that you can't deal with drug problems through interdiction and enforcement alone, that prevention and treatment are vital and probably more important. Yet, John Ashcroft is on record as saying that "A government which takes the resources that we would devote toward the interdiction of drugs and converts them to treatment resources … is a government that accommodates us at our lowest and least." He has supported more "liberalized" asset forfeiture laws and was a proud co-sponsor of the notorious methamphetamine bill in the last Congress, that would have used prior restraint to restrict speech and writing about illicit drugs and in its original form would have allowed warrantless searches when people were not at home without even a requirement that they be informed that their house had been searched. Ashcroft repeatedly criticized the Clinton administration for not being zealous or punitive enough in its approach to drug law enforcement. He supported mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, which have eroded the judgment of judges and in practice filled prisons with low-level offenders while leaving the "kingpins" at which they were purportedly directed relatively unscathed. To have a drug warrior zealot as attorney general at a time when the political landscape on prohibition seems to be changing -- when the people are trying to tell the politicians, in every way made available to them, that prohibition is a failure and it's time to consider alternatives -- is potentially very troubling. Perhaps it's all for the best. Maybe what's required to push the people far enough that they start exacting a political price from politicians who ignore them will be to have a drug warrior who actually seems to believe in vigorous enforcement of the drug laws as a first principle (obviously overriding devotion to the Constitution) rather than a hypocrite who is willing to double arrests and double the budget to enforce laws that (as he recently admitted) he doesn't believe in. Other questions of substance have received short shrift in the Ashcroft hearings. What would Ashcroft do about the Microsoft persecution, an issue that could have an enormous impact on the health of the economy and the future of high tech? Would he recommend any reforms in the antitrust laws? What is his attitude toward freedom of expression and action on the Internet? Has he read the Cato Institute's remarkable recent book, "The Rule of Law in the Wake of Clinton," and how does he plan to address the perception that the powerful, especially the president and the vice president, are beyond the reach of the law? How would he advise a president on the legitimacy of executive orders that circumvent the will of Congress? Does he think that there is such a thing as "regulatory taking" of property that deprives an owner of the use of his property and therefore requires compensation under the Fifth Amendment? Would he advise a president considering a foreign adventure that the Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war? How much American sovereignty (if any) does he think can be legitimately ceded to international organizations and institutions? What does he think about the Clinton administration's repeated attempts to create databases on all Americans? Instead of such substantive questions, we get goofy allegations of being a neo-Confederate, stern lectures for taking the same position on the Second Amendment that Hubert Humphrey held, and barely veiled bigotry against firmly held religious belief. But the most important questions about John Ashcroft revolve around whether he can be a zealous drug warrior and a defender of the constitutional rights of all Americans at the same time. Unfortunately, those key questions have received almost no attention either from the Honorables or from the media. I suppose that after some sound and fury John Ashcroft will become the next attorney general. The hearings on his nomination could have been an opportunity to explore some genuine and serious issues that the next attorney general will confront. The Senate and most of the media have muffed the opportunity. Alan Bock is author of "Ambush at Ruby Ridge" and the forthcoming "Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana," coming in January from Seven Locks Press. Senior editorial writer and columnist at the Orange County Register, he is also senior contributing editor at the National Educator and a contributing editor at Liberty magazine. Books are shipping now to major bookstores or can be ordered directly from Seven Locks Press at 1-800-354-5348Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)Author: Alan BockPublished: January 19, 2001Copyright: 2001,, Inc.Address: PO Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523-0409Fax: (541) 597-1700Contact: letters worldnetdaily.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Stop John Ashcroft Drug Policy Report The Activist, Kennedy, Reno And Racial Justice Said Ashcroft Agreed To Look The Other Way Ashcroft Roll Back Drug Policy Reform? 

