Thursday, May 21, 2009

John Ashcroft at Truman State University

When my daughter graduated from Truman State University on 9 May 2009 I was able to witness John Ashcroft receiving an honorary doctorate and listen to his rather rambling speech. John Ashcroft is a former Missouri governor and was the United States Attorney General during George Bush's first term.

This is a picture taken from the stands of John Ashcroft as he was giving his speech.

Both the decision to award John Ashcroft the doctorate and the opposition of some faculty and students who disagreed is understandable. The issue even became a bit of a cause célèbre with the American Association of University Professers which is sort of like risking the ire of other such powerful, and influential, shapers of American public opinion as the American Communist Party - but I digress.

John Ashcroft was instrumental in the rivatalization of the Northeast Missouri State University as it transformed into Truman State University. Arguably he served with some distinction as a Missouri govenour. As a matter of fact, so far he is the only Republican to have been elected to the Missouri governors office for two consecutive terms. After that he was elected to the United States Senate but was defeated by his deceased opponent Mel Carnahan (eventually the senate seat was given to former Missouri Lieutenant Governor Roger Wilson). However he did take up with a bad crowd and ended up involved in all the shenanigans surrounding torture and the abridgment of constitutional rights we experienced under the last Bush administratioin.

John Ashcroft, pictured in the middle, walking off the field at Truman State University's May 2009 graduation.

As a member of the Bush team he supported the USA PATRIOT Act including the infamous Section 215.

Most of what I have written so far is commonly known. What is conveniently forgotten is that John Ashcroft had decided to stand up to the White House and oppose a National Security Agency wiretapping program. Evidently he was having concerns with how the White House was riding rough shod over civil liberties. Remember too that Ashcroft did not stick around for the next four years. Here is a quote from an outstanding article from the online magazone Salon:

So begins a remarkable tale that nearly led to the resignation of the Justice Department's senior leadership, an ordeal that was recounted in great detail for the first time Tuesday. Two senior White House officials, Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales, were headed to Ashcroft's hospital bed, despite the instructions of his wife that there would be no phone calls or visitors. They wanted Ashcroft to sign off on the secret National Security Agency wiretapping program, a program that Ashcroft had already decided to reject before falling ill.
The Ashcroft-Gonzales Hospital Room Showdown

John Ashcroft as he walked past me just before exiting the venue.

In my book Alberto Gonzales operated at the same low level of integrity as Condolezza Rice whose blind ambition and ignorant loyalty to a president of mediocre talents will become legendary. The term henchman comes to mind. It seems clear that more powerful people who began to develop a difference of opinion with the President such as Ashcroft and Collin Powell were pushed out in favor of lesser lights who just told the president whatever he wanted to hear.

As we began to learn more about the dirty secrets of the Bush administration we will certainly hear more about Alberto Gonzales who was eventually forced to resign. In January of this year the New York Times carried an excellent editorial about Gonzales that I recommend you read.

This is what I have to say about Ashcroft. I do not agree with everything he has said or done but I do not think he is anywhere close to the level of the bottom-feeders that populated the White House during the second Bush administration. Also, he desperately needs a speech writer. I am not kidding. His rambling speeches are nearly incoherent and make him sound like an idiot. The mild protest that occurred at Truman were nothing compared to the treatment he received at Knox College where his speech was similarly reported to have been equally as incoherent as the speech at Truman.

I also think there are two reasons, at polar ends of the integrity scale, that keep him from telling all he knows. The first is that it would hurt his business propositions as he tries to make a buck leading the Ashcroft Group Consulting Services. The second? I think John Ashcroft might actually have some integrity bruised and battered as it may be. The whole story has yet to be told. Contact me John, ... I would love to hear it.

One final comment. Besides the hospital incident with John Ashcroft we have forgotten one other thing. 9-11 shook us up, and a lot of people are in denial now about that fact. 9-11 not only scared the bejesus out of us it scared the whole world. It was a desperate time and we were desperate to find a way to respond to what happened, and again let me emphasize that it was not only us. There was a visceral global response to a horrific act. It is perhaps understandable that we overreacted with water boarding and in other ways as well. Not right, but understandable. What is not understandable however is that instead of moderating and fine tuning our response something else happened. Our reaction become more hysterical, less defensible, and more fanatical as group think took over the White House and incompetency became the order of the day.

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