First blood: The fight over Bush's Cabinet

The left's efforts to tar and feather Ashcroft and other conservative Bush appointees are as unfair as the smear campaign waged against Clarence Thomas 10 years ago.

Published January 8, 2001 6:29PM (EST)

An editorial cartoon by Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad that ran in the paper last week summarizes in the most succinct fashion the ugly spectacle unfolding on the left side of the political spectrum, where a compulsive frenzy has seized opponents of the new Bush administration and driven them off the deep end. The cartoon, titled "Some of Bush's Cabinet Choices," depicts five older white males (one actually doddering) whom the artist has dressed in suits and dunce caps. A sixth male, completing the lineup, is in full Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Even the terminally challenged will get it: Republicans are racist idiots.

Does it ever occur to liberals who dream up and publish this poisonous stuff that they have become the perfect mirror-images of what they profess to fear: hatemongers, witch hunters and racists? (Would the L.A. Times even consider printing a cartoon that showed six female, black and Hispanic Bush Cabinet nominees wearing dunce caps?) In our politically corrected culture, there is a license to assault only whites and males in this way.

Conrad, by the way, is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Does character assassination, even as low as this, have an impact? You bet. A liberal friend of mine -- a Hollywood person who wouldn't be able to tell you the name of the governor of California let alone the attorney general nominee -- called me the other day to say, "I hear Bush has nominated a Ku-Kluxer to his Cabinet."

These are the facts: Bill Clinton sent 28 African-American nominees to the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation as federal judges. One nomination was withdrawn. Of the other 27, Ashcroft voted to confirm 26. As Missouri governor, he signed into law a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King Day, made the home of musician Scott Joplin an historic site (the only one in Missouri honoring an African-American), created an award honoring black educator George Washington Carver, named a black woman to a state judgeship and led the fight to save Lincoln University, which was founded by black soldiers.

As for qualifications: Casting aside the fact that Democrats lost the election and that the Republicans who won have different views about policy, John Ashcroft was attorney general and then governor of Missouri. He was a United States senator and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for six years. Ashcroft is an honest man and an ethical public servant. He has never been accused of obstructing justice or failing to investigate situations in which, say, a vice president appeared to at least three different Justice Department officials to have lied under oath. He has no baggage like Janet Reno's deadly Waco fiasco. He never had sex with a college-age government employee, or any government employee. He never committed perjury before a grand jury. He was never accused of accepting or making bribes or misusing government funds, as at least three of the Clinton administration's Cabinet members were accused of doing. In a lifetime of public service, he has never displayed racial, gender or ethnic prejudice towards any group. What is there in this man's record to which one could reasonably or properly (as opposed to politically) object?

To oppose a nominee because you disagree with his or her political positions -- e.g., they are conservative -- is one thing. To slander them as bad human beings, as racists, homophobes and misogynists, is quite another. This is the kind of gutter attack that was on display during the presidential campaign in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) reprehensible TV ads, which insinuated that George W. Bush defended the men who lynched James Byrd Jr. The NAACP is quickly becoming the National Association for Defaming Other People.

The left, of course, is aware of the bad company it is keeping as it conducts witch hunts of its opponents on the basis of stray quotes, garbled positions and remote associations. So it often pretends it is doing something else. Thus NAACP president Kweisi Mfume claimed to be against Ashcroft only because he had "consistently opposed civil rights." Mfume said that as a senator Ashcroft "received a grade of 'F' on each of the last NAACP report cards because of his anti-progressive voting record, having voted to approve only three of 15 legislative issues supported by the NAACP and other civil rights groups."

Among the 12 legislative issues where Ashcroft and the NAACP diverge are President Clinton's impeachment (two of the 12 votes were impeachment related), expanding Washington's role in education, raising the minimum wage and requiring gun show background checks. If you disagree with our positions, Mfume might as well have said, we'll tag you as a racist.

The smear attacks against all of Bush's conservative nominees -- Ashcroft, Gale Norton as interior secretary and Linda Chavez as labor secretary -- have been as bad as anything Sen. Joseph McCarthy ever attempted, and with even less foundation (e.g., the vast majority of McCarthy's targets actually were pro-Soviet, whereas the targets of the "civil rights" crowd are not the least bit anti-black).

The gay left's attack on secretary of the interior nominee Norton is an extreme instance of this method. Norton is a libertarian who hasn't an anti-gay bone in her body. The secretary of the interior has little or no relation to specifically gay issues. But the gay left, as part of the lynch mob coalition, is out to do their part by attempting to destroy her public career. Why the gay left? Because there's a pretext available. She defended a law in Colorado (the famous Amendment 2), which the gay left didn't like. The talking heads of the gay left are accusing Norton of supporting legislation that would take away the civil rights of gays. But this is a lie, and the gay left knows it. The issue in Colorado was not over civil rights but over special rights, exclusive to gays (as opposed to heterosexuals).

