Sunday, July 01, 2018

Ashcroft, Bovard, the Patriot Act, and the Truth

Claire Wolfe

January 15, 2004

To bust the winter blahs, Hardyville has at least one fancy civic-betterment “do” every year. One winter, a Genuine Expert came from California and talked about “Weapons for the Generic Catastrophe.” Another time, the mysterious Tom Spooner taught us all how to make and use thermite — and I can tell you that did brighten up our winter more than a bit.
Some folks might wonder how such things qualify as “civic betterment.” But trust me, they definitely make Hardyville a better place than most to live.
This year we got more uppity and la-de-dah. Attorney General John Ashcroft and James Bovard, who wrote Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil, came to Hardyville to debate the Patriot Act.
Now, I know. You probably doubted that when you first heard it. Why would two Famous Washington, DC, Types come to itty-bitty Hardyville — and in the middle of snowy-blowy January yet?
Well, it didn’t take any convincing to get Jim. All we had to do is promise him we had good beer.
Ashcroft was tougher. You know how these Grand Poobahs are. They’re paranoid about letting actual people get within 10 miles of them. So first, Ashcroft’s handlers told us everybody in Hardyville would have to have a background check to prove they weren’t dangerous. We said that wasn’t necessary, because we already know we’re all dangerous. But only to tyrants — and Mr. Ashcroft doesn’t think of himself as a tyrant, does he??? Then they said everybody in the audience would have to go through metal detectors to make sure they weren’t armed. And we said that was downright silly, because we already know we’re all armed. And didn’t Mr. Ashcroft keep insisting he believed in the Second Amendment? So why didn’t he just show up and quit arguing?
Anyway, after Dora-the-Yalie’s father’s third cousin from Georgetown pulled some strings, the whole town jammed into the Hardyville One-Plex to see the show.
We’d covered up all the naked breasts in the theater murals so’s not to give Mr. A the vapors. (Jim said he didn’t mind, as long as we uncovered them afterward so he could look.) In the front row, Louella from the Hardyvillian clutched her notepad, starry-eyed at the chance to be an actual “journalist” from the actual “media” getting quotes from an actual “government source.” (Yeah, they’re like that even in Hardyville, sorry.)
Mrs. Nat was supposed to moderate the thing — being one of only two people in town who could be counted on to be polite to a politician (the other one being Louella). But after shyly choking out introductions, she mumbled something about cookies in the oven and fled, leaving Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Bovard to have at each other.
I gotta give you the picture of these guys. Mr. A looks like the kind of storefront preacher who wears plaid pants and moonlights as a used car salesman. He looks, to tell you the truth, exactly like the kinda guy who’d anoint himself with Crisco. Mr. B also looks churchy, though I gotta say not religious, and definitely for sure not pious. Bald on top and generally scraggly, he looks like the kind of Medieval monk who’d hang around quaffing ale in taverns, instead of praying in the abbey. So you could see, even before they opened their mouths, that these guys weren’t exactly a matched pair.
Sure enough, Ashcroft started off like the preacher-man, gazing kindly down on his benighted flock: “The Founders,” he crooned, “believed debate should enlighten, not just enliven. It should reveal truth, not obscure it. The future of freedom demands that our discourse be based on a solid foundation of facts and a sincere desire for truth.”
No croons for Bovard. Whipping a cheap cigar out of his vest pocket and pointing it at the AG, he hooted, “Mr. Ashcroft, your lofty sentiments are uplifting — until one remembers that you issued an order largely gutting the Freedom of Information Act a month after 9/11. You say you’re all in favor of a ‘solid foundation of facts’ — but you’re opposed to permitting Americans from learning what the feds are up to? This is not quite what the Founding Fathers had in mind!”
When that got a chuckle, Ashcroft smirked at our ignorance (and I tell you, this guy can seriously smirk). He then informed us the Patriot Act was For Our Security: “With the critical new investigative tools provided by the Patriot Act, law enforcement can share information and cooperate better with each other. From prosecutors to intelligence agents, the Act allows law enforcement to ‘connect the dots’ and uncover terrorist plots before they are launched.”
Some conservative members of the audience nodded at that one. But Bovard wasn’t having it. With a glint of heresy in his eye he said, “That’s a nice way of covering up their failure to share information — even within any one agency — that could have prevented the original attacks. The House-Senate Joint Intelligence Committee found pervasive incompetence by the FBI prior to 9/11. There was nothing in the federal statute book which required FBI headquarters to disregard the specific warnings and alerts sent in by FBI agents in Arizona, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. There was no law prior to the Patriot Act which prevented the feds from putting together the warning signs of a pending airplane hijacking conspiracy. General Ashcroft, you disgracefully seek to absolve federal agencies of all their culpability for failing to stop 9/11 — simply because the feds did not have all the power they desired.”

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