Ashcroft and the Rubicon
By Bruce Walker
History students are familiar with the phrase "Crossing the Rubicon." Gaius Julius Caesar, when he took his triumphant army from Gaul to Italy crossed the Rubicon River against the will of the Roman Senate, saying "Alea jacta est" (the die is cast). Rome would face a civil war and there was no turning back. Vitriolic Democrat attacks on John Ashcroft for Attorney General have begun what only can be called the Second American Civil War.
No one questions Senator Ashcroft's integrity, decency, competence, or experience. Judged solely by the historical standards, he is -- in every sense -- perhaps the most qualified individual ever nominated for the post of Attorney General. It is salient that even his enemies concede this point. Republicans, as many have noted, approved without dissent a woman less suited for the job in every way than Senator Ashcroft.
In this current battle, Democrats have made politics the heart of justice. The battle is not, as some conservatives have suggested, another chapter in the Politics of Personal Destruction which sanctimonious liberals so recently and roundly condemned. No, Democrats are not portraying this past Senator, Governor, and Attorney General of Missouri as a rascal or cheat. They are, instead, lobbing endless volleys of rhetorical artillery on his political philosophy. They are, in effect, insisting that law enforcement must be ideological.
This is the nadir of a long descent. Liberals have for many years implicitly conceded that people -- voters, consumers and parents -- be denied choices. Because people are loath to surrender freedom consciously, these liberals have used the artifice of government litigation to channel political, moral, economic, and social decisions into the narrow canons of liberal orthodoxy. While liberals imply that Senator Ashcroft's religious beliefs are a stumbling block, it is rather their rigid, intolerant secular dogmatism that is at issue.
Decades of public service in key elective offices leave no serious doubt about Mr. Ashcroft's ability to reconcile fidelity to the protocols and customs of an ordered democracy with his personal religious convictions. Missouri, after all, is the "Show Me" state from which came decent men with different philosophies and parties, men like Harry Truman, John Danforth, Stuart Symington, and John Ashcroft won the support of Missourians by their honorable deeds and not ideological homogeny.
Moreover, President Bush has made the deliberate decision to reject a common practice of other Presidents in picking confidants for this crucial job. He has instead picked a man whose loyalty is to principles and not to men -- no Robert Kennedy, no John Mitchell, no Griffin Bell, but instead someone with genuine independence. This signal is reinforced by the prospect of Louis Freeh remaining as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Senator Ashcroft, who is being pilloried about putative attitudes towards racial profiling, is ironically the victim of "religious profiling." His devout beliefs make him an automatic suspect in the eyes of the Gestapo of Political Correctness. "Religious profiling", "gender profiling", and "partisan profiling" have been subjecting decent mean like Ashcroft to humiliating interrogations for years now. These "Christophobes", "Anthrophobes", and other frightened liberals have not just lashed out at non-existent evils, but have bunched themselves up into Ku Klux Klan lynch mobs. In doing so, they have crossed the Rubicon.
The question is not whether they can ever trust the objectivity of John Ashcroft, but whether we can ever again trust the objectivity of his attackers. When the last fig leaf of legitimate concern is gone, as it is with the Ashcroft nomination, is it not clearly then war these liberals seek? A social civil war has been simmering for years, and now it bubbles frantically. Slander and distortion have replaced bullets and bombs, but it is war nonetheless.
We must see this war as war, because societies cannot turn out noble figures like John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, and Linda Chavez like factories turn out widgets. Though hardy lads and lasses they may be, they are mortal too. And we must ask ourselves who will raise the banner if they fall alone and undefended?
More than two centuries ago a famous patriot, sick of wobbly spines and hopeless self-deceptions, made an historic speech. We should recall today the words of Patrick Henry, because his words spoken in the House of Burgesses in Virginia then were never truer than today, in the Senate of the United States:
"It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."
Here is the Rubicon of modern politics, and here is its Bunker Hill. We who love liberty and value honor must recognize when those virtues are under desperate siege by desperate foes as they are today. We can surrender, and probably never rise again, or we can fight, certain that we will prevail, bloodied but triumphant. Wars like these are messy, brutal, and unkind. But this is not a war that we began; it is simply one that we must end.
Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.
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