Forget race -- Ashcroft's drug position is terrifying

January 21, 2001|By GREGORY KANE

WE'RE ONLY 21 DAYS into the year 2001, and already Americans have gotten off to a robust start in our favorite game: the Knee-Jerk Follies.

One John Ashcroft, opponent of abortion, affirmative action and gratuitous gun banning, among other things, has been nominated by President George W. Bush to the influential post of U.S. attorney general.

Liberals reacted in knee-jerk fashion, swearing that this anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action gun nut will be attorney general over their dead bodies. Liberal, black, civil rights leaders got in on the act.

Ashcroft accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, a college which at the time had a ban on interracial dating and which regularly lambasted Catholics.

He also did an interview with a magazine called Southern Partisan, in which he called Confederate leaders "patriots." Liberal black leadership accused Ashcroft of lacking the fawning sensitivity on racial matters some of us colored folks have come to feel is our due.

Conservatives were equally knee-jerkish. They didn't exactly compare Ashcroft's elevation to attorney general with the second coming of Christ, but the suspicion is that, deep down, they had a hankering to.

They countered liberal objections by claiming that Ashcroft would enforce the law as is; that he's well-qualified; that the nominee's torpedoing of the confirmation of Missouri Judge Ron White, an African-American, to the federal bench was not racially motivated but highly principled, and that Ashcroft is not a racist.

The Senate Judiciary Committee went over all these charges. But neither Republicans nor Democrats, the liberal media or the conservative media paid much attention to the press releases of an organization that is nonpartisan and has two board chairmen, one Democrat and one Republican.

The group is called Common Sense for Drug Policy. Its Legislative Group issued several statements in the past week that paint a different picture of Ashcroft than the one presented by Democrats or Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That no one brought these up proves that both Democrats and Republicans on the committee and in the Senate know the fix is in for Ashcroft to be confirmed and that both parties were engaged in a dog-and-pony show to hoodwink American conservatives and liberals alike. Here, according to the Common Sense for Drug Policy Legislative Group, are the facts on Ashcroft:

1) He favors cutting funds for drug treatment and prevention and putting them into yet more law enforcement efforts. In other words, Ashcroft favors the "lock 'em up" approach to the drug war - an approach whose adherents figure that if we simply jail enough inner-city, street-level, black drug dealers, we'll win the war on drugs.

Democrats couldn't nail Ashcroft on this, of course, since their attorney general of the past eight years, Janet Reno, pursues precisely the same policy. Had they brought it up, Republicans might well have countered that Democrats couldn't honestly deny Ashcroft confirmation because the country now has an attorney general who is Ashcroft in a skirt.

Kevin Zeese, executive director of Common Sense's Legislative Group, said it's important that legislators scrutinize Ashcroft more closely on drug policy.

"The attorney general is really the most powerful person when it comes to drug policy. He generally prosecutes all the cases. The Drug Enforcement Administration is under him."

2) When he was U.S. senator from Missouri, Ashcroft sponsored Senate Bill 486, the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act. The Legislative Group claims Ashcroft's proposal "would have empowered federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to enter your house, your office, your computer or your car without a warrant and without any obligation to inform you that a search or seizure had been conducted."

Had the law passed, Zeese said, "it would have been counter-revolutionary to what Jefferson and Madison meant for Fourth Amendment rights." Regrettable, but not surprising since the "war on drugs" is turning more into a war on privacy and civil liberties every day. Most conservatives are too rigid to admit that, but the four or five conservatives remaining in the country who still value privacy and individual liberty had better give Ashcroft a second look.

3) As governor of Missouri, Ashcroft flagrantly violated the state constitution by refusing to pass money from forfeited drug assets on to public schools. Instead, he let his state police keep the dollars, even after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled it was a violation of that state's constitution. That was in 1990. In 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that - because Missouri state police passed on drug asset dollars to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which would then return some of the money to state police - the cops and the DEA had "successfully conspired to violate the Missouri Constitution."

That's the Ashcroft whose supporters claim he will "enforce the law as it is." It seems like Ashcroft, who used the word "integrity" no fewer than three times when he spoke publicly after Bush announced his nomination for attorney general, may have all the integrity of a true Missourian.

Of the Frank and Jesse James mold.

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