Ashcroft’s Campaign

John Ashcroft has hit the campaign trail. No, he’s not adding his name to the list in the California recall. In fact, he’s not vying for any particular office, rather, he’s crusading in defense of the USA Patriot Act (the cute acronym for the more imposing title: “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”). Although the Attorney General claims that he’s not helping his president gear up for 2004, the month-long tour just happens to cut straight through key territories in Bush’s re-election bid.

Ashcroft’s crusade is part of a campaign to praise the genius of the Patriot Act, to laud its utility as a terrorist-hunting tool that preserves the liberties of upright Americans, as long as they have nothing to hide… The Act gives the government the ability to tap phones, confiscate the property of suspected terrorists, share intelligence information among agencies, track citizens’ Internet usage, spy on citizens without judicial review, conduct secret searches, and review the records of library users. To Ashcroft, these are all minor rights, easily forgone in a national security crisis.

On Tuesday, Ashcroft made the case for the wondrous Patriot Act to an audience at the conservative thinktank, the American Enterprise Institute. He told the audience:

“Our efforts have been rewarded by the trust of the American people. A two to one majority of Americans believe the Patriot Act is a necessary and effective tool that protects liberty, because it targets terrorists. Ninety one percent of Americans understand that the Patriot Act has not affected their civil rights or the civil rights of their families.”

That is, 91% of people polled by Fox News

Funny that with all this support for the act Ashcroft still finds it necessary to campaign for it. At the AEI, he suggested that the audience browse through his new rah-rah Patriot Act Web site. A quick glance at the suggests that the real target of Ashcroft’s current campaign is the American Civil Liberties Union, given that the site seems primarily devoted to striking back at “the ACLU’s claims.”

Ever since Congress passed the measure — a mere six weeks after September 11th — opposition to the bill’s intrusive nature has been mounting. It’s no surprise that the ACLU has been rallying for congress to amend portions of the act that threaten privacy rights. According to those pesky ACLU claims, anti-Patriot Act resolutions have been passed in over 150 communities in 27 states. There have even been three statewide resolutions. The ACLU claims that these communities represent approximately 17.2 million people. Although the resolutions differ in tone and breadth, they all call for reform. All of which leads the ACLU’s Laura Murphy to believe that Ashcroft’s story doesn’t add up.

“An attorney general going on the road, away from his official duties, to favorably spin policies violative of civil liberties is troubling, to say the least…It raises two serious questions: is this tour — which incidentally hits Iowa, Michigan and Ohio — political in nature and how prudent is it to be spending public money on a ‘Patriot Act’ charm offensive?”

But as it turns out the ACLU’s lead has been followed by some big-name Democrats. Al Gore recently warned an audience at New York University that the measure allows President Bush to, “send his assistants into every public library in America and secretly monitor what the rest of us are reading.” Even chapters of the American Library Association have issued statements criticizing the intrusiveness of the act.

Ashcroft has stops planned in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Des Moines, Salt Lake City, and Boston — Detroit, Philadelphia and several Boston suburbs have all passed anti-Patriot Act measures. Although the Department of Justice has not released Ashcroft’s entire itinerary, it has confirmed stops in Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit — key cities for Bush’s 2004 campaign. Ashcroft calls that a mere coincidence. The Attorney General is even encouraging all 94 U.S. attorneys to hold town hall-style meetings to rally support for the bill.

There are already reports of a “Patriot II” in the works, and although there has been no official word on the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, a draft was leaked to the media last February. Perhaps the Patriot tour is simply Ashcroft’s way of gearing up for the big sequel.


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