Friday, August 22, 2003


John Ashcroft's Dog and Pony Show

Both Phil Carter and The Rittenhouse Review, among others, have been discussing Attorney General John Ashcroft's traveling road show defending the Patriot Act.

What is the point of this public relations tour? I asked my Yale Law School colleage Michael Levine recently. His theory was intriguing. He suggested that the Administration wants to figure out how well its civil liberities policies are selling by sending out their most visible symbol and seeing how the public reacts to him. If Ashcroft can sway the public, then it will be more of the same, including the submission of the Patriot Act II, either before the election or shortly thereafter. But if Ashcroft's publicty tour doesn't sell well, then the Bush Administration will change its public face with respect to civil liberties (as opposed to its practices), in order not to lose moderate support in the upcoming election. Indeed, if Ashcroft does particularly poorly he may even be replaced in the next Bush administration.

In short, Ashcroft is being sent out as a miner's canary, in order to gauge the political consequences of Bush's civil liberties policies. The Bushies are worried that lots of communities have passed anti-Patriot Act resolutions and that the bill has generally gotten a bad press. It's one thing if it's just Beltway grumbling and objections by liberals and members of the chattering classes. It's quite another if it could actually cost them votes among independents and moderate voters.

Why is Ashcroft in particular being sent out? Well, for one thing, he's expendable. He's not a long-time Bush loyalist, and so not so much loyalty is owed to him. It's true that he's an important liason to the Christian Right, but it's my sense that George Bush himself is now seen as a major political figure in (or major political ally of) much of the Christian Right, so Ashcroft is not as necessary as he once was. And there are many other people who could replace him as Attorney General, and thus put a kinder, gentler face on the Administration's policies.

It's not a good sign, however, that Ashcroft has been speaking mostly in front of friendly audiences of law enforcement officials and conservative groups. The real test of Ashcroft's publicity tour will come when he faces the sort of voters who might ditch the Republican Party in 2004.

Older Posts
Newer Posts