John Ashcroft, soon to be our top enforcer of civil rights statutes, was proud to deliver the 1999 commencement address at Bob Jones University.

You know about BJU’s by-now-famous ban on inter-racial dating – it was this policy that led the United States Supreme Court in 1983 to uphold the revocation of its tax-exempt status. But perhaps you missed the description of BJU’s biology major in the 2001 course catalog:

The challenging field of biology, the study of living things, is a natural place for the Christian. Science, as understood by the public, is largely infiltrated and controlled by the godless ideology of evolutionism. Rather than worshipping the anatomical key as does the unbeliever, the Christian sees in the study of biology the evidence of an infinitely wise Creator. Bob Jones University offers a major in biology on a firm philosophical basis that combines scientific excellence with an emphasis on the Biblical account of creation.Believing that God still calls Christians to “subdue the earth and have dominion over it,” the biology faculty trains Christian young people to exercise their God-given ability to study the creation and subdue it and, thus,bring praise to the Creator.’

That Bob Jones chose Ashcroft as its commencement speaker, and that Ashcroft chose to accept the honor, and the honorary degree,is no slur on Ashcroft. This country is the better for its wide range of viewpoints, from one extreme to another. But as a uniter-not-a-divider Attorney General?

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert noted last week that ‘Mr.Ashcroft gave a friendly interview to Southern Partisan magazine a couple of years ago, praising it for helping to ‘set the record straight’ about issues related to the Civil War. Southern Partisan just happens to be a rabid neo-Confederate publication that ritually denounces Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and other champions of freedom and tolerance in America.’

One hopes that Ashcroft, if confirmed, will confound those of his critics who believe he has a thing against appointing black judges. As a senator in 1999, he spearheaded the successful drive against Ronnie White – the first black justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. This was the first time in nearly half a century, the Alliance for Justice notes,according to Herbert, that the full Senate had voted down a district court nominee.

Senator Ashcroft and Jesse Helms were the only two Senators on the 18-person Foreign Relations Committee to vote against confirmation of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxemburg. Ambassador Hormel is openly gay.

How is the younger Bush’s choice of Ashcroftsupposed to help unite rather than divide?

According to the January 8 issue of Time, ‘when he served as Missouri’s attorney general in the 1980s, Ashcroft persuaded the Reagan Administration to oppose school-desegregation plans in St. Louis, then used the issue to win the governorship in 1984.’ Time refers to ‘Ashcroft’s horrendous record on race’ and calls his positions on civil rights issues ‘about as sensitive as a hammer blow to the head.’

There is widespread evidence that African-Americans were discriminated against at Florida polling places this year. Will they feel confident that our next attorney general will work hard to assure them the equal protection under the law?

People for the American Way leads off its detailed Ashcroft report with this quote:

“There are voices in the RepublicanParty today
who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation,
who counsel compromise. I stand here today to
reject those deceptions. If ever there was a time
to unfurl the banner of unabashed conservatism,
it is now.”

John D. Ashcroft
Human Events, April 10, 1998

The goal of all this protest and criticism is not ‘to undermine the Bush presidency,’ as Republican spinsters would have you think. Nor is it just more ‘whining’from ‘sore losers’ – two phrases that apparently tested well, aimed at stifling further discussion of what happened in Florida. (You’re still talking about that? Whitewater was worth talking about for years, but evidence of a stolen presidential election? Will the media get over it, for crying out loud, and find something important to investigate?)

Rather, the goal is to press the President-elect to hie to his better nature, and honor his pledge to be President of ‘all the people,’ a uniter, not a divider. In the confirmation hearings, Senator Ashcroft may set all fears to rest, or at least enough of them. He should be given a full and respectful hearing. If not, Bush should find someone for this job who would draw the kind of warm bipartisan praise that Dr. Paige, his Education Secretary nominee, has. That’s asking a lot; but in a nation of so many talented people,it’s not asking too much.


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