Being John Ashcroft

Jesus loves you, John Ashcroft. This you know, for the Bible told you so. And they hate you for it, these liberal heathens, these infidels of the media elite, these secular humanists.

You were expecting this, for it was written long ago: The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

They mock your piety, call you Ned Flanders and worse. Racist. Homophobe. American Taliban. You pay them no mind. As per the Lord’s example, you turn the other cheek.

“For every crucifixion there is a resurrection,” you say.

You were born, or more accurately, begat in 1942, son of an Assemblies of God preacher man. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and Pat Robertson are among your brothers and sisters in the Assembly of God.

In accordance with your faith, you are your own preacher. As such, you are a faith healer.

You speak in tongues. You forswear all the vices of sin and temptation: drinking, smoking, pornography, homosexuality and dancing. Yes, dancing.

You’ve always kept busy because idle hands are the devil’s playthings. You graduated from Yale in 1964, with honors. You earned a law degree from the University of Chicago in the Summer of Love, the year of the Lord 1967. You went on to teach business law at Southwest Missouri State University, for which you were given an occupational deferment that kept you from serving in Vietnam.

It was not your calling to fight the godless communists. No, the Lord needed you right here at home, schooling God’s children in the intricacies of corporate jurisprudence.

Soon you answered an even higher calling: politics. God smiled on you, John Ashcroft, and in 1976 you were narrowly elected state attorney general, a post you would hold for eight years, followed by another eight as governor and six more as a U.S. senator.

Every time you were sworn in to office, your father anointed you with cooking oil, just like David in the Bible. When you were sworn in as attorney general, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas did the honors.

Your tenure as governor of Missouri was wrought with cruel secular ironies. You were unsuccessfully sued by a fetus, whose lawyers claimed was illegally imprisoned in the uterus of a criminal mother. Which is ironic given your outspoken opposition to abortion.

Life, as you believe, may begin at conception, but apparently due process does not. You also fought a court-ordered school desegregation plan because, you said, it imposed an unfair tax burden on the citizens of Missouri.

But you were not a racist, you insisted. In fact, your daddy made sure to turn you away from prejudice by making you listen to Mahalia Jackson and read black novelist Richard Wright when you were a boy. Furthermore, your parents let black guests rake the leaves in the backyard, just as they would any white guests.

In A.D. 2000, the Lord tested you yet again, pitting you in a fight for your political life against a dead man. You were running for reelection to Congress against Mel Carnahan. There was a bitter political rivalry between you two, extending all the way back to the days when you were governor and he was lieutenant governor, and you went out of your way to clarify in the courts that you did not automatically cede gubernatorial power to him whenever you left the state.

The Senate race was as tight as it was ugly. Citing your praise of the Southern Confederacy, Carnahan’s people inferred to voters that you had a problem with black people. Your people responded by circulating photos of Carnahan in blackface. And then, less than a month before the election, Carnahan died in a plane crash, along with his son and a trusted aide. The Missouri governor appointed his wife, Jean, to stand in his stead in the election.

Who could vote against a mourning widow and mother? Almost nobody. You took it like a man. Even your enemies conceded that. You did not challenge the election, even though you had numerous grounds to do so.

When your appointment as the nation’s top cop squeaked by Congress in a 52-48 vote, you went on a charm offensive to cleanse yourself of the twin stains of racism and homophobia your critics painted you with, meeting with Log Cabin Republicans and speaking out forcefully against racial profiling.

And then 9/11 hit like an atom bomb, catching your unawares Department of Justice with its pants around its ankles. You acted quickly to rid the nation of the evildoers who walk among us, hiding behind the Constitution.

Your response was eerily Orwellian. Thousands were rounded up and detained, languishing in secret detentions for months, unofficially charged with the crime of being an Arab at the wrong place at the wrong time.

You refused to say who any of these people were or why they were being held. And when the press started to look into these detentions, you told your lawyers at the Department of Justice to do whatever was legally permissible to avoid complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.

Out of the valley of the shadow of 9/11 you emerged with the USA Patriot Act, which unshackled law enforcement from the dictates of the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, household papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, will not be violated.”

This fundamental principle of American liberty, you said in effect, was a relic from another era, like the “rotary telephone.” Which is odd considering that only a few years ago, as a congressman, you wrote an impassioned defense of online privacy entitled “Keep Big Brother’s Hands off the Internet.”

“The Clinton administration would like the federal government to have the right to read any international or domestic computer communications,” you wrote, adding, ” … the state’s interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizen’s Bill of Rights.” Apparently the Lord works in mysteriously partisan ways.

There has been much hue and cry over the Patriot Act. The provision that allows federal agents to monitor which books you check out of the library or purchase at the bookstore strikes most everyone as baldly un-American. More than 150 local governments — and the state legislatures of Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii — have passed resolutions condemning all or parts of the Patriot Act.

Last month the House of Representatives, that bastion of liberalism, voted 309-118 to suspend federal funding for so-called “sneak and peak” search warrants that allow government agents to slip into people’s homes when they’re away and rifle through their belongings and the contents of their hard drives.

That’s a lot of doubting Thomases. And that’s a problem as we ramp up to an election year wherein your boss will run on his strength and efficacy as the commander in chief in the War on Terror.

And so you are taking your case on the road, explaining to the American people the necessity of the Patriot Act. Curiously, it would seem that only the people in important swing states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, need convincing.

Even more curious, these speaking appearances are not open public forums. Rather, they entail carefully chosen sympathetic audiences: the archconservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute in Washington last Tuesday or a roomful of regional cop brass and prosecutors at the National Constitution Center last Wednesday.

Just 100 yards away a true American patriot, Benjamin Franklin, surely must have been rolling over in his grave at the corner of Fifth and Arch streets. He is the man, after all, who said: He who gives up essential liberty for a little temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security.