But it's the President-elect himself who has struck the worst blow against reconciliation and civility. By naming Sen. John Ashcroft, a hard-core right-winger to become the nation's chief law-enforcement officer, Bush ensures an ugly confirmation battle along ideological, race and party lines.
The nomination of Ashcroft, an ideologue whose record has earned him perfect scores from major ultra-conservative organizations, comes just when questions have been raised about fairness and impartiality at the highest levels of the justice system. It comes at a time when racial profiling and systemic flaws in death-penalty cases have captured public attention. The Ashcroft nomination confirms the fears of minorities and others skeptical about Bush's alleged moderation. It belies any notion of compassionate conservatism.
As it becomes increasingly clear that treatment and prevention are key while the drug war is an unmitigated disaster, Bush wants an attorney general who has expressed incredible and less-than-compassionate sentiments on the subject: ``A government which takes the resources that we would devote toward interdiction of drugs and converts them to treatment . . . and assures citizens that if you're involved in drugs, we'll be there to catch you with a treatment center and also implements a clean-needle program -- is a government that accommodates us at our lowest and least . . . ''
After an election that exposed racial divisions like no other recent event, a GOP president who would appeal to minorities chooses someone with an appalling civil-rights record to enforce the laws. Ashcroft's racial insensitivity include heaping praise on Southern Partisan, a magazine he lauded for ``defending Southern patriots,'' including Jefferson Davis.
More recently, Ashcroft mounted a successful one-man campaign to deny a federal judgeship to Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White. He attacked White, who is African American, for being ``soft on criminals,'' meaning apparently that White wasn't as eager to approve the execution of possibly unfairly convicted or innocent defendants as swiftly as Ashcroft would want.
The Ashcroft nomination has answered in the negative a crucial question raised by the election's outcome: Could Bush free himself from the death-grip of the right-wing faction of his party enough to be a leader for the entire nation?
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald