Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A Bittersweet Farewell to John Ashcroft

Though his resignation was announced yesterday, John Ashcroft apparently handed the President his resignation letter on November 2nd, before the outcome of the election was known. I'm not too surprised that Ashcroft decided to resign his Attorney General post. Ashcroft has been unfairly maligned by the left ever since he took office, but the Patriot Act--combined with widespread ignorance about it--made him the left's favorite whipping boy. I can't count the number of times I've heard how Ashcroft has taken away our rights, but every time I've asked someone which rights, exactly, Ashcroft has taken from them, they have no answer. (Because there isn't any.)

The Power Line guys have a nice farewell to one of the unsung heroes of this administration. Here's an excerpt:

In one of the books about President Bush and the war--I thought it might be Woodward's Bush at War, but I can't find it there--there is a story about one of the first meetings that President Bush had with his senior advisers after the September 11 attacks. At some point, I remember it as the end of the meeting, Bush turned to Ashcroft and said: "Don't let it happen again, John."

I liked that a lot. Not, "Make sure we aren't doing any racial profiling, John." But "don't let it happen again." Ashcroft's mandate was clear, and he carried it out more successfully than, at that time, I would have considered possible. It hasn't happened again. For that, John Ashcroft deserves a big share of the credit. He has our respect and our thanks for a job superbly well done.

Carol Platt Liebau has some more kind words in her thank you to John Ashcroft.

Why has Attorney General Ashcroft been treated so unfairly? Two reasons: (1) His firm conservative views; and (2) His religiosity. He is a member of the Assembleys of God, and does not drink or dance. For his critics (many of whom are among the congenitally anti-religious), those facts alone are deeply threatening.

But the portrait that has been painted of him is deeply flawed and entirely misleading. Through my limited contact with him (I served as a consultant on Crime and Judiciary issues for his 1994 Senate campaign), I came to respect John Ashcroft deeply. He is a kind man with a sense of humor -- a good Dad, and a good husband.

. . .

It seems that John Ashcroft is one of those politicians who works hard and achieves much without any real recognition. In a sense, he's the anti-Clinton (who did little but achieved a lot of recognition along the way). He has stood by his religious principles and he has lived his faith.

John Ashcroft is not perfect. But America has been blessed to have him during these trying times, whether many Americans realize it or not. History will be kind to John Ashcroft.

My thanks, too, to Attorney General Ashcroft. I wonder how long before Alberto Gonzales gets shredded by the left.

UPDATE: Here's Attorney General Ashcroft's own farewell letter to the American people.

UPDATE II: There's a nice farewell message at the ACLJ website, too.

Attorney General Ashcroft's legacy is a complex one. In ordinary times, the accomplishments of the Department of Justice under his watch would be impressive. Violent crime is at a 30-year low, declining by 27 percent during the three-year period between 2001-2003. While a staunch supporter of gun ownership, Ashcroft also realized what many of his predecessors had not — that the way to stop violent crime is to enforce the gun laws that are on the books. Thus, federal gun-crime prosecutions are up over 75 percent in the last four years. In 2003 alone, more federal gun charges were brought than any prior year on record. The result was that 250,000 fewer gun crimes were committed in the last three years than in the prior three. Drug trafficking and human trafficking have been heavily targeted by the Justice Department, resulting in severe disruptions in criminal syndicates operating in both areas. The list goes on.

But, these are far from ordinary times. For all the extraordinary challenges he has faced, Ashcroft's leadership has been equal to the task. As much as anyone in government, Ashcroft accepted the challenge laid down by President Bush in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the U.S.: "Don't let this happen again." And he hasn't. He has recognized that the best defense to the threat of terrorism on our soil is a good offense. So he vigorously used multiple tools in his arsenal — from better surveillance, to increased criminal prosecutions, and simple enforcement of immigration laws — to keep Americans out of harm's way. Working cooperatively with other agencies of government, the Department of Justice, under Ashcroft's leadership, has taken the battle to the terrorists, freezing their assets in this country while disrupting their operations both here and abroad.

Has there been controversy? Most definitely. The mere mention of the Patriot Act sends shivers down the spine of the American Civil Liberties Union and its supporters. But Ashcroft's use of the enhanced law enforcement and intelligence tools provided by the Patriot Act has been as measured as it has been effective. When the ACLU sued Ashcroft in Detroit last year to stop him from enforcing Section 215 of the Patriot Act — which it derisively (and inaccurately) calls the "libraries" provisions — it learned he had never authorized a Section 215 order to be sought. Ashcroft, contrary to his critics' hype, realizes that liberty is a precious thing. But even more important, he recognizes that the most fundamental right that government can secure for the American people is the right to life. Without life, the liberties that his detractors so unfairly claim he has trampled are meaningless. By preventing a repeat of the mass murders committed on 9/11/01, Ashcroft has secured the blessings of liberty for both his countless friends and his many detractors. Whether those detractors ever step back and realize the freedom he has secured for them remains to be seen.


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