I should say again: I think John Ashcroft is a terrible choice for attorney-general, but I’m not the president. If Ashcroft does a terrible job and starts speaking in tongues at press conferences or enforcing chastity on federal employees, then Bush will be accountable. It’s not up to Kate Michelman to protect the president-elect from his own bad judgment. That won’t stop the liberal interest groups, of course, for whom Ashcroft is a godsend. And the boost it will give to their direct mail efforts is nothing compared to the boost it will give to their rhetoric. My current favorite examples of anti-Ashcroft excess are a) from Mike Barnes of Handgun Control: ‘Mr. Ashcroft apparently believes in the so-called insurrectionist interpretation of the Second Amendment. This is the same extremist theory subscribed to by Timothy McVeigh and so-called militia groups;’ and b) James Ridgeway’s Village Voice assertion of Ashcroft’s ‘serial objection to women judges nominated for the federal bench – a years-long performance that might provide a preview of how, as AG, he would handle recommendations for the court.’ The evidence? Ashcroft opposed six women candidates and was unsuccessful in almost all of them. Ridgeway doesn’t tell us how many female judges in total came before Ashcroft and how many he approved; and he doesn’t tell us why Ashcroft might have disliked them (my bet is they were all liberal judicial activists). But in the eyes of the Old New Left, it is only necessary to oppose some women judges to be deemed sexist, just as it is only necessary to oppose a handful of black judges to be a racist. The sheer desperation of these arguments speaks to the degeneration of liberalism into a congeries of racial, sexual and ethnic smears. Readers are invited to send in the worst arguments against Ashcroft. Within a few days, we’ll be rivaling Salon.


Bum rap on Chavez, methinks. What did her in was eliding the truth to the Bushies. They hate finding stuff out in the paper. And then her bizarre press conference, which looked like an attack and became a surrender, left everyone confused. The AFL-CIO seems pleased but they won’t do much better next time. Whoever is Bush’s Labor Secretary is going to gut unions’ abuse of member fees for political activities. And I can’t see another Bush appointee backing affirmative action either – or a big jump in the minimum wage for that matter. So it’s a meaningless victory, and yet another depressing payback in the tit-for-tat wars of this small and vicious town. I was particularly struck by the virulence of liberal pundits. They hated Chavez with a passion. Liberal hatchet-man, Tim Noah, was particularly nasty, accusing Chavez of lying and hypocrisy and you name it. Even the usually judicious Hanna Rosin in Slate voiced the following: ‘Finally, the obvious. The ‘politics of personal destruction’? ‘Search and destroy’? Those clichés didn’t exist before [Chavez’s] crowd came along.’ Hanna is too young to remember the Bork wars, which started the recent wave of personal vilification, so maybe she should be forgiven. But after what was done to Clarence Thomas? And after eight years of the war-room, of the character assassinations of every woman Clinton ever abused? Puh-lease. Both sides have become more vicious than ever – and that goes for the Clinton-haters as well. The short-term result is occasional schadenfreude when a rival goes under. The long-term effect is that no-one with any foibles or faults or sex life or back taxes is crazy enough to seek public office any more. I have no water to carry for Chavez. I never warmed to her personally or politically. But the grounds for her demise do not bode well for the future of our politics.


My buddy Jonah Goldberg, one of the funniest and smartest writers on the web, defends John Ashcroft’s interview with the neo-segregationist magazine, Southern Partisan. He says that the worst Ashcroft did was call some Confederates ‘patriots,’ and imply that their cause wasn’t exclusively slavery. Fair enough. But why give the interview in the first place? Everyone knows the kind of magazine Southern Partisan is. If I were a famously conservative Senator, I’d avoid it like the plague. No, you don’t have to agree with everything published in a magazine to give an interview. But don’t you draw the line somewhere? Do you think that if a black Senator had given an interview to the Nation of Islam’s Final Call, he wouldn’t be given a hard time? Or if a gay Senator gave an interview to a NAMBLA publication? Or a Jewish Senator to the newsletter of Rabbi Kahane’s followers? Conservatives have long been practitioners of guilt by association when it comes to their opponents. Black pols always have to distance themselves from segregationists, Arabs from Muslim fundamentalists, gays from any conceivable freak out there with a printing press. Now it’s pay-back time. I still think it doesn’t bar Ashcroft from being attorney-general, but I do think it’s evidence that he is a deeply reactionary figure who should be anathema to any administration forging compassionate conservatism.


