While pundits thrashed about desperately during Election 2000 to inflate microscopic differences between Gore and Bush, one of the most important differences went largely unremarked: their probable Cabinet appointees. Now that George II has unveiled his choices, the alarms are beginning to sound. In contrast to Bush's mediagenic rhetoric of bipartisanship and healing, few of his top administrative picks can be considered "moderate." Instead, the prospective Cabinet is littered with nominees that the Democratic Party should be opposing because—along with lacking qualification—several of them are frothing, rabid ideologues and several are frightfully cozy with the industries they will be enriching.
Here are some of the worst nominees, the ones Democrats should fight with all their might:
Justice Department, John Ashcroft (Attorney General)
He opposes abortion, hates gays, supports the death penalty (and opposes a moratorium on executions), supports tougher sentences for drug crimes (and opposes money for drug treatment), and opposes any and all gun control laws (even ones currently on the books). He sponsored a program in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act that allows states to provide services through church groups. In short, he's nuts.
He has no interest in enforcing civil rights laws, environmental regulations, and antitrust regulations. No more Microsoft case or anti-tobacco lawsuits. Though he adores Clarence Thomas, civil rights groups call him a racist; he opposed the appointment of Bill Lann Lee to head the civil rights division at Justice; and he shot down the appointment of Ronnie White (the first African American on the Missouri Supreme Court) to a federal district court bench. In a 1998 interview he lauded the cause of pro-slavery Confederate secessionists; in 1999, Ashcroft accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, which not long ago banned interracial dating and marriage.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the biggest newspaper in his home state, "Mr. Ashcroft has built a career out of opposing school desegregation in St. Louis and opposing African Americans for public office."
State Department, Colin Powell
In the '80s he served on Reagan's national security team while the administration supported human rights-abusing militaries in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as well as the Contras in Nicaragua. Powell's explanation: "In the old days of East/West polarization, we worked with what we had."
He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, an operation that included burying Iraqi soldiers alive, the infamous "Turkey Shoot" of retreating Iraqi conscripts, and the irradiation of thousands by weaponry containing over 40 tons of depleted uranium. Powell also drew up plans for a nuclear strike on Baghdad. Powell has been complicit in ignoring Gulf War Syndrome, while 184,000 of the 697,000 Gulf War troops have filed disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In all of this, Powell's only documented opposition to any military policy was in response to Clinton's efforts to end anti-gay witch-hunts in the armed forces.
Finally, the Department of State is not just about military intervention and affairs, it also involves diplomacy. Powell has no experience with diplomatic matters of state.
EPA, Christine Todd Whitman
As governor of New Jersey, she cut the state's environmental protection budget by 30 percent, relaxed enforcement of pollution regulations, promoted voluntary compliance by industry, and abolished New Jersey's environmental prosecutor's office and replaced it with a business ombudsman. Pollution fines and prosecutions have dropped dramatically under her.
New Jersey has the highest number of Superfund sites in the nation. She removed 1,000 chemicals from the state's right-to-know list. She signed an executive order that rolled back all state environmental laws that were tougher than federal ones. She has regularly fought with the federal EPA over her delay of new standards for auto emissions inspections, a proposed highway expansion, and her efforts to relax water quality standards.
Whitman, soon to be the nation's leading environmentalist, has said she doubts that ozone layer depletion and global warming are actually serious problems. She has no specific environmental experience, but that hasn't stopped her from doing as much damage as she can.
Department of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson
As governor, he was the architect of Wisconsin's welfare reform, one of the first in the nation. His state was the first to ask Health and Human Services for permission to put a time limit on welfare benefits, which later became a key part of federal welfare reform. His welfare reform has two components: aid (money for child care, health insurance, and job training) and punishment (withholding cash benefits to parents whose kids skip school, women who have babies while on welfare, and unmarried parents).
He opposes abortion; he signed legislation that forces Wisconsin women who want abortions to seek counseling first, then wait