I'm from Missouri, born and bred, lived here my whole life, it's been where every bit of political activism I've ever done has been. And my growing up years in politics coincide very thoroughly with the era of John Ashcroft, aka "the Deacon:" Missouri state auditor 1972-1974, assistant Missouri attorney general 1974-76, Missouri attorney general 1976-1984, Missouri governor 1984-1992, Missouri US Senator 1994-2000. Those of us here in Missouri, especially those of us at all active in politics, saw an awful lot of "the Deacon" over those 28 years, and we know him well. I can't say that I know the man personally, myself, but I do know a bunch of people who do know him well, people who served with or under or alongside him in his various offices, people who've worked on his various campaigns, people who've worked with him on various charitable projects. And here's the thing that everybody who knows the man personally says about him, even his most determined political enemies: John David Ashcroft is flat-out one of the nicest guys in American politics.
This does not change the fact that his politics are deeply, deeply scary. John Ashcroft earned his nickname "the Deacon" not just because he is (or at least was? not sure if he still is) a deacon in an Assemblies of God church, but because in some ways, that's all he is. It is almost the entirety of his personality. When John Ashcroft uses the phrase "the founding fathers," he doesn't mean guys like Tom Paine and Ben Franklin and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, he means guys like John Winthrop and John Cotton and Roger Williams and John Endecott, people that most Americans have never even heard of -- the Puritan founding fathers, the organizers of the 1620-1640 Puritan Migration that provided North America with its first truly large-scale white population. No, contrary to what he feels obligated to say, Ashcroft's level of commitment to founding US principles like the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights is nominal, at best; this is a man who believes that the only point in there even being a United States of America is to be New Jerusalem, Christianity's global capital, one nation entirely under Jesus Christ. He pays lip service to the idea that nobody should be forced at gunpoint to be a Christian, but he sees absolutely nothing wrong, or even out of the ordinary, about all levels of government tilting the playing field that way as hard as possible. He is the absolute epitomé of the Taliban wing of the Republican Party, an absolutely dangerous man and we are all much safer now that he is retired from public office, hopefully this time for good.
But all of that being said, even people who understand everything about why the man's politics are so scary, those among them who know him personally are without exception huge fans of his friendliness, his personal manners, his personal style, his sincerity, his legendary honesty, and his long reputation for personal kindness. And knowing all of that makes this widely-linked headline over at Daily Kos all the more interersting: Elsinora, "John Ashcroft Yelled at Me Tonight. No Joke," under "State of the Nation," 4/22/08. Capsule summary: on a very liberal college campus, the 6-person Campus Republican club raised enough money from the surrounding town, $15,000, to pay John Ashcroft's speaker's fee to come and address an open meeting of the Campus Republicans. What they couldn't have known when the issued the invitation and he accepted was that he would be appearing only a couple of weeks after ABC News broke the story that John Ashcroft is a war criminal: Jan Crawford Greenburg et al, "Sources: Top Bush Advisors Approved 'Enhanced Interrogation'," ABC News, 4/9/08. So when he walked onto a very liberal college campus, it is entirely unsurprising that almost all of the questions he faced in the Q&A session after his talk were about torture. And something truly remarkable happened: he lost his temper, completely lost it. And that's something that John Ashcroft is legendary for never doing, certainly never for so long, and absolutely certainly never in public.
Something very weird is going on here. And if John Ashcroft remembers his time as a prosecutor, and reflects honestly on how his own behavior resembles that of suspects he's held in custody before he rose to the top, even he must recognize something about himself: if any of the co-conspirators is going to crack, going to confess and testify against the others, it's him. He is clearly losing it. So I'm hoping that those of us who'd like to see almost the entire top ranks of the Bush administration brought up on charges somewhere, ideally at Nuremberg or The Hague but at the very least in front of a US federal court, on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges, not just liberal activists but some very serious and non-partisan constitutional scholars, I'm hoping that we manage to keep the pressure on him about this. He is, after all, the one who is also reported, in the same news coverage, to have been the only conspirator to express moral qualms about this at the time. And now he's the one who's acting out, emotionally, in ways he's never done before. Any police interrogator, any prosecutor, would tell you what that means: for now, stop questioning the rest of them; lean on him, because he's the one who's about to crack. And if he cracks, it'll blow the whole case wide open.