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Comment #2 posted by dddd on January 19, 2001 at 23:50:57 PT
Mad Hatter
I cant believe all this is actually happening.It seems like a bad dream..The surreal concept of Alfred E. Newman,having a shameless extravaganza inauguration.....The nebulous,and obviously twisted Ashcroft "hearings",with all the strange glossing over of the shocking facts about this creep....This is really like an episode of the Twilight Zone,,a nightmare,that we are not allowed to wake up from.. Thanks for trying to put a positive possibility in the picture Kap.I think the same people who are not being heard now,will be heard even less once the bush crowd gets rolling. It's true.This will have more impact on our lives than the prezident.The AG is almost as powerful as Alan Greenspan,(whos initials are also,A.G....?).. These promise to be some strange times.The sequence of events is most alarming..Consider the following;Mega-mergers AOL/Time Warner..Nestle/Ralston,,,,Mega Monopolies....Bush is installed in office,,Ashcroft is approved despite being completely unfit to hold this office.......All of a sudden 2 huge power companies,SCE,and PGE,claim they are going broke,even though they have huge assets worldwide,,,it's a big setup,,,the dominoes start to fall,,gas prices will go up because refineries are supposedly having to cut back on power use,,,,natural gas goes up,because it runs power generators .....the state steps in to bail out the power companies with taxpayers money,,,,,rates are increased on the same taxpayers. Just watch.This ploy is going to be used again in many ways,as it has been used in the past.Creating a false shortage by mega-corporate behomoths,who are in bed with the federal crooks.....Bend over!,,,,get ready...these are not going to be the best of times for 90% of Americans....Woe be to todays children.25 years from today,the world will be a very different place.The "haves",and the "have nots",are going to become more clearly defined,and seperated. Look at the fake wave of conjured up "prosperity".The same ploy used in the staged California power "crisis",,will be utilized in the financial realm,,all of a sudden,huge corporations will say they are going broke.The profiteers will hole up in high security enclaves.........After I win the lottery,I'm gonna buy a big compound surrounded with barbed wire,and surveilance cameras.I'll hire a bunch of ex FARC guys to secure the premises.I wont offer them a health plan however,,not after all that weed killer they got peppered with. We are talking about an American nightmare.George Orwell cracks a slight grin from the grave,,"told ya so" ......dddd................purveyor of DOOM!!
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on January 19, 2001 at 11:32:19 PT:
Mr. Bock does it again
I've often heard Washington DC being described as "68 square miles surrounded by reality." The Ashcroft confirmation hearings, from what I've seen of them, have borne this out all too well. One might as well have fallen down the White Rabbit's hole into Wonderland, judging from some of the characters who showed up to testify. While the truly earthshakingly important questions go begging.The few times I've been able to watch the hearings, the kind of questions Mr. Bock alludes to have never been asked. Instead, an entire gamut of people, either with very large axes to grind, or desiring to call attention to positions that are of great importance to them but hardly register on the radar screens of Joe and Josephine Sixpack, have held forth.But what issue is so important that it will determine the very course of the nation's future history than the way the government comports itself vis-a-vis it's own citizens? What issue has the enormous potential to cause (further!) widespread alienation of large minority groups towards the very government that loudly proclaims its' inclusivity? What issue above all others will determine whether the Constitution remains an enshrined testament to human aspirations...or is no better than toilet paper to be used thoughtlessly by some ambitious pols?You know it. I know it. Even the antis know it...and are wiping their brows and saying "Whew! That was a close one!" at it not having come up in the hearings. Namely, the WoSD.' Perhaps it's all for the best. Maybe what's required to push the people far enough that they start exacting a political price from politicians who ignore them will be to have a drug warrior who actually seems to believe in vigorous enforcement of the drug laws as a first principle (obviously overriding devotion to the Constitution) rather than a hypocrite who is willing to double arrests and double the budget to enforce laws that (as he recently admitted) he doesn't believe in."For too long, the screamingly obvious disconnect between the public pronouncements of the antis - who like to come across as if they are some kind of wise, benevelont uncle - and the brutal savagery of a drug raid executed against the wrong family's house by adrenaline-tripping police, has been allowed to remain unexamined. The dichotomy between their professed love of children, and the fact that the very children they become so weepy-eyed and emotional about have been *killed* in those raids has to my knowledge, never been brought up in *any* Congressional investigation. The effect that the so-called 'drug exclusions' have had on the Bill of Rights has never been a subject of debate in the one place it should be.Nope, the antis are thanking their lucky stars. They are grateful that 'one of their own' has not been asked some truly hardnosed questions which need to be answered. Instead of having to take a 3rd Degree for his positions on the DrugWar, Ashcroft has been subjected to the equivalent of an interrogation conducted by powder-puff wielding beauticians. Sickening.  
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