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Holier than thou 

John Ashcroft believes he is God's messenger. That's great, but should he be Attorney General?

Five years ago, John Ashcroft told the Conservative Political Action Conference that "the Founding Fathers' vision was for a constitutional republic where the will of the people would be imposed on Washington, not the views of Washington imposed on the people."Like every politician, he is unwavering in his belief that the people's views and his own are one and the same, despite any evidence to the contrary. Such evidence can be found, for example, in polls that conclude a majority of Americans support a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion. Or that in November 2000, the people of Missouri elected Mel Carnahan to the US Senate over the incumbent Ashcroft. Note also that on Election Day, Carnahan had been dead two weeks, killed in a plane crash.

After the election, Ashcroft rationalized his defeat conveniently: "The people of Missouri decided that they would honor the deceased governor by voting in his behalf and in his stead in the election, rather than voting for me. And I respect them for that, and I honor them for that."

But as Ashcroft himself says, every crucifixion is followed by a resurrection. Sure enough, George W. Bush brought him on board as Attorney General of the United States, the nation's chief law enforcement officer. Ashcroft is now the top cop on the hunt for the world's most notorious criminal, Osama bin Laden. As that hunt has progressed, he has caught flak for the draconian methods he's proposed -- secret military tribunals, detaining suspects without charging them, severely limiting the public's access to government documents.

But to longtime observers of the Pentecostal from Missouri, Ashcroft's moves are no surprise. While other Republicans may speak of "compassionate conservatism," Ashcroft believes he is driven by a higher power. Below are some of Ashcroft's own words, followed by quotes from some of the Founding Fathers he professes to so revere.

"If I had the opportunity to pass but a single law, 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." -- in a letter to the conservative magazine Human Events, 1998

"The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time." -- Thomas Jefferson

"Civilized people -- Muslims, Christians and Jews -- all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator. Civilized people of all religious faiths are called to the defense of His creation. We are a nation called to defend freedom -- a freedom that is not the grant of any government or document, but is our endowment from God." -- in a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters, February 19, 2002

"Lighthouses are more helpful than churches." -- Ben Franklin

"Consider 1992 when the court challenged God's ability to mark when life begins and ends. Three Reagan appointees joined the majority in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey to uphold a "woman's right to choose.' So much for recapturing the Court. Together, Roe, Casey and their illegitimate progeny have occasioned the slaughter of 35 million children, 35 million innocents denied standing before the law." -- in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee, entitled "On Judicial Despotism," March 6, 1997

"The Constitution and laws of the United States are declared to be paramount to those of the individual states, and an appellate supremacy is vested in the judicial power of the United States." -- James Madison

"Does my religious belief affect the way I do politics and government? It affects virtually everything I do, I hope." -- as quoted by Gannett News Service, July 17, 1996

"The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum." -- Thomas Paine

"Unique among the nations, America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. And because we have understood that our source is eternal, America has been different. We have no king but Jesus." -- to graduates of the rightwing fundamentalist Bob Jones University, also known for its segregationist policies, May 8, 1999.

"I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together. -- James Madison

"When you carefully consider FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis." -- from an Ashcroft memo last October to the heads of federal agencies, announcing tighter restrictions on what public records should be released to the public in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

"They that give up essential liberty to obtain temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin

"To those who pit Americans against immigrants and citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil." -- to the Senate Judiciary Committee, December 6, 2001

"[T]he right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon . . . has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right." -- James Madison, 1798

"When we come to those responsible for this, say who are in Afghanistan, are we supposed to read them the Miranda rights, hire a flamboyant defense lawyer, bring them back to the United States to create a new cable network of Osama TV or what have you?" -- in testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee, December 7, 2001

"I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." -- Thomas Jefferson

"Foreign terrorists who commit war crimes against the United States in my judgment are not entitled to and do not deserve the protections of the American Constitution." -- from remarks to reporters on November 14, 2001

"The Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume." -- Thomas Jefferson

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