Drudge, with his usual eye for gold, mines Vanity Fair’s profile of Keanu Reeves. I almost never read celebrity movie star profiles – who gives a damn what actors think anyway? – but I was impressed with Keanu’s defense of his drug-use. The honesty is refreshing. He says he’s `had wonderful experiences’ with drugs, adding, `I mean REALLY wonderful.’ What kind of experiences? ‘In teaching. Personal epiphanies. About life. About a different perspective.’ I don’t doubt it. Do you? The one thing that has always mystified me about most anti-drug messages is that they all assume that the drug experience is awful, unpleasant, disgusting, and so on. No-one believes this, since it’s not true. Many drug experiences are obviously pleasurable, interesting, diverting, exciting, even occasionally spiritual. That’s why people take drugs! They prefer them to reality. The problem is addiction, long-term use, self-destruction, and so on. It seems to me that the propagandists in the ‘war on drugs’ would be a lot more effective in their public education messages if they admitted as much. If an adult goes to a teenager and says, ‘Most drugs are great fun for a while, but they can get a hook in you and aren’t worth it in the long run,’ then a few more teens might actually listen. If an adult were able further to make distinctions between drugs, i.e. pot is basically harmless, ecstasy can’t kill you – but look out for addictive substances like crystal meth or cocaine or fatal concoctions like GHB – then the persuasiveness factor would increase again. I’d legalize the lot of them tomorrow. But since we won’t, a little honesty about the problem wouldn’t hurt. It certainly couldn’t be less effective than the war on drugs waged this last decade. So good on you, Keanu. Now go get some shampoo.


‘As LL Cool J looks on, Britney Spears rips off her conservative pink dress to reveal what millions of teenage boys dream about every night.’ – AOL’s description of a photo from the American Music Awards last night.


I would never have picked John Ashcroft as attorney-general, but if I were a Senator, I’d be hard-pressed to vote against him. The only solid reason to vote down a candidate is if he is simply unqualified for the office or of such poor character that one can easily predict he would not be able to perform his job ethically. Neither argument holds for Ashcroft. He’s obviously qualified, and even his political opponents (I count myself among them) concede his sincerity. The worst reason to oppose him was given by Albert Hunt in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, who argued that since blacks perceive Ashcroft as biased, he is unqualified: ‘[I]f an attorney general is perceived as for or against one group of Americans, it sours faith and confidence in the rule of law.’ But what if that perception is not reality? Do we now have to add ‘the perception of bias’ to the ‘appearance of impropriety’ to the roster of smear tactics in modern politics? I think Ashcroft should return his honorary degree to Bob Jones University as a symbolic act. But apart from that, there’s no solid evidence that Ashcroft is somehow biased against blacks. Sure he opposed one black judge for political reasons, but he has backed many, many more. He’s against hate crime laws and affirmative action, but that doesn’t mean he’s a racist. It simply means he’s not a leftist. He’s a fanatical believer in saving every unborn child and executing as many criminals as possible, a position I find morally incoherent. But those views are within the spectrum of decent opinion and certainly don’t bespeak some kind of animus against a group of people. Besides, some black leaders, such as Jesse Jackson, see Bull Connor behind every white face on the block. Giving their paranoia a veto against every cabinet member is a crazy idea. There would never be a fully staffed cabinet. So I’d give Ashcroft a reluctant benefit of the doubt. I find most of his views abhorrent, and his Puritanism worrying. But I’m not the president, and a duly elected one deserves to have the cabinet of his choice. Besides, I can’t help feeling that one of the worries of Ashcroft’s enemies on the left is that he may end up being a pretty fair AG, and exonerate some members of the protestant right from the charge that they cannot be fair and open-minded public servants. I hope Ashcroft survives and proves them wrong. And if he survives and proves his enemies right, then Bush will deserve the drubbing he’ll get at the polls in four years’ time.


