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!
In 1992, I was covering the Republican National Convention in Houston
when I found myself, along with a handful of other hacks, in a room
where a few dozen self-described "evangelical conservatives" had
gathered. As a colleague and I walked in, the meeting had already
commenced, and a prayer circle was underway.
As is often the case in these settings, the exhortation to the
Almighty wasn't brief. I
was slouching toward somnambulance as the appeal droned on and on
when a verbal thunderclap jolted me back to reality: The leader of
the homily prayed that "the people of America will see through the
distortion of the printed page and that those in the media would join
us to spread the truth of His word."
I blinked in amazement; a glimpse toward my colleagues confirmed
that I had not imagined it. "Who the hell is this guy?" I asked
"That's John Ashcroft, the governor of Missouri," someone replied.
After the session broke up, I rushed for the governor and asked
him if he was planning on making his prayer for the media a staple
of his repertoire, as I was sure it would only endear him to the
to the Fourth Estate as a sagacious politician worthy of respect
and relevance. He shot me a look in response that I can only describe
as un-Christian and skulked away.
After that experience, I was inclined to dismiss Ashcroft as a
sort of droll walking malignancy, a comical melanoma on the already-diseased
American body politic. But as I watched Ashcroft come to Washington
and ascend courtesy of the fiscal aid of religious conservatives
(as well as the liquor and tobacco lobbies) my amusement gave way
to grave foreboding. With his every act, his every utterance, I
found myself replaying that moment in Houston and shuddering. For
Ashcroft, I now fully appreciate, there is no distinction between
serving the public and serving his particular Jehovah. And that
particular Jehovah seems to think that anyone else who disagrees
with his apostle is in need of some sort of re-education.
It would be one thing if the ex-Senator (who I hope appreciates
the irony of being defeated by one who died but lived on in the
hearts of a majority of Missourians) was being dispatched to some
minor department where he could make only so much trouble. But when
one considers the likelihood of journalists facing an Americanized
version of the Official Secrets Act (approved by both houses of
Congress, vetoed by Clinton, but expected to come up again), Ashcroft's
1992 comments portend a particularly open interpretation that does
not bode well for the free press clause of the First Amendment.
Indeed, despite his assertion that he will act as a "guardian of
liberty and equal justice" in the service of the "rule of law,"
which he defines as something that "knows no class, sees no color
and bows to no creed," his characterization of those judges who
hold that a woman's legal right
to choose an abortion to be constitutional as "judicial despots"
gives one pause.
And from his new perch, there's no doubt he would throw the full
weight of the Justice Department behind one of his more insidious
assaults on the First Amendment, the "charitable choice" program
he slipped into the draconian 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Referred
to by the decidedly bland and nonpartisan National Journal
as perhaps "the biggest blurring of the lines between church and
state in many decades," this little gem of a provision essentially
gives federal money to any faith-based organization to provide whatever
services it wants to the poor, addicted and afflicted, with a license
to proselytize. Several legal challenges are underway, given the
program's blatant violation of the establishment clause, yet Ashcroft's
congressional allies have been trying to expand "charitable choice"
from social services to faith-based education programs as well.
Conventional wisdom in Washington holds that Ashcroft is in for
a bruising, if not bloody, set of confirmation hearings, but that
he'll emerge as attorney general in the end. If he does fail on
the Hill, however, it's entirely possible he'll have another role
in the Bush administration. If Bush decides to initiate a rapprochement
with Iran-- providing he can find it on the map--Ashcroft would
be the perfect special envoy. Doubtless the mullahs would find Ashcroft's
brand of conservatism endearing.