Almost as soon as George W. Bush announced his choice for attorney general-former Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri-liberal interest groups unloaded. "An astonishingly bad nomination," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, which quickly joined with other liberal organizations to mobilize against it. Conservatives meanwhile began the new year by preparing to defend Mr. Ashcroft's nomination in what could become Mr. Bush's first major political battle. Mr. Ashcroft, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and a former attorney general and governor of Missouri, was elected to the Senate in 1994. During his term, he was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he took conservative positions on a wide variety of issues, including affirmative action and antitrust. He championed judicial restraint, opposed Clinton nominees on philosophical grounds, and was a sharp critic of the Clinton Justice Department. He also proposed and saw adopted the "Charitable Choice" provision of 1996 welfare-reform legislation that allows for government funding of faith-based anti-poverty groups. In the impeachment battle, he voted to convict President Clinton. Liberal groups such as PAW had hoped that Mr. Bush would select someone less conservative than Mr. Ashcroft to run the Justice Department. Mr. Bush considered Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, but selected Mr. Ashcroft after conservatives questioned Mr. Racicot's commitment to halting abortion and promoting school choice. For liberals, Mr. Bush's decision to go with an unblinking conservative-indeed someone described in news accounts as "a Christian conservative"-is their worst nightmare come true. As attorney general, Mr. Ashcroft would administer a large and far-flung department (more than 100,000 employees) that includes six litigating divisions, the offices of solicitor general and legal counsel, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Marshal Service, not to mention the U.S. Attorneys. Mr. Ashcroft would be able not just to nudge the Justice Department in conservative directions but to help Mr. Bush fulfill his campaign pledge to nominate judges committed to judicial restraint. It's unusual for senators to oppose a former or current member nominated for the Cabinet, and Mr. Ashcroft appears to have created no enemies, and many friends, during his term of office. "I'd be surprised if he wasn't confirmed," said John Yoo, who served on the Judiciary Committee staff in 1995-96 and is now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Still Mr. Yoo, like other supporters of the Ashcroft nomination, isn't surprised that liberal groups are joining in opposition. Liberals hope to make an issue out of then-Sen. Ashcroft's successful effort to defeat Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White's nomination for a federal judgeship. In 1999, Judge White's judicial nomination became the first to be defeated on the floor of the Senate-the vote broke along party lines, 54 to 45-since Robert H. Bork's in 1987. Mr. Ashcroft says he opposed the White nomination for two reasons: the judge's consistent bias against the death penalty, and opposition to his confirmation by law enforcement groups in Missouri. Mr. Ashcroft, then facing a stiff reelection battle with Gov. Mel E. Carnahan, persuaded his fellow Missouri senator, Christopher Bond, to withdraw his support for Judge White. On the day of the floor vote, he argued the case against the judge to the GOP caucus. Republican senators previously supportive of the nominee changed their votes out of deference to the wishes of the home-state senators. Judge White happens to be black, and his supporters claimed that Mr. Ashcroft led the opposition to him for racial reasons. Some even claimed he was a racist, and they are now reviving the charge: Nan Aron of Alliance for Justice said that Mr. Ashcroft engaged "in a hate crime against an eminently qualified African American solely for political gain." Mr. Ashcroft convincingly maintains that his opposition to Judge White had nothing to do with race. He points out that he supported 90 percent of Mr. Clinton's black judicial nominees and signed laws in Missouri recognizing Martin Luther King's birthday as a state holiday and Scott Joplin's house as a historic site. He has consistently criticized liberal judicial activists, whatever their skin color. Though no Democratic senator has announced opposition to Mr. Ashcroft, several have been sharply critical of his effort to block Judge White. A contentious confirmation battle might not succeed in blocking the Ashcroft nomination, since Republicans will have a one-vote edge in the new Senate. But it would, as Mr. Yoo pointed out, "put a shot over the bow of the conservative legal movement. For liberals, this would be spring training to prepare them for Bush's first Supreme Court nominee."
