The Mediaby John StylesNews Weekly
, January 27, 2001
The (official) view from America
In her 1999 book, One Nation, Two Cultures, Gertrude Himmelfarb recalled how former US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan "encapsulated the social and cultural condition of our time in the brilliant phrase 'defining deviancy down.' What was once stigmatised as deviant behaviour is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as the abnormal has been normalised."
Himmelfarb also noted that commentator Charles Krauthammer "proposed a complementary concept, 'defining deviancy up.' As deviancy is normalised, so what was once normal becomes deviant."
That upside-down approach to moral issues was on display in a January 13 column by Mark Riley, a US correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald. Media chorus
Hopping aboard the bandwagon of Democrats, fellow-travelling interest groups and like-minded commentators, Riley joined the chorus of criticism directed at former Republican senator John Ashcroft, the Bush nominee for Attorney-General.
Riley argued that Ashcroft's appointment would be a matter of real concern. Why? Well, according to Riley, because Ashcroft is "a deeply religious man" with an extreme ideology.
Ashcroft's ideology, as detailed by Riley, includes opposition to abortion and a Biblical attitude to homosexuality. Ashcroft is against big taxing governments and does not believe taxpayer funds should endow the arts. "No more subsidised profanity, no more subsidised obscenity, no more silk-stocking subsidies for the symphony," Ashcroft is quoted as having said.
Ashcroft's policy positions only become "extreme" when deviancy, as Krauthammer put it, has been defined up.
In a whatever-it-takes campaign, Ashcroft's opponents are also resorting to racial smears.
John Ashcroft, a former Missouri governor, went into last November's election as an incumbent Republican senator. He was opposed by the then serving governor Mel Carnahan who died in a plane crash about three weeks before polling day. Carnahan's name remained on the ballot paper, however, attracting sufficient votes to defeat Ashcroft.
In his article, Mark Riley recalled how Carnahan's campaign had forged a liberal coalition against John Ashcroft based on the then Republican senator's 1999 opposition to Clinton's nomination of black judge Ronnie White to the federal bench.
Riley reported that the same allegation was about to be recycled by the present liberal coalition opposing Ashcroft. He noted that Justice White will be "a star witness for the prosecution".
That Ashcroft opposed Ronnie White's appointment is true and on the record. That it was a racially motivated act is not supported by the facts. Mark Riley seemed to almost concede that there was no evidence of Ashcroft-as-racist when he wrote, "In the absence of a smoking gun, though, Ashcroft's nomination appears likely to squeak through."
The sole acknowledged source for Riley's article on Ashcroft was a story that appeared in the left-leaning weekly, The Village Voice. A balanced report would have included Ashcroft's side of the story - which was fairly easy to find. An eloquent statement by John Ashcroft appeared recently in the conservative weekly, Human Events:
"I have supported and voted for scores of African-American candidates for judicial office and high positions in the executive branch, including over 90 per cent of African-American nominees for the federal judiciary.
"I have appointed many African-Americans to our state's courts, including David Mason, Jimmy Edwards, Charles Shaw and Michael Calvin, in St. Louis.
"I appointed the first African-American judge on the Western Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City, our state's second highest court. This jurist, Ferdinand Gaitan, now serves as a US District Court Judge for Western Missouri.
"I will continue to support African-Americans for the federal bench, because America needs their strong minds. However, I will promise no one that I will consider race in the appointment process. I only promise that I will not consider it."
Also, Riley might have discovered that an African-American judge appointed by Ashcroft had come forward to vigorously rebut the liberal smears and enthusiastically endorse Ashcroft's confirmation as US Attorney-General.
Human Events quoted Judge David C. Mason of St Louis:
"I grew up in the South and I've even been the victim of a racially motivated beating, and I can tell you I know racism when I see it and when I'm around it.
"If there is anything a racist does not like to do it is give independent power to a black male over white people, especially when they don't have to do it. John Ashcroft has done so many times very freely. With him, I was judged on the basis of my qualifications, not by the color of my skin, and that is how he would judge all people and all issues."