Roger L. Simon

The Patriot Act, John Ashcroft and Me

By now practically everyone knows that John Ashcroft is resigning as Attorney General. Whether he was in any way pushed out or whether this is entirely his own decision, in part in response to his own equally well known health problems, I do not have a clue. What I do know is that when he was first appointed, I groaned. It was proof, if I needed any, that the new “Chimp” in the White House was a reactionary Christer. He had chosen one of his own to be the country’s number one law enforcer.

Then 9-11 came and Ashcroft’s job became quite serious. The Patriot Act was enacted and the attorney general charged with seeing to its enforcement. In short order, Ashcroft was the butt of almost every anti-Bush assault. “Ah, Ashcroft… Ah, the Patriot Act…” many of my friends and acquaintances said, rolling their eyes in disdain. Ashcroft was the scourge of democracy, the number one threat to our civil rights.

Yet, here’s the interesting thing. Not one… I will repeat in bold face… not one of the people I knew who excoriated Ashcroft and the Patriot Act ever read the legislation, which is short and easily available on line. (I know because I asked them. The subject was quickly changed. Kerry, as we know, like virtually everyone in Congress, voted for it and then made his, as usual amorphous, assertions that some parts should be amended.) Furthermore, despite all the bad-mouthing of Ashcroft as if he were the second coming of A. Mitchell Palmer, only one… I will put that in bold again… only one person, as far as I know, in a nation of some three hundred million may have been illegally incarcerated – Jose Padilla. And even that is inconclusive.

Yet I would still agree, as Theo Van Gogh would, I am sure, were he still alive, that religious fundamentalism is a highly dangerous phenomenon in this world. But I am now absolutely certain that those who thought or are still thinking that John Aschroft is or was a dangerous fundamentalist are lying to themselves or to us. Ashcroft, whatever his indiosyncracies, his prudish desire not to be photographed with nude statues, etc., was fully aware of one of Jesus’ greatest teachings – render unto Casear what is Caesar’s – and behaved accordingly. Nothing remotely happened during his tenure to dispute this. We owe Ashcroft a debt of gratitude for his service during exceptionally difficult times. And personally, I think I have learned something from him in a strange way. I used to be rather intolerant of people of faith. I am now less so.