-Terry Eastland was the Justice Department's spokesman during the Reagan administration Heartland reformer
Likely pick for Office of Faith-Based Action has a record of Bush-style compassion
by Russ Pulliam
The one new White House office promised by the Bush administration, the Office of Faith-Based Action, was still without a head on Jan. 3. Reports, though, are that Mr. Bush will place Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith in charge of the project to develop compassionate conservatism and help faith-based initiatives resolve serious social problems. In laying the groundwork for this new federal policy, the incoming president met late last month in Austin with Mr. Goldsmith and two dozen religious leaders. The discussion was nonpolitical; these initiatives transcend partisan schemes. The compassion in them comes from individuals who work with low-income families and are usually motivated by biblical faith to help those in need. The conservative side of the equation comes from the experience of failed government programs and the success of private initiatives when it comes to drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and other social problems. As mayor of Indianapolis, Mr. Goldsmith tried to get government out of the way of faith-based programs and to help them achieve their goals. He formalized this attempt with a program called the Front Porch Alliance, which linked ministries with opportunities for service. Mr. Bush had a similar experience as governor of Texas. In his first term, state government officials threatened to shut down the Teen Challenge drug rehabilitation effort on the grounds that regulations demanded that counselors have state licenses (WORLD, July 29, 1995). The counselors had something better, recovery from drug addiction through commitment to Jesus Christ and a remarkable track record of success in helping other addicts recover. Governor Bush recognized the problem. His administration established a separate set of criteria for faith-based programs like Teen Challenge, recognizing that licenses and academic degrees are not as important as the mixture of personal faith, practical experience, and results. Traditionally liberals have claimed the compassion label, charging conservatives with hard-heartedness for questioning the wisdom of expansion of government benefits. If compassionate conservatism catches hold on the national level, liberal compassion claims could be challenged, with both parties competing for the best way to encourage faith-based groups to tackle social issues. But the stories behind many faith-based initiatives are so compelling that even jaded journalists have trouble considering them to be politics as usual. When a man helps an accomplice to his father's murder get out of prison, that is a kind of compassion that cannot be contained in a government program or political party. At age 15, Tim Streett saw robbers murder his father in his northeastside Indianapolis family driveway. Mr. Streett became a witness at the murder trials, hoping he could put the matter behind him after the convictions of the defendants. Stephen Goldsmith was prosecutor for Marion County and Indianapolis at the time. Through a long spiritual journey and commitment to Jesus Christ, Mr. Streett became involved with a racial reconciliation ministry in Chicago. He also came to a point of forgiving his father's killers. The forgiveness he had known from Jesus Christ laid the foundation for him to forgive the offenders, including Don Cox, who supplied the gun and getaway car. Mr. Streett met with Mr. Cox in state prison in 1997, developing a friendship and then pleading with public officials for a reduced prison sentence for Mr. Cox and his recent assignment to a work release center in Indianapolis. Among those who heard from him was then-Mayor Goldsmith, the former prosecutor who had put more people in prison than anyone in the history of Indiana. With the normal instincts of any former prosecutor, Mr. Goldsmith balked at the request for support but was moved to join in the plea after hearing Mr. Streett's testimony about his forgiveness. Tim Streett is now part of another kind of faith-based initiative. He is the minister of Urban Outreach for Indianapolis's East 91st Street Christian Church, which partners with several predominantly black churches, the Community Resurrection Fellowship, to sponsor the Jehovah-Jireh (the Lord provides) Community Center in the inner city (see WORLD, Dec. 18, 1999). The suburban church is physically and economically a long way from the center. But the kind of Christian faith that Mr. Streett is putting into practice has a way of building bridges over canyons that otherwise seem too wide to cross.
