November 10, 2004


Ashcroft Wielded Rare Power as Attorney General: The outgoing Cabinet member has critics and admirers, but he was determined to change the mission of the Justice Department after 9/11. (Richard B. Schmitt, November 10, 2004, LA Times)

In his five-page, handwritten letter of resignation to President Bush, U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft declared that "the objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."

Whether that turns out to be true or not, Americans are going to be debating the cost of Ashcroft's efforts in the war on terror for years to come.

To the faithful, Ashcroft was a hero, keeping the nation safe by averting a second terrorist attack on his watch. Along the way, he oversaw a drop in the nation's violent crime rate to a 30-year low and spearheaded an aggressive crackdown on corporate criminals. The longtime National Rifle Assn. member even managed to dramatically increase the number of gun prosecutions.

To his critics, Ashcroft personified how the nation had veered wildly off course, sacrificing fundamental values for a degree of national security that in many ways is illusory and uncertain. Along the way, he alienated civil-liberties groups, as well as conservative thinkers, judges, and — perhaps to his ultimate detriment — some of the president's top political aides.

"I think John Ashcroft is one of the most powerful — if not the most powerful — and effective attorneys general in the history of this nation," said Viet Dinh, a Georgetown University law professor, who helped draft the Patriot Act as a top Ashcroft aide in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Ashcroft is exhibit A in the case for the wisdom President Bush displayed in putting former governors and chiefs of staff in charge of Cabinet departments. It gave him the strongest Cabinet since at least George Washington.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 10, 2004 10:10 AM

He wasted valuable time and money on nonsense like chasing down Internet porn. And his shenanigans like covering up the Neo-Classical statuary and holding in-office prayer sessions made him a laughing-stock, imperiling the serious work that had to be done.

There are plenty of people out there who can do the good stuff without the grist for Jay Leno.

Posted by: Bart at November 10, 2004 12:00 PM


You think Leno matters more than good government? A tad shallow, no?

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 1:42 PM

In American politics, you can get away with being an extremist, a crook, a liar, an adulterer, a pompous ass, but you cannot get away with appearing stupid.

Ashcroft's actions were precisely that. What sort of an idiot covers up neo-Classical statuary? We've got a terrorist problem and he's concerned with Internet porn? He was easy to lampoon as stupid, detracting from serious business.

In politics image often transcends reality. Just ask Dan Quayle.

Posted by: Bart at November 10, 2004 3:16 PM


A polite one. Calvin Coolidge, FDR, Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush were all considered stupid and easily won and won again. Stupidity is a selling point in American politics.

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 3:19 PM

'Since at least George Washington'?

Are you counting Parliament prior to that?

Posted by: ratbert at November 10, 2004 4:23 PM

Check around on that statue coverup story. It's pretty clear it never happened.

Posted by: erp at November 10, 2004 7:05 PM


Suggesting that a Cabinet with only five members and a vp that included Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, and Randolph is nothing to shake a stick at.

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 7:29 PM

None of those people were considered stupid by ordinary Americans. Dan Quayle was. Guys who cover up neo-Classical statuary are too.

Posted by: Bart at November 11, 2004 1:51 PM


They all were considered so and were indeed stupider thyan their opponents. The dumber candidate always wins the presidency.

Posted by: oj at November 11, 2004 2:43 PM