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Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2001 / 23 Teves, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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How to polarize candidates -- JOHN ASHCROFT, the attorney general-designate, is the inevitable consequence of a decade of borking. Since the 1980s, the political left and then the right have used irrelevant peccadilloes, and relevant peccadilloes, to destroy politicians and political appointees.

The list of martyrs is full of names familiar and forgotten: Robert Bork, Gary Hart, John Tower, Kimba Wood, et al. All of them were denied office because of their ideologies, but the blame was put elsewhere. The list of those damaged by political exploitation of their past personal failings is perhaps even longer. It includes, obviously, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Some of those attacked for their "personal" mistakes deserved to be. For example, Clinton made his "co-presidency" marriage a central theme of his campaign and therefore opened it up to scrutiny.

George W. Bush deserved to be scrutinized about his past misadventures, and he was ill-advised in not being more forthright about them. The "November surprise" about his drunk-driving arrest in Maine in the 1970s - though a ludicrously trivial story - clearly hurt him at the polls. Hell, Gary Hart all but spit in the eye of the press and dared them to follow him around.

But others did not deserve to be hounded and vilified. Kimba Wood, President Clinton's nominee for attorney general, didn't deserve to be rejected over a "nanny problem" and neither did Linda Chavez last week.

Especially in the light of President Clinton's supposedly irrelevant "personal mentoring" of Monica Lewinsky, it's clear that Clarence Thomas didn't deserve to be pilloried for asking a mature female employee for a date or for making jokes about pubic hairs - even if that happened, which remains doubtful. But fair or not, over the years politicians and activists, on the right and the left, have often been too chicken to fight fair with people they disagree with. Instead, they've honed in on extraneous mistakes or fraudulent charges.

Well, people make mistakes. In fact, we are, in some respects, the sum total of our mistakes and the lessons we've learned from them. But if the political system makes our life experiences into the sort of thing that disqualifies good people from public office, we will be left with only two kinds of people: Ashcrofts and Clintons.

Ashcrofts are Boy Scouts, true believers and, in John Ashcroft's case, a devout conservative Christian. He doesn't drink; he doesn't smoke; he doesn't gamble; he doesn't dance. In short, he could only be more boring if he were on a respirator. In this respect, the only legitimate criticism is that he may be too inflexible in his by-the-bookness.

On the other side of the spectrum are people like Bill Clinton. Clintons don't always do the right thing, but they always do the right political thing. They often screw around and misbehave, but they always try to cover their tracks and maintain deniability. When Bill Clinton was a young man he pulled strings to avoid the draft. Then later he made himself technically eligible again, solely to maintain his political "viability," as he put it in a letter. He even built in an escape clause to the meaning of the word "is."

This has nothing to do with ideology. There are Republican Clintons and Democratic Ashcrofts. It has to do with the kind of people we want in public office. I think an Ashcroft type is exactly the sort of person we want to run the Justice Department right now.

The current attorney general, Janet Reno, is no Boy Scout, and justice is the poorer for it. But even a troglodytic, knuckle-dragging conservative like myself wouldn't want a whole government made up of Boy Scouts. And I think everyone agrees that we wouldn't want a capital inhabited solely by Bill Clintons.

But that is precisely the sort of government we will get if we continue to play these games. We will have slick Willies and altar boys instead of people who've lived enough to know how the world works but who have enough of a moral compass to stick to their principles when needed.

Ashcroft should be confirmed because he is the most qualified man to be nominated for attorney general in a generation - and, more importantly, because the next president wants him. Because he has no skeletons or Monica Lewinskys or even any disco LPs in his closet, his opponents have to make the case that he is unqualified because of his beliefs. New York Senator Charles Schumer has all but declared that Christian conservatives are too radical to be attorneys general. That strikes me as shocking bigotry, but at least it's honest - and it even makes Ashcroft seem exciting.

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01/15/01: Dems never tire of using 'race card'
01/11/01: Taking the celebrity out of politics
01/08/01: Unfairly 'borking' Ashcroft
01/04/01: Want to be more efficient? Increase number of politicians
01/02/01: Whole lotta exploitin' goin' on
12/28/00: Hypocrisy police pounce on Clinton book deal
12/26/00: Sometimes, it's good to be a Grinch
12/21/00: Though symbolic, Bush's diversity sends a message
12/19/00: Gore concedes --- but why did it take so long?
12/14/00: Is 'Queer as Folk' what we asked for?
12/11/00: Election mess hardly a 'civics lesson'
12/07/00: Clinton's tacky legacy
12/05/00: Marriage civilizes the manly beast
11/30/00: Gore's speech more pompous posturing
11/28/00: Rabble-rousing Dems act irresponsibly
11/27/00: Duking it out with democracy
11/16/00: Issues irrelevant to most voters
11/14/00: Gore's us-vs.-them campaign
11/10/00: Dot-com disasters missing brand-name success
11/06/00: Conventional wisdom turns with the polls
11/03/00: Clinton photo, appropriately, hits below the belt
11/01/00: Electoral college ensures democracy
10/30/00: New Yorkers, media letting Hillary off the hook
10/23/00: Gore needs to put first things first
10/20/00: Treatment of Farrakhan glosses over odd issues
10/16/00: Secrets of election can be found in 'Star Trek'
10/12/00: Arafat hardly 'provoked' into violence
10/10/00: Undecided voters may be ignorant, not discriminating
10/06/00: The importance of character isn't debatable
10/03/00: Conservatives are the true friends of science You know why?
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09/18/00: Tough questions target Hillary Clinton's elitism
09/14/00: Hollywood morality to blame
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09/07/00: Time-honored tradition: Insult the press
09/05/00: Scouting out justice
08/30/00: The ADL's historical revisionism
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08/24/00: Candidates' choice of movies shows refreshing honesty
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08/17/00: AlGore is doomed, but Dems ignore warning signs
08/15/00: Proud and true: He's a Jew
08/10/00: Exploiting religion would be tragic mistake
08/08/00: Cheney serves up tempting appetizer
08/03/00: Republicans now 'nice,' media still nasty
08/01/00: Presidential campaign could use some anti-metric mania
07/27/00: Government shouldn't subsidize Reform Party
07/25/00: Campaign finance 'reform' gives too much power to liberal media
07/20/00: Hillary slur speaks volumes
07/18/00: AlGore's McCarthyism
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07/05/00: McDonald's deserves a break today
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06/23/00: If Fonda is sorry, let her say so
06/06/00: NAPSTER exposes artists' hypocrisy
04/18/00: Not much difference between TV journalists, TV actors

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