Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft looks to be the latest GOP pol to catch grief for an ill-conceived visit to Bob Jones University. But shouldn’t we cut the next top-cop some slack? After all it’s not like he’s off giving interviews to crypto-racist, pro-Confederate magazines, right?
Well … ummm … OK, maybe he is.
In October 1998 Ashcroft gave an interview to the Southern Partisan magazine in which he lashed out at “revisionists” who make malicious attacks on America’s founders, such as charging that George Washington was a racist. (The Q & A’s introduction praises Ashcroft as a “jealous defender of national sovereignty against the New World Order.”) “Your magazine helps set the record straight,” said Ashcroft. “You’ve got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I’ve got to do more. We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.”
Setting the record straight? Is Ashcroft talking about the 1984 Southern Partisan article that argued that “Negroes, Asians, and Orientals (is Japan the exception?); Hispanics, Latins, and Eastern Europeans; have no temperament for democracy, never had, and probably never will”? Or did he mean that 1996 Southern Partisan article that cleared up that whole mix-up about slave owners not doing well by slave families? “Slave owners … did not have a practice of breaking up slave families,” the article noted. “If anything they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves’ peace and happiness.”
If you’re not familiar with the finer points of Southern-fried, right-wing, Confederate-flag-waving political culture, the Southern Partisan is the leading publication of the Neo-Confederate movement, a movement which extols the Confederacy, Southern culture, and at least toys with the idea of the South again seceding from the union. Yes, they did once call David Duke “a candidate concerned about ‘affirmative’ discrimination, welfare prolifigacy [sic], the taxation holocaust … a Populist spokesperson for a recapturing of the American ideal.” But, hey, they go in for more than just politics. They publish articles on everything from the latest tips on how to re-enact Pickett’s Charge to some of the sharper commentary on why Jews “agitate for the radical secularization of our society.”
Of course, hob-knobbing with Neo-Confederate wing-nuts won’t automatically sink Ashcroft’s nomination. Trent Lott praised the white-man-Uber-alles organization Council of Conservative Citizens a few years back and he’s still Senate Majority Leader. (Lott gave his own interview to the Southern Partisan back in 1984.) But before Ashcroft goes before the confirmation committee and starts quoting the Southern Partisan about how Negroes and Orientals have no temperament for democracy, someone in the Bush brain trust should intervene and tell him, “John, John, we don’t talk that way anymore! It’s disgraceful! We now say African-Americans and Asians!”
Photograph of John Ashcroft on the Slate Table of Contents by Larry Downing/Reuters.