Commentary

Workingfornonsense.com

By Aaron Lukas
January 16, 2001
For political entertainment, nothing beats surfing the waves of “progressive” Web sites on the Internet. My latest find is WorkingForChange.com. No, it’s not a job placement service for the “employment-challenged.” It’s a “direct action” Web site, meaning visitors can donate money to support various liberal causes.

The site is run by the Working Assets Funding Service — a “long distance, credit card, Internet services and broadcasting company that was created to build a world that is more just, humane and environmentally sustainable.” Besides selling you a prepaid phone call, WorkingForChange will instruct you on the finer points of left-wing activism, conveniently printed on your phone bill or credit card statement each month.

The crusade of the week is to block former Missouri GOP Sen. John Ashcroft’s nomination for attorney general. (Senate hearings on Ashcroft start the week of Jan. 15.) Ashcroft’s confirmation, the site warns, “could seriously hinder civil, women’s, consumer and environmental rights, so please have your voice heard now before it’s too late.”

The rant goes on: “The Attorney General is given wide discretion in the enforcement of laws protecting civil, abortion, consumer and environmental rights. An extremist, Ashcroft has shown an astounding disrespect for all of these rights through his voting record in the Senate. Making him our nation’ s chief law enforcer is like letting the fox guard the henhouse.”

The good folks at WorkingForChange — and, incidentally, their friends at People for the American Way, the New York Times, and elsewhere — are essentially arguing that law enforcement officials need to agree with all the laws they enforce. Good luck.

And what about Attorney General Janet Reno? Is she a “fox guarding the henhouse?”

Speaking about the death penalty in 1993, Reno said, “The only reason for the death penalty is vengeance. What I want is to put the bad people away and keep them away.”

So, Janet Reno opposes the death penalty. Yet it’s the law of the land, supported by a large majority of Americans. Should Reno’s disagreement with current law have disqualified her from serving as the nation’s top law enforcement official?

Or what about abortion? Janet Reno is pro-choice and has said so publicly. Reno once pointed out that by blockading clinics or talking to providers and patients, pro-life activists are interfering with a constitutionally protected right. Can a woman who holds such views be trusted to protect the rights of protestors?

Reno was confirmed, 98-0. That means that all the “extreme” conservative senators were somehow able to overlook their ideological disagreements with Reno and consider only her qualifications.

Doesn’t Ashcroft deserve similar consideration? After all, there’s no evidence that he would ignore current laws governing abortion. Sen. Susan Collins, a pro-choice Republican from Maine, said recently after meeting with Ashcroft that she had raised the issue and was satisfied with his response. “I have the utmost confidence that he is going to enforce all the laws on the books,” Collins said. She noted that as a senator from Missouri, Ashcroft supported a ban on violence against abortion clinics.

There really is no question that as attorney general, Ashcroft could be expected to enforce all laws, not just those with which he agrees. No attorney general in the history of the United States could have met a standard that required him to like all the laws he was charged with enforcing.

Ultimately, the political jihad against Ashcroft isn’t about his qualifications to serve as attorney general. Rather, it’s an attempt to ideologically screen nominees though political intimidation — and as such, it’s shameful.

Votes cast in opposition to current law are generally insufficient grounds to disqualify a former legislator from executive branch service. Each candidate deserves the benefit of the doubt, an automatic assumption that he will uphold the law as written, even when personally opposed to it.

Ashcroft served honorably in the Senate by voting his conscience. He will no doubt serve with equal honor and respect for the law when charged with its enforcement.

Aaron Lukas is an analyst at the Cato Institute.