Talkin' John Ashcroft Confirmation Vote Blues
Actually, I'll also be talkin' about Condi Rice and Alberto Gonzales, I just saw a chance for a tribute to an old Bob Dylan song title, so I had to take it.
As you all probably know, four years ago Senator Feingold voted to confirm John Ashcroft as Attorney General. Since then I have seen a number of Democrats online declare they'd never vote for Feingold for President because of that vote. To those Democrats I respectfully ask: "Are you freakin' kidding me?!" Sorry, I don't believe in one issue voting, so one vote seven years ago (from 2008) voting makes no sense to me.
Senator Feingold has repeatedly stated that he believes a president deserves to have his cabinet nominees confirmed regardless of ideology as long as they are capable of doing the job. This is different from judicial nominees, as Senator Feingold explains in this great 2002 Progressive Magazine interview:
Q: Any regrets on your Ashcroft vote?
Feingold: No. It was the right vote. When the President picks someone who is his ideological soul mate, that's his right, in my reading of "advise and consent." I do think, though, the more you get up the ladder, when someone is no longer accountable to the President, and more importantly, will stay in office after the President, the standard gets tougher and tougher.
Q: You mean for judges?
Feingold: Well, first, independent commissioners. People whose terms go for five years or longer, like FCC commissioners. That's a higher standard. Then district judges, who are appointed for a lifetime but can be overruled. Then Court of Appeals judges. They're not the highest level, but they're almost the final word. And then, of course, the Supreme Court.
I was not pleased by Ashcroft's confirmation but after thinking about it I came to understand and appreciate Senator Feingold's reasons for his vote. But to those who disagree with the Senator's confirmation vote for Ashcroft, I say remember that was only one vote. Look at the rest of the Senator's record, throughout the first Bush term-he was one of the most consistent fighters for progressive causes. Many of the Senators who opposed Ashcroft supported the war in Iraq. Some supported the Bush tax cuts. All supported the PATRIOT Act. Look at the Senator's whole voting record. I agree with Feingold's comments in this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece from 2001:
Feingold argues that his position has been more consistent than that of lawmakers who opposed the attorney general's confirmation but have gone along with the policies.
"If you think about it for a minute, that's clearly the odd thing. To say, 'I'm worried about what John Ashcroft is going to do about civil liberties, therefore I will vote against him,' and then when he does something bad about civil liberties, you vote for it - that doesn't make sense," Feingold said.
Because of his stated views on Cabinet confirmation votes, I honestly was neither surprised or disappointed by Feingold's vote for Rice. I never bought into the argument that "a vote for Rice is a vote for war and for torture"; voting to confirm a Cabinet nominee isn't voting to support their views or past actions. If that were the case, I'd want the Democrats to oppose all of Bush's nominees, because I must disagree with them on some policy. But if you were disappointed in the Senator's vote to confirm Condi, keep on watching his votes throughout this second term. I am confident he will continue to be a consistent supporter of progressive views, including human rights and a sane foreign policy.
More surprising to me is his vote AGAINST confirming Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General. I think his statement on the vote is definitely worth reading. The Senator states that he is voting against Gonzales:
Not because he is too conservative, or because I disagree with a specific policy position he has taken, but because I am not convinced that he possesses the abiding respect for the rule of law that our country needs in these difficult times in its Attorney General.
That's very troubling. I did not get to watch Gonzales's confirmation hearings, but from Senator Feingold's statement it sounds like Gonzales didn't even try to give the "right" answer to some very important questions. As I said, I haven't been too interested in opposing Bush's cabinet nominees, but Senator Feingold's statement really makes me worried. I hope everyone who has Democratic or moderate Republican Senators will contact them and urge them to oppose Gonzales's nomination. As the Madison Capital Times writes:
Before the Gonzales nomination is considered by the full Senate, wavering Democrats and Republicans who are generally inclined to back President Bush should reflect on Feingold's concerns. If Alberto Gonzales failed to pass the Feingold test, then, surely, he should not be confirmed as attorney general.