Ask any Ashcroft-basher what the big problem is; and you’ll likely hear some thing like “that goshdarned Patriot Act” (possibly with stronger language, of which Ashcroft would surely disapprove). Ah, the Patriot Act. Remember how that act put us in chains in one fell swoop?
To be honest, I have some problems with the Patriot Act, but they’re less legal than political. (Orin Kerr, over at the Conspiracy, has done yeoman’s work debunking some of the sillier legal ideas of the Patriot Act, like that it makes it a crime to read anymore. Read his stuff. He knows more than I.) Let’s start with those. For example, I have a problem with the fact that the Patriot Act smells just a little bit like the work of a crowd of career pols who took a look at the 9/11 aftermath – and their thoughts turned quickly toward any threat toward their incumbency. Thus was born the act with a patriotic name, a host of symbolic gestures, and little else in the way of power that law enforcement didn’t have before, only shuffled a bit. A perfect incumbency-protection act (“Look at me, I’m protecting the nation!”) but not much actual thinking about new threats or better methods. No matter. They only would’ve f*cked it up, which they did anyway with the Homeland Security nonsense.
If it seems like I’m going far afield, I apologize. Enough background. So here comes the Patriot Act, which supposedly Ashcroft is going to use to send civvies to Gitmo of they snicker when the president mispronounces nuclear. Fair enough. It’s a big enough country that we can disagree on an act of Congress. But how does Ashcroft figure in? He didn’t make the law. The Senate voted 99-1 in favor of the Patriot Act. What does this mean? It means several things. First, it means that everyone has one senator, and most people have two, who voted for the Patriot Act. Got a beef? I can give you the capitol switchboard number if you like. Call your senator. Second, it means that the senate was so totally convinced that this was the right thing to do that they acted with a unanimity unseen (in a matter of important policy) since they decided, without a dissenting vote, that the Kyoto Accord was a giant piece of shit and not even worth a Democrat vote.
Hmmm. Where does that leave us? Oh yeah: Ashcroft. Now, as I recall, at Johnny’s confirmation hearing, the main accusation against him was that he had some deeply held beliefs that conflicted with current jurisprudence and statute. In other words, he couldn’t be trusted to enforce the law – his main duty. In light of the Patriot Act, what’s the new beef? Look out! He might just enforce the law after all! This strikes me as the sheerest eyewash, and above all a case of a partisanship in search of an enemy, a threat to present to its constituency. It’s garbage, of course.
As for Ashcroft the man, I don’t know him. And neither do most of the trust-fund freedom fighters at the liberal arts colleges with their “Stop Ashcroft” signs. I’ve met some people who share his religious inclinations, and I found them to be boring, a bit self-righteous, but generally honest and dutiful. I have no reason to believe he is any different. Do I want him as AG? Heck, no! But then I won’t be satisfied until somebody like Glenn Reynolds is at the post. (Read some of his stuff on law enforcement, especially the stuff with Dave Kopel.) Those who point to Ashcroft as the threat are one of two things. They are either ignorant of how the making and enforcing of laws is carried out, or they are willfully distorting it.