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Just when did John Ashcroft join the Nazi Party?
By Jack Cashill
Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to visit with some of my more progressive friends, and several alerted me to a rather scary development: U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has become a Nazi—“another Hitler” as one fretfully described our former governor and senator.
This all came as news to me. Although I do not know Ashcroft personally, I did sit next to him at a dinner just a few years ago, and he exhibited no signs of latent Nazism: no heel-clicking or arm-thrusting, no anti-Semitic slurs or “sieg heils,” no quiet yearnings for the Fatherland. I wondered too how a man of such presumed extremes could manage to win five statewide races in America’s most politically indicative state.
Still, I could not just dismiss those alarums. At least, three of my friendly Cassandras were prominent Missourians. Perhaps they knew something I did not. To test their suspicions, I did a quick online search and got a jolt of confirmation. Some 18.400 web postings link “Ashcroft” and “Nazi,” at least 2/3 of which accuse Ashcroft of being a Nazi.
“Americans have every right to be up in arms against John and his Patriot Act,” reads a typical online jeremiad. “Many of us have been warning that it is a deadly assault on Constitutional rights--part of the broad fascistic pattern of the Bush junta.”
Another blames Congress for letting “Ashcroft walk all over the Constitution without stirring from their somnambulance as he and his gang of nazi/fascists began implementing Patriot II.” One site serves as an unofficial Ashcroft songbook. It posts the lyrics of more than 70 songs (and counting), all of which alert the innocent to the suspected reign of terror at Justice. Indeed, it must have taken an act of deep courage to pen a song like The Obnoxious Right Wing Nazi Pig Dog From Missouri (sung to tune of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy) knowing that the aforementioned “pig dog” was creating “Dachaus” for his political opponents.
I could not write off these suspicions as mere Internet blather. On one even more damning site, America’s “most trusted man,” the still-living Walter Cronkite, denounced Ashcroft as the “ Torquemada of American law.” Torquemada was the proto-fascist responsible, according to Cronkite, for the unholy methods of the Spanish Inquisition, “including torture and the burning of heretics - Muslims in particular.” Egads! No wonder my friends were upset.
As I learned in my investigation, progressives do not upset easily. During World War I, the Espionage and Sedition Acts allowed Woodrow Wilson’s progressive administration to prosecute those reckless enough to voice anti-war sentiments. Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs spent 10 years in prison as a result. He was one of 2,000 so prosecuted. During World War II, the always progressive FDR interned--by executive order--120,000 ethnic Japanese with the full-throated support of the ACLU.
My progressive friends uphold that finely tuned tradition of situational libertarianism even today. Although sensitive to civil rights, they are hardly squeamish about them. When, for instance, Ashcroft’s predecessor as Attorney General, Janet Reno, launched a tank assault on a religious community outside of Waco, killing 80 people, more than half of them minorities, 20 of them children, my friends kept silent. Ditto when Reno sent her troopers to liberate Elian at gunpoint from his Miami family and send him back to Cuba where, unlike America, no little boy goes without health coverage.
Closer to home, my friends prudently held their tongues when Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon imprisoned 15 “paper terrorists” in the late 1990s for conspiring to place a lien on the house of a state judge. Seven years in a state penitentiary may seem a little tough for a lien that was immediately expunged, but our local progressives understood that a line had to be drawn before these terrorists moved from paper to some more durable substance like poster board.
Given their historically measured response to issues of national security, I had to take my friends’ outsized anxieties about John Ashcroft seriously. How, I wondered, had Ashcroft managed to impose a law as frightening as the USA-Patriot Act on the American people?
Here is where things got sticky. It seems that Ashcroft did not exactly impose the law. Nor did Bush issue the act as an executive order. As it happens, in October 2001 Senators Clinton, Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman, Kennedy and 93 of their colleagues resoundingly passed the act through the Senate and into the law books for Ashcroft to enforce. The final Senate count, in fact, was 98 to 1.
I also learned that the federal Courts, even the liberal ones, have in almost every case supported Ashcroft’s interpretation of the anti-terrorism policy he was enforcing. Were the courts also part of this fascist junta, I wondered?
One other detail confused me. From what I gleaned in my investigation, Nazis are “National Socialists,” big-government statists with a liking for eugenics, vegetarianism, leather, and the homoerotic trappings of Germany’s pagan past and a loathing for smoking, gun ownership, and people of faith, Christians as well as Jews
In checking Ashcroft’s senate record, however, I discovered that the American Conservative Union (ACU) had awarded him a 98% rating. The rating acknowledged Ashcroft’s consistent votes in support of small, decentralized government, gun rights, America’s Judaeo-Christian traditions, Israel, life in all its manifestations, and even big tobacco.
Something wasn’t clicking here. In inquiring more deeply, I learned that his opponents had begun to label Ashcroft a “Nazi” even before September 11 th. The one scribe who had warned of another “ Dachau” wrote tellingly, “We tried to stop this religious fanatic fundamentalist from ever getting the job.” Walter Cronkite was only slightly more circumspect. “ What makes this administration's legal bloodthirstiness particularly alarming,” he writes in his denunciation of Ashcroft, “is the almost religious zeal that seems to drive it.” Even the composer of The Obnoxious Right Wing Nazi Pig Dog From Missouri penned his immortal lyrics before 9-11 due largely to Ashcroft’s unapologetic Christianity and the lyricist’s phobia about the same.
The celebrated logician Jesse Jackson helped me understand the progressive angst about a traditional Christian like Ashcroft. ”In South Africa, we call it apartheid,” warns Jackson. “In Nazi Germany, we'd call it fascism. Here in the United States, we call it conservatism.”
As I learned, Jackson was not the first person to yoke these two wildly dissimilar ideologies. As was often the case, the Soviets showed the way. When Nazi Germany turned on its Soviet ally in May 1941, American communists and fellow travelers shifted in a heartbeat from being anti-war to pro-war. From their perspective, those conservatives who continued to resist America’s entry into World War II (before Pearl Harbor) now had, of course, to be fascists. Through their influence in the media, the left made the so-called “brown smear” stick on a whole lot of innocent people. It worked so well they have continued to use it. John Ashcroft is merely its latest victim.
That’s a shame. No administration in world history has handled an internal threat of this magnitude with so much respect for civil liberties. No one has even come close. Hell, even Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War.
The Patriot Act and its offshoots are far from perfect, but at least Ashcroft is using the laws he has been handed against real terrorists, not “paper” ones. He does not deserve such silly abuse, especially from folks in a state whose motto is “Show me.”
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