Ashcroft or Not

Something’s fishy in Noah’s Ark.

President-elect George W. Bush has managed in a very short time to pull together a cabinet that is as diverse as America — if America had no Jews. His Cabinet nominees include two African Americans, two Hispanics, one Asian American, one Arab American, four women and one Democrat. Considering that Bush fared poorly among minority voters, his choices reflect extraordinary outreach or extreme political calculation, or both.

There are no Jewish Americans in the Bush cabinet. Some will read sinister motives into this (see Sidney Zion, p. 16), but the fact is there are several high in his administration. Of course, you don’t have to be Jewish to stand for policies and values that Jewish Americans believe are important. But, truth be told, it’s comforting to have some familiar surnames close to the Oval Office. Josh Bolten, named last week as Bush’s top policy adviser, is Jewish, as is the incoming White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer.

Former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a close Bush adviser, is expected to be appointed to a new White House office of faith-based initiatives.

Goldsmith was an active presence at the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations in Indianapolis in Nov. 1997. Since meeting him there, I have kept a copy of his 1997 book, “The Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban America,” close by. One of those books bound to tee off those on the hard left and hard right, it struck me as the work of a man who took a refreshingly common-sense approach to governance.

That makes me wonder all the more whether Bush sought Goldsmith’s counsel before nominating former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft as his attorney general. Civil rights groups have begun scrambling their jets against the nomination, but there are several reasons to be nervous about Ashcroft, none of which have to do with race.

Hate Crimes Legislation. Ashcroft has generally opposed hate crimes legislation, worrying that it infringes on the rights of states and localities. Even if the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will be reintroduced in the next Congress, is given slim chances of passage, it’s fair to wonder whether Ashcroft will vigorously enforce existing hate crimes laws.

Homosexual Rights. If you are of the mind that gay Americans deserve the same legal protections as all Americans, then you have to wonder what kind of defender Ashcroft will be. Two years ago, he publicly opposed the nomination of James C. Hormel to an ambassadorship because the philanthropist is gay.

Gun Control. Will a man given a “100 percent” rating by the NRA pursue the repeal of the Brady Bill? Ashcroft voted against an amendment to ban possession of semiautomatic assault weapons by juveniles and against mandating background checks at gun shows, among other no-brainer gun laws.

Abortion. It is still legal in this country, but Ashcroft is an outspoken foe. “[I]f I had the opportunity to pass but a single law,” he wrote in a May 29, 1998, issue of Human Events: The National Conservative Weekly, “I would fully recognize the constitutional right to life of every unborn child, and ban every abortion except for those medically necessary to save the life of the mother.”

The National Council of Jewish Women — hardly the vanguard of left-wing activism — has come out against Ashcroft’s nomination, and others may follow suit. That is, the Jewish mainstream, which embraces a Colin Powell or other primarily pragmatic, problem-solving leaders, is turning against an outspoken ideologue like Ashcroft. Note to Goldsmith: pass the word on to your new boss.