I don’t follow the ins and outs of DOJ behavior anywhere near as closely as Matthew Yglesias probably does, so for all I know there’s merit to his highly qualified defense of Ashcroft. This, however, is highly unpersuasive:
On the “values issues” Ashcroft has substantive views that I find repugnant. And yet, near as I can tell Ashcroft has conducted himself in office with regard to these issues in a perfectly appropriate way — attempting to enforce the existing laws.
Here’s the thing: We’ve got a lot of laws around here. Really, more than you could possibly imagine. And lots of them are being broken, regularly and repeatedly. And the justice department, limited by the resources allotted to it, can only pursue a tiny fraction of the violations and lawbreakers. Part of a good justice department is one that makes these choices wisely, with a sense of proportion. Going after Tommy Chong for selling pot pipes, devoting non-trivial legal resources to fighting state statutes on medicinal marijuana and assisted suicide, and elaborate porn stings may all be done as good-faith efforts to enforce federal law. But they’re also open to criticism as a severely misplaced use of federal resources, whether you agree with the law in question or not. Did 9/11 change everything, or didn’t it?
Furthermore, Ashcroft’s particularly alarming version of Jeebofascism may, quite frankly, play a role in the way he uses his discretion on which laws to enforce. The fact that he’s not using it to make up laws out of whole cloth is a point in his favor, I suppose, but it sets the bar awfully low. (and, of course, the infamous torture memos were written by his subordinate, if I’m not mistaken).
I’m willing to consider the possibility that I may have underestimated Ashcroft in relation to the rest of the administration. Iraq is, without question, the biggest screw-up so far and Ashcroft can hardly be blamed for that. MY is surely correct that he’s become far more associated with the Patriot act than he ought to be. But the case remains unpersuasive so far.