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February 25, 2004

John Ashcroft Is Insane

by Red Wolf

United States: Among other things, the recent Vanity Fair article describes how loony fundie John Ashcroft fears calico cats, how he attended opponent Mel Carnahan's funeral against the family's wishes, how Ashcroft's father put him at the controls of a plane with no training at age eight and how parts of Justice Department boilerplate were altered because they conflicted with the Seven Deadly Sins.

At 61, he is a devout member of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination that disapproves of drinking, dancing, and pre-marital sex. As a boy, he never went to the movies, because, he has said, his parents told him, If you pay 15 cents to get into a movie, 7 cents of that will go to support a Hollywood lifestyle we disagree with. But he is not indifferent to power and its trappings — indeed, he harbored strong presidential hopes as late as 1998 — and it is in his nature to combine piety with ambition. In 1995, for example, when he became the junior senator from Missouri, he was anointed by friends (in the style of the ancient kings of Israel, he has noted) with Crisco oil from the kitchen...
..[John Ashcroft] wanted to make clear that forgiveness, while perfectly fine in religion, had no place in the Justice Department. The law is not about forgiveness, he said. It is oftentimes about vengeance, oftentimes about revenge. That was before 9/11...
...Six years ago he declared, There are only two things you find in the middle of the road, a moderate and a dead skunk. He believes that you can legislate morality, and that any senator who suggests otherwise will simply be legislating immorality, and we've done too much of that already. The attorney general invested his fight for the Patriot Act with a Crusader's fervor, questioning his opponents' patriotism, as Bill Clinton's former deputy attorney general Eric Holder puts it...
...But Ashcroft was also known as an archconservative, a foe of abortion even in instances of rape and incest. He has supported an additional 10 amendments to the Constitution (including one to make it easier to amend). A lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, he opposed any ban on the sale of assault weapons...
...True, in his fierce four-day confirmation battle in the Senate, he received 42 negative votes, the most ever cast against a nominee for attorney general. However, it would have helped, for example, if more people had realized that Ashcroft routinely compares himself to Christ in his 1998 memoir, Lessons from a Father to His Son, in which he refers to his campaign victories as resurrections. Conversely, his political defeats are compared to crucifixions. Ashcroft's determination to liken his political career to the life and death of Christ is a sign of narcissism — without question, says Washington, D.C., therapist William Demeo. Despite reams of information dispensed by his opponents at the time of his Senate confirmation, no one seemed to know the complete Ashcroft. No one outside his home state of Missouri, anyway.
Ashcroft was the second of three sons of J. Robert Ashcroft, a Pentecostal preacher and president of Evangel College (now Evangel University) in Springfield, 220 miles south of St. Louis. J. Robert led the institution to accreditation. A great speaker who used a lot of good, flowery words to paint pictures is how Bud Greve, who teaches education at Evangel, remembers him. But John Ashcroft, although equally admiring, gives a different side of J. Robert, an amateur pilot, in his memoir. It opens with the words John, I'd like you to fly this plane for a while, a command issued when John, all of eight, found himself placed at the controls of a flimsy 1940s Piper Cub in midair.
The impact of this experience was indelible. The plane went into a swoon over a Springfield farm while the boy gaped, helpless, frozen with terror: My stomach came up to my throat and I lost all sense of time or place as fear gripped my insides. His father, John recalls, had a good chuckle.
And I had a good lesson: actions have consequences, he continues. Even the two-month absences of J. Robert during summers, when he went preaching around the state, yielded salutary consequences, his son believes. Young John became stronger and self-reliant. Besides, Jesus Himself faced family dislocation. Remember when He cried out to His heavenly Father, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'...
...It was at law school that Ashcroft met Janet Roede, his future wife (and the mother of his three children, Martha Patterson, 34, John, 30, and Andy, 26). She caught his eye because of her wholesome, attractive, midwestern look and the inherent modesty of her dress. At the time of his marriage, as Ashcroft mentions in his memoir, he was a virgin. (A prostitute has a sex life, he writes. But a married person has a love life.)...