What's wrong with special rights? Well, until the special rights crowd came along, every sexually transmitted disease was treated with standard public health methods like testing and contact tracing. But the gay left demanded special rights for gays not to be tested, and not to have their sexual partners warned after they were diagnosed with AIDS. They demanded the right to keep the public sexual gymnasia that functioned as incubators of infection open as centers of "gay liberation." The consequence? An epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of young Americans, mostly gay, and is still going strong.

A Jan. 2 column in the Los Angeles Times by Clinton shill Robert Scheer had this to say about the attorney general nominee: "Ashcroft's hysterical attacks on Clinton [Scheer is referring to the fact that Ashcroft supported impeachment] and his fervent embrace of the right-wing social agenda led him to explore a bid for the presidency as the ultra-right alternative to Bush." (Scheer himself is an ultra leftist, a former member of a group that followed the teachings of Lin Piao, author of "Long Live People's War!") Like the other character assassins in the pack, Scheer's motives are transparent. He doesn't like the election result and is determined to bloody the administration and weaken it from the start.

As former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich explains in a Dec. 29 essay in the New York Times, this is all part of a "civil war" that the left has been waging for decades. Reich traces it back to 1987, "when Ronald Reagan's nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate after an extensive media campaign by his opponents." It was more than a media campaign. It was a witch hunt that involved rifling through Bork's garbage to find personally incriminating material, subpoenaing his bills from a video store to see if he could be accused of watching pornographic tapes and the telling of bald-faced lies by Teddy Kennedy and Gregory Peck -- the latter in TV ads that depicted Bork as a heartless reactionary who wanted to take away the rights of every vulnerable group in the population. Conceded Reich: "George W. Bush may sincerely want to 'reach out' to congressional Democrats, but the Democrats don't want to reach back."

The coalition that has geared up to misrepresent, tar and feather Bush's conservative nominees is exactly the same lynch mob that conducted the campaign of character assassination against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas 10 years ago -- the worst attack of its type in American history. The coalition includes the whole familiar civil-rights gang, including Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, Ralph Neas of People For The American Way, Kate Michelman of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action Group (NARAL), Patricia Ireland of NOW, Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and NAACP's Kweisi Mfume.

A decade has passed since the attack on Thomas, and people ought to be able to see by now that these racial and sexual McCarthyites are unprincipled hypocrites and liars. It is now obvious, for example, that every charge they made against Thomas to smear his reputation was made in bad faith. At the time Thomas was nominated to a seat on the nation's high court, he had been an upstanding civil servant for 20 years. He had risen to great heights from great adversity, growing up in a dirt shack in Georgia when the South was still segregated. In all that time he had not had a single blemish on his public record. But that didn't faze the Democrats who went straight for his jugular.

The pretext employed in an effort to derail Thomas' confirmation was that in a private conversation 10 years earlier, he had used off-color language to a Yale civil rights lawyer. Just think of it! The left was beside itself. They said he had committed an outrage against a helpless female who was unable to speak up for herself. They said Thomas had abused his position as her employer and also his power. They said he had committed a crime against all women. They called for his head in the name of all women. In the end, they were unable to defeat his nomination, but they succeeded in staining his reputation and neutralizing him as a public force -- which is their agenda against Bush and his nominees today.

But the same lynch mob reacted very differently a few years after the Thomas episode when Bill Clinton was caught having actual sex with a White House employee. His victim was not a Yale lawyer named Anita Hill with an expertise in civil rights, but a confused, college-age intern. Clinton was also accused of groping a widow, demanding a sexual favor from a state employee and forcing himself on a campaign worker. Unlike Thomas, who refused to attack the character of his accuser, Clinton and his agents systematically set out to destroy the reputations of each of his female accusers as they came forward to speak about their abuse. He even went so far as to lie in a court of law to carry out that assault.

But when confronted with Clinton's sexual abuses, the same pack of feminists, civil rights activists and liberals who had slandered Thomas, said: "It's OK." "He's just a man." "Boys will be boys." They did more than give Clinton a pass. They leaped to his defense. Congressional Democrats who preened themselves on being the social conscience of the nation went to the wall to keep a guilty male in power. They said: "It's only sex."

Through a long process of self-degradation, a once venerable civil rights coalition has transformed itself into a national shakedown operation -- one that specializes in witch hunts for the Democratic Party. (A witch hunt, after all, is merely a form of political shakedown). The process is simple. Like Sen. McCarthy, you dig up an interview that someone may have given to an obscure magazine a long time ago. Then you find a quote from an article that appeared in that magazine, in an even more distant past, that seems on the surface offensive. You use this to accuse your target of being a closet "racist." Repeat the lie and the word "racist" enough times, and you will find millions of half-awake citizens who will soak up the message sooner or later. And they will spread the word: "Bush has appointed a Ku Kluxer to his Cabinet."

By David Horowitz

David Horowitz is a conservative writer and activist.

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