Ever since the Ronnie White affair resurfaced in the news because of the Ashcroft nomination, there have been two schools of thought as to Ashcroft's motivation for opposing Justice White.
The simpler of the two has it that Ashcroft was motivated by racial animus against an African-American judge. The other says that Ashcroft wasn't racist, just a craven and vicious opportunist who smeared White in order to burnish his tough-on-crime credentials going into his 2000 reelection campaign.
(Yes, there is a third theory that Ashcroft was simply right on the merits with regards to White. But that one is reserved for boobs and miscreants and thus needn't concern us.)
Talking Points has always thought that the truth was probably a mixture of the two.
What's interesting, though, is that a number of Ashcroft's supporters have used explanation #2 in Ashcroft's defense. He's not racist! He just smeared that guy and lied about him to ramp up his election. Come on! Cut the guy some slack!
This has always struck Talking Points as a pretty odd defense. And now Stuart Taylor, Jr of National Journal is saying the same thing. In his new column from the January 13th issue Taylor argues that Ashcroft is no racist but shouldn't be confirmed because he's a "character assassin."
Normally, Talking Points would link to the article. But National Journal prides itself on being available to almost no one outside of DC. A subscription costs like $1500 a year or something. And you have to subscribe to access their site. (In other words, they're a real piece of work).
[LATE UPDATE: Turns out, National Journal has linked this article for non-subscribers, which sort of makes all this anti-National Journal trash-talk a little irrelevant. But hey, let's have our cake and eat it too! Enjoy the TPM content and here's the link.]
So, with deference to the copyright laws, here are some quotations form the article ....
...no president is entitled to put a character assassin in charge of law enforcement.
Obviously Talking Points would like to show you the whole article word for word. But he thinks these quotes pretty fairly characterize Taylor's indictment.
...it does appear that Ashcroft was deliberately engaging in inflammatory racial politics [when he fought White's nomination] ...
Ashcroft must have known that accusing a black judge (falsely) of being "pro-criminal" and of a "tremendous bent toward criminal activity" would stir the worst instincts of those voters who stereotype criminality as black.
For Ashcroft to call [Justice White's legal opinion in question] "pro-criminal" was obscene.
The smearing of Judge White makes the many testimonials to Ashcroft's integrity ring a bit hollow.
Now here's the deal. This article is extremely important -- less because of the quality of the argument, which is high -- but because of who the author is. It's difficult to convey how important Taylor is in shaping Conventional Wisdom in Washington, DC.
Well, that's a bit more difficult to explain. Part of it is that Taylor is the kind of liberal (supposed liberal) who specializes in pointing out why conservatives -- by golly -- are actually right after all, and why libs are shameless hypocrites. People in DC love that.
(Actually, come to think of it, he kind of reminds me of a Friend of Talking Points (an FOTP) who's also in the snarky, self-published political web site bizz ... But Talking Points likes that guy a lot; Taylor, he's not so crazy about. But enough of this self-indulgent personal digression.)
Another reason for Taylor's popularity is that he became a big-time critic of Bill Clinton over Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and just about everything else. And people in DC love that too. Why else? I have no idea. Funny mustache? Earnest speaking style? Who knows?
But it doesn't matter. The point is that he's that important. I guarentee you he'll be on the Sunday shows chatting this up. And his article will give cover to moderates -- possibly in both parties -- to give another, more critical look, at the nomination.
Forget what the NAACP says, Stuart Taylor says he's a bad apple! And that's serious!
Or something like that.
Anyway, it's important. More important than ten press conferences by People for the American Way.