A reader suggests a new indicator that we live in a new era. Arthur Andersen just changed its corporate name to ‘Accenture.’ Doesn’t that sound like one of those words George W Bush tries to say from time to time? Those marketing gurus are goo-ood.


My friend Paul Varnell, another contributor to the Independent Gay Forum, a group of non-leftist gay writers and thinkers, points out a couple of factual distortions (among many) in Eberstadt’s piece. (Yes, I know I’ve gone completely overboard on this subject, but skip to the next item if you’re bored. Damn, the next item’s about Eberstadt.) Item: Eberstadt’s assertion that ‘[Gay teen magazine] XY is now, according to its founder and publisher Peter Ian Cummings, the ‘third largest gay magazine in the U.S., selling over 60,000 copies per year…’ This is silly. XY is a bimonthly. That means it sells some 10,000 copies per issue (if you believe the hype of its publisher). Almost any gay paper in a major urban center sells more than that per week. And remember: XY is not officially a pedophile magazine. It’s a gay mag for teens with dirty old men looking over their shoulders. If you were to include gay porn magazines, 10,000 copies is pathetic. (Somehow Eberstadt hasn’t heard of one of the fastest growing gay magazines, Hero, dedicated to gay couples and relationships. Nor is she aware of the growing trend among gay men of celebrating mature masculinity as a sexual object, rather than youth). Then there’s this whopper: ‘positive portrayals of ‘inter-generational sex,’ which are extremely rare in the rest of the culture, are not rare in gay literature and journalism.’ Paul notes that such references are, in his experience, not just rare but almost wholly absent. I’d concur. I’ve been openly gay for almost two decades and have met with thousands of gay men and read thousands of gay magazines. I can honestly say that I have never come across a reference to pedophilia without its being condemned. Am I completely out of the mainstream loop? I doubt it. There probably are underground pedophile gay groups, just as there are among straights, but they have no more legitimacy among gay men than they do among straight men, possibly less. Okay, I’m done now. I hope it’s clear I’m in no way condoning any gay pedophilia that there might be. It’s evil. But it’s a tiny phenomenon compared to straight pedophilia, and has been used by a legitimate publication to smear gay men and women with one of the oldest and ugliest libels known to man. Eberstadt is at best ignorant; at worst, malevolent. The Weekly Standard, which knows better, is both.


‘The most obsessed of the gawkers is Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) a 13-year-old boy who is bodily and spiritually overcome by his lust for Malena. The first time he lays eyes on her, Tornatore actually pans down to Sulfaro’s awakening crotch to make sure you get the message… Those three oft-repeated scenes mentioned earlier consist of Renato spying on Malena in a variety of alluring circumstances; Renato masturbating to relieve his hysteria; and his anti-Fascist father (Luciano Federico) smacking him in the head for his indiscretions.’ – CNN.com’s review of a new movie, ‘Malena,’ by the Italian director, Giuseppe Tornatore. Opening in theaters now across America.


Late entry in the Begala Awards for over-written lefty angst goes to my friend, Katha Pollitt, who still can’t get over W’s victory. Life in this capitalist hell-hole is so bad, who can blame Pierre Salinger for staying in France?: ‘[A]ccording to Newsweek, there are now 1 million slaves in America, mostly women and girls–cleaning houses, making clothes, servicing men sexually to pay off traffickers and pimps. Ask yourself what kind of man would fuck a slave, some Chinese or Albanian or Thai teenager in a plywood cubicle with a mattress on the floor. Do you think he cares if you write a letter to your congressman? Maybe he is your congressman… ‘If there’s a depression, will we have enough money?’ Sophie asks as we turn out the light. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ I say. ‘Everything will be fine. We can always sing in the subway.”- The Nation, January 22. Oh come on, Katha. If worst comes to worst, I’m sure you could get a gig at the American Prospect.