-Russ Pulliam is an Indianapolis columnist Carefully Matched
Bush's Cabinet is ideologically balanced, but social conservatives are in the right places
by Bob Jones
Just three weeks after officially becoming president-elect, George W. Bush has managed to fill out his Cabinet, winning grudging respect from Washington pros accustomed to a selection process that typically drags on for months. The mainstream press, meanwhile, is according its own share of grudging respect to the new president. Pundits and reporters are wowed less by the speed of the process than by its sweep. CNN, noting that the new Cabinet boasts "two African-Americans, one Asian-American, one Arab-American, two Hispanics, four women, and one Democrat," concluded that Mr. Bush had assembled "a slice of America." And the liberal Scripps-Howard News Service had to admit that the new administration could boast "the most ethnically representative Cabinet ever." Though evangelical Christians seldom make anyone's list of downtrodden minorities, they too got a "representative" very near the top of the Bush Cabinet. But conservatives-Christian and otherwise-had more than just John Ashcroft to cheer about. The new Cabinet contains as many social conservatives as any in memory, and the more liberal members are, for the most part, safely tucked away in positions that offer little opportunity to influence social policy. Besides Mr. Ashcroft, the most thorough, all-around conservatives are probably Spencer Abraham (Energy), Linda Chavez (Labor), Mel Martinez (Housing and Urban Development), and Tommy Thompson (Health and Human Services). In domestic-issues Cabinet meetings, those five should be able to more than hold their own against three members thought to be more socially liberal: Norman Mineta (Transportation), Gale Norton (Interior), and Christine Todd Whitman (EPA). The social views of two other appointees-Rod Paige at Education and Ann Veneman at Agriculture-are largely unknown. In a Bush administration, the Cabinet balance could prove crucial. Observers expect the new president to act as a CEO, allowing his advisers to debate the pros and cons of an issue before he personally decides which position will prevail. Thus, a token conservative-even in a high-profile position like attorney general-would be largely ineffective in a majority-moderate Cabinet. Instead, just the opposite appears true: The advice of outspoken social liberals like Ms. Whitman will likely be drowned out by a core group of passionate conservatives. Of those conservatives, Mr. Thompson at HHS will have the most direct impact on cultural issues. The department's $423 billion annual budget includes such perennially controversial areas as the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medicare, Medicaid, and Head Start. Mr. Thompson, a dedicated pro-lifer, will have ample opportunity to advance his beliefs. He could, for instance, limit or ban the abortion pill RU-486, develop more widespread abstinence education programs, and guard against Medicaid-funded abortions. That prospect, understandably, has the abortion industry on red alert. "In selecting Gov. Thompson to head HHS, President Bush has chosen one of this nation's staunchest opponents of a woman's right to choose to head the agency with the greatest impact on women's health," fumed Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League. Ms. Whitman, the former New Jersey governor, is, in many ways, Mr. Thompson's polar opposite. A staunch abortion defender who went so far as to veto a state law banning the grisly partial-birth procedure, she was frequently mentioned for a number of top administration posts, including vice president. Instead, Mr. Bush relegated her to the EPA, where her impact on the abortion issue will be close to zero. "He took note of what people's area of authority would be, and really matched them up carefully," said Marty Dannenfelser, vice president for public affairs at the Family Research Council. "Christie Whitman is not someone we were happy about, but it doesn't appear that she'll have a lot of impact on the issues we care about." Indeed, even the president's more socially liberal picks appear to be conservative in the areas over which they'll have jurisdiction. Ms. Whitman has drawn the ire of environmentalists, who criticize her efforts to free New Jersey businesses from a crush of environmental regulations. Ditto Ms. Norton at Interior, a protégé of former secretary James Watt and an advocate of more efficient uses of public lands. Even the new president's No. 1 cabinet pick, Colin Powell as secretary of state, gets generally good marks from conservatives. "There are people who tend to see Colin Powell as a moderate Republican," acknowledged Al Felzenberg, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "But if I were Saddam Hussein, I would not be happy seeing Colin Powell back again. I would not be sitting in Baghdad going, 'How does Colin Powell feel about abortion?'"