surreal mix-up disrupted CNN programming for a few moments on Jan. 17 when the
network switched to live coverage of Colin Powell. While the retired general
appeared on the screen, the audio was the voice of Sen. Edward Kennedy at
another Senate hearing — as the senior senator from Massachusetts railed
against John Ashcroft’s record of opposing civil rights.
a rattled CNN anchor was apologizing for the technical difficulty. And viewers
were left to ponder the unintended juxtaposition of media images.
told that the new administration has embraced the concept of diversity based on
merit, with a prime example being the choice of Powell as secretary of state.
But the most important domestic policy job is attorney general. And the Ashcroft
nomination has sparked a firestorm of resistance for many reasons, including his
Ashcroft did not lack for requisite sound bites: "I believe that racism is
wrong… I deplore racism and I always will." His wording was always
careful. At one point he said, "I condemn those things that are
is experienced at speaking in code while exploiting racism for political gain. A
few weeks ago, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recalled that Ashcroft "has
built a career out of opposing school desegregation in St. Louis." Twice,
as governor of Missouri, he vetoed bills that sought to give residents of the
heavily black city of St. Louis the same access to voter registration as the
mostly white residents of surrounding suburbs.
Ashcroft’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware raised the issue
of his interview with Southern Partisan magazine. That publication is so
favorable toward the days of slavery that it has sold a T-shirt bearing a
picture of Abraham Lincoln accompanied by the Latin words of his assassin,
"Sic Semper Tyrannis" — "Thus Always to Tyrants."
neglected to bring up the fact that Ashcroft went out of his way to praise
Southern Partisan during his 1998 interview — when he said that the magazine
"helps set the record straight" and lauded it for "defending
Southern patriots" such as Jefferson Davis, the vehement advocate of
slavery who was president of the Confederacy.
Biden should have asked why Ashcroft used the interview to tell the readers of
the nation’s leading neo-Confederate magazine: "Traditionalists must do
more. I’ve got to do more. We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect,
or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing
their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."
Biden’s somewhat inept questioning of Ashcroft on the subject of the Southern
Partisan interview, pro-Ashcroft spinners did their best. On the PBS "NewsHour
With Jim Lehrer," syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer told viewers that
Ashcroft was being unfairly pilloried because of his "respect for
some pundits have confronted the implications of Ashcroft’s warm interview with
Southern Partisan. Several columnists for mainstream daily newspapers cut to the
heart of the matter. In the New York Daily News, Stanley Crouch noted that
Southern Partisan introduced the interview by touting Ashcroft as a
"champion of states’ rights and traditional Southern values."
pointed out: "Those are code words for white supremacist ideas about the
Civil War, segregation, genetics and so on. Code is now very important, even to
those in the boggiest wilds of the far right. They, too, know that in politics
it might be best to move under camouflage until you get where you want and can
begin opening serious fire against your enemies."
now, if John Ashcroft gets where he wants, he’ll be moving into the office of
the attorney general of the United States.
the Boston Globe, columnist Derrick Z. Jackson has been eloquent about what’s at
stake. "The nation’s top law enforcer cannot be someone who vacillates
between civil rights and Civil War fantasies," Jackson wrote. And he
concluded: "When Ashcroft says the traditionalists must do more, America
should tremble. The nomination is so perverted, it should follow the final path
of his Confederate heroes. It should be driven off in a scorched-earth
John Ashcroft and his strongest allies — on Capitol Hill and in the news media
– are going all out for Senate approval of his nomination. They have plans. And
they’re not just whistling Dixie.
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of
Highly Deceptive Media."