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Jewish World Review Dec. 27, 2000 / 1 Teves, 5761

Cal Thomas

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Consumer Reports

The John Ashcroft I know --
LIBERAL GROUPS are mighty upset that President-elect George W. Bush has nominated outgoing Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) to become Attorney General of the United States. The reason is that Ashcroft is the polar opposite of Janet Reno and her politicized Justice Department. If confirmed (and you can count on the same people who "borked'' Robert Bork, keeping him off the Supreme Court, to try the same with Ashcroft), he will be to the Justice Department what an exorcist is to demons.

Some liberals will try to smear Ashcroft as a racist because he opposed the elevation of a Missouri judge, who happens to be black, to the federal bench; a misogynist, because he is pro-life; a religious fanatic, because he takes his faith seriously enough to impose it upon himself, unlike many other politicians -- Democrats and Republicans -- who use it as political window dressing.

In a lengthy interview for my book, "Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America?'' I asked Ashcroft for his views on government and many other things. Following are some excerpts.

On the purpose of government: "Government's responsibility is to make sure that there is a hospitable set of externals that allows people to do well and to provide a framework in which people can grow. It shouldn't be growth of government; it should be growth of individuals.''

On the primary cause of moral decline: "The moral condition of a country is an aggregation of the moral choices made by individuals. There (are) a variety of conditions in the culture that signal disrespect for morals that have affected the kind of choices that are being made .... I think government has helped create an environment that is hostile to good, moral decision-making. Moral choices are primarily shaped by the culture, and culture shapes behavior in an anticipatory or preventative way. Laws shape behavior by punishing after there's been an infraction. Our government of late has made it very difficult for the culture to operate by shaping behavior ... the higher the level of morality, the lower the need for government legality. As we have destroyed the ability of culture to shape behavior, we have had to proliferate laws in an attempt to make up for the absence of the culture-shaping behavior. The proliferation of laws has never made up for it, but we keep adding more laws, and more laws, and more laws.''

Ashcroft believes that in our pursuit of tolerance for everything, we have surrendered our ability to stigmatize behavior that we want discourage: "We have outlawed stigma ... by saying that it's politically incorrect and inappropriate to say that certain things are wrong. We are no longer capable of identifying things as being wrong, and we are no longer capable of ranking, for affirmation, things that are legal. Once you devalue affirmation and you outlaw stigma, you make it impossible for the culture to shape moral choices.''

Can government, alone, turn culture around and influence better decision-making? "No. The idea of government being the source of goodness in the culture is a mistake .... The genius of the American republic is not that the values of Washington be imposed on the people, (it is) that the people's values be imposed on Washington, D.C. This reversal in value flow, I think, can be clearly traced to the Great Society era.''

Later, Ashcroft tells me that while Washington is neither the entire problem nor the entire answer, it can be part of one or the other. But he sees government as one of the more powerful influences: "We should take the hostility toward morality out of the system. And take the hostility toward faith out of the system .... Pastors need to call people to their highest and best, not accommodate the culture at its lowest and least.''

Ashcroft acknowledges that because of his positive and deeply held Christian faith he will be perceived as wanting to "Christianize everybody.'' He explains, "The point is that governance is the process, by imposition and mandate, of compelling people to live at a level of the threshold of acceptability. If all a leader does is to govern, he's not a leader ... he just mandates that people make it to the lowest possible level.''

On freedom: "It is very difficult to impose anything in a free society .... It's important for the public to understand that you're not in a position to just come in here and insist, yet the public is in a position to insist.''

There's much more in the book, and count on Ashcroft's detractors to take the quotes about his faith out of context and turn him into Elmer Gantry. Ashcroft has the personal qualities and professional experience so needed at the Department of Justice that, for eight years, has served as a subsidiary of the White House and the primary defender of indefensible actions by Bill Clinton and his minions.

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