The early reviews are in on the new George W. Bush administration.
It has all the elements of the classic horror story: a predictable
plot, familiar villains and an unshakable sense of déjà
vu. On the following pages, we take a look at Bush's nominees and
appointments, a diverse cast of characters in every way but ideology.
Left to their own devices, this collection of unrepentant cold warriors,
anti-choice extremists, Wise-Use desperados and corporate shills
(as well as a couple of reasonable old-fashioned conservatives)
could make for a harrowing next four years.
Can the forces of good thwart this evil plan? Well, as
In These Times went to press, thousands of townspeople were taking
their torches to Washington to protest Dubya's inauguration, making
one thing clear: There will be no honeymoon!
By tapping John Ashcroft to be attorney general, George W. Bush
set up a fierce confirmation battle in the Senate, now split 50-50.
The showdown promises to test Bush's stomach for defending--and
moderate Republicans' penchant for denying--the ugly underside of
conservative ideology. It also poses important tests for several
constituencies on the left--from African-Americans and gays to immigrants
and unionists--still outraged by the electoral fiasco in Florida.
Early salvos against Ashcroft came from church-state watchdogs,
who labeled him a foot soldier in Pat Robertson's culture war, and
abortion rights groups, which decried his anti-choice extremism.
In a lurid 1998 missive to the conservative magazine Human Events,
the man who would be responsible for enforcing clinic-protection
laws wrote: "If I had the opportunity to pass but a single law,
I would fully recognize the constitutional right to life of every
unborn child and ban every abortion except for those medically necessary
to save the life of the mother."
Black leaders decried Ashcroft's work as Missouri attorney general
to undercut school desegregation, his 1998 article in Southern
Partisan magazine defending Confederate icons and his honorary
degree from Bob Jones University. Particularly infuriating was Ashcroft's
role in thwarting Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White's
bid for a spot on the federal bench by mistakenly painting him as
having "a tremendous bent toward criminals" and "a poor record on
the death penalty." White went down in a party-line vote, the first
floor-vote defeat of a court nominee since Robert Bork and the first
torpedoing of a district court hopeful in 40 years.
But the glaring problems in Ashcroft's approach to policy-making
go far beyond race and abortion. On 20 key labor votes during the
106th Congress, Ashcroft voted against union wishes every time;
he has a lifetime AFL-CIO rating
of 2 percent. His record includes trying to undercut worker organizing
by applying "intrusive, somewhat threatening" pressure to oversight
boards, according to comments by former NLRB chair William B. Gould
For gays, Ashcroft opposes workplace anti-bias protections, and
he doggedly fought the nomination of James Hormel as ambassador
to Luxembourg because of his sexual orientation. Hormel served as
dean of the University of Chicago Law School, the very institution
Ashcroft attended, but Ashcroft still questioned Hormel's credentials
and tried to stop him from serving as an envoy, citing a "lifestyle"
he found "offensive."
Ashcroft's nomination poses a challenge not just for progressives,
but for the Log Cabin Republicans, who in peeling off 20 percent
of the gay vote for Bush claim to have cast the election's deciding
votes. The impending Senate vote looms as an early gauge of their
sway on GOP centrists like Rhode Island freshman Lincoln Chafee,
Vermont moderate James Jeffords, and Mainers Olympia Snowe and Susan
But above all, the nomination is a test for the senators themselves.
Will the chamber's 13 women rise to the occasion? Can this 100-member
deliberative body--once again, lacking a black or Latino face--conduct
a hard-hitting discussion about race and fairness without getting
lost in aimless detours? And will the GOP, which has used its majority
status in the Senate to stymie Clinton's appointments at every step
of the way for six years and through three elections, finally pay
a political price for its massive resistance? We'll see.