...Some 15 years ago, Missouri state senator Harry Wiggins, a Democrat and the spokesman for a bipartisan group trying to get funding restored for a Kansas City home for AIDS patients, met with Ashcroft in the governor's mansion. The Good Samaritan home, as it was then called, had received a $900,000 state grant, but, says Wiggins, Governor Ashcroft vetoed it. I think twice.
Wiggins tried to explain the home's purpose. This is a place they go, Governor, but they don't come back, he began. Many of them, their families have rejected them.
I understand. You got my attention, Ashcroft said with interest. This is the place where it is cheapest for me to send them to die.
Governor, these are human beings who have to have a place to live, protested Wiggins, or they'll live in boxes under bridges.
Wiggins remembers Ashcroft's reply: Well, they're there because of their own misconduct, and it wasn't very reputable misconduct, either.
Wiggins was puzzled. When does misconduct become reputable? When disreputable?
That's beside the point, snapped Ashcroft.
Ashcroft had, it was swiftly discovered, a thin skin for a politician, and an almost bottomless capacity to nurse grudges. In 1992 an African-American Missouri legislator named Ronnie White outwitted a furious Governor Ashcroft, killing a measure that would have imposed a ban on most state abortions. Several years later, Senator Ashcroft managed practically single handedly to keep White off the federal bench...
...And Ashcroft's obsessions: these too were a puzzle. When, in 1985, a young man named Paul Offner applied for the job of head of Missouri's social services, Offner tells me, Ashcroft said, without preamble, Mr. Offner, let me start by asking you if you have the same sexual preference as most men. Offner considered replying, I haven't done a survey, before settling on a restrained affirmative. Still, he didn't get the job. (Through a spokeswoman Ashcroft claimed he couldn't remember the meeting.) Some years later Missouri state troopers were deployed to prevent Pete Busalacchi from ending the life of his comatose daughter, who had no hope for recovery. It was a matter of one person in a high position inflicting his religious beliefs onto a family, Busalacchi said. Is John Ashcroft's religion better than mine?
Janet Ashcroft somehow acquired the same high-handed reputation. It was Mother's Day, a Sunday, 1990, when I was called by my staff; who told me Mrs. Ashcroft wanted the Missouri State Library opened, recalls Monteria Hightower, who was then state librarian. Assuming the governor's wife wanted to show visitors around (and that I could make a pitch for new computers, she adds, chuckling), Hightower left her family at home and hurried to unlock the darkened library. She found Janet, outside in a car with a driver, accompanied only by a boy of 12. With astonishment, she heard Janet's reason for her Sunday appearance at the library: I want to find something on the Elizabethan era for my son's homework assignment.
Visitors to the governor's mansion often found themselves expected to join in prayer, and on one such occasion — it was a dinner gathering of lawyers, waited on (as is customary in the Missouri governor's mansion) by local prisoners who had earned the privilege — Ashcroft gave a family values speech. In the course of this he said, 'Women in the workforce have become so prevalent that a man's role has been reduced to a sperm donor', reports one of the guests.
No one could believe it, says this lawyer. Everyone knew Janet Ashcroft had written a textbook on business law with her husband indeed, she would later teach law at Washington, D.C.'s traditionally black Howard University. Even their daughter, Martha, was attending law school. And yet, says the dinner guest, he was serious. He didn't mean to be amusing.
Only the governor's wife appeared unfazed. Perhaps she was used to such opinions. (Last year, she declared in Missouri, I have to behave myself, and I have to spoil him rotten, and that makes my life unbelievably stressful.) The night of the dinner, she was dressed girlishly, in a floral summer dress, with matching flowery sandals. Her earrings were roses modeled out of pink clay. The young lawyer complimented her on a particularly decorative artifact. It's bolted down, Janet Ashcroft said meaningfully.
Bolted down — I'm sure you know who the waiters are, echoed the governor, giving a swift glance at the prisoners, all within earshot, who served them. You know how they are.
And the waiters? I wonder. What was their reaction?
Stone-blank, replies the lawyer. Stone, stone, stone. The waiters, who were all African-American, had to have heard. I love to pray, but what business did we have praying in the governor's mansion? That night I thought, 'We started this out with a prayer to God, and this is the way you end the evening?' It makes me sick to think I prayed with him...
...Campaign workers initially felt it was over and we should pack up and go home, says Marc Farinella, who was Carnahan's campaign manager. But Ashcroft's conduct over the next several days of the campaign was an important factor in my not going home when Mel died. Carefully, the Carnahan family let it be known to Ashcroft that he was welcome to come pay his respects at their home — they understood his political desire to show sympathy during a tough campaign; in fact, a statement would be put out thanking him. However, they added, they didn't want him at the funeral services, where his presence might prove distracting. Ashcroft never responded to their request. He came to the services anyway. And his picture was in the papers.
For Ashcroft to come to Carnahan's services over the family's objections — we felt that was despicable, says Farinella. And then the icing on the cake! Ashcroft says he has to work through his grief over Mel by working at soup kitchens. He does this for exactly 12 minutes at one kitchen, showing up with cameras in tow. It was a photo op.
At this point we said, The hell with it! So for the first time in the history of the United States, a dead man was elected to the Senate. Farinella struggles for speech, swallowing hard. I can hardly talk about it...
Within weeks of Ashcroft's arrival, the revolution began, although initially only his subordinates realized it, as it came in the form of a scolding memo. According to a former Justice Department lawyer, the phrases We are proud of the Justice Department and There is no higher calling than public service, both of which had been pro forma in certain letters sent out to citizens and congressmen above the attorney general's signature, were to be excised. A call to Ashcroft's office provided an explanation of sorts: Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; therefore we could not have a letter going out that would have the word 'pride' or 'proud'. Moreover, there is a higher calling than public service, which is service to God.
The oddest details seemed to carry grave theological implications, even in the Netherlands, where Ashcroft attended an international anti-corruption conference in May 2001. There, a trio of Siamese cats scampering about the residence of Cynthia Schneider, the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, produced alarm in the Justice advance team, according to a highly placed source. Are there any calico cats at the residence? they inquired of embassy staff. Ashcroft, who would be dining with Schneider, considered such creatures instruments of the Devil, his people explained. (Ashcroft has denied any antipathy toward calico cats.)
Equally startling was the new composition of top staff. To go from a Justice Department that was diverse, led by a woman, recalls one ex employee, to that first wave of primarily white guys, that was a major change. Even after that first wave subsided (there was a flood of departures, including, after two years, Viet Dinh, the chief architect of the Patriot Act), the results were similar. Qualified female attorneys, complaining that Ashcroft can't look a woman in the eye, found promotions to the highest levels almost nonexistent. Black men would be replaced by white men. In honor of Women's History Month, Janet Ashcroft, once an outspoken opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, was asked by her husband to make a speech to women staffers. Which is kind of a novel thing, one listener says dryly. And he introduces her by saying she's the woman who taught him how to put dishes away. Yes, that's what he said to the women lawyers. He said she taught him you should rotate your china, put your new plates on the bottom of the stack, so you don't wear them out.
In those early days, the attorney general himself seemed already worn out at least he made it clear that the long briefing papers that had been Janet Reno's reading matter had to be reduced to what one former staffer describes as a paragraph of background and a paragraph of talking points per issue. But such abridgments were found onerous as well. Do I get extra credit for reading all this? mused Ashcroft, looking at 12 pages.

John Ashcroft's Patriot Games - Vanity Fair, February 2004 (via BoingBoing).

Posted in Superstition and Other Silliness at 02:30. Last modified on September 28 2006 at 23:42.
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Comments

1: Posted by: Feòrag | February 25, 2004 2:45 AM

You know, keeping a light aircraft straight and level isn't exactly difficult.

2: Posted by: Red Wolf | February 25, 2004 3:25 AM

Agreed. I still wouldn't hand over the controls of an aircraft to an eight-year-old. Just proves that stupidity is rampant in this family.

3: Posted by: Feòrag | February 25, 2004 11:00 AM

As the best thing for him to have done was precisely nothing (assuming the aircraft was trimmed okay), we have to note an early tendency to mess with things he knows nothing about. And to ignore things around him - had he never asked "Dad, what does this do?"

Wax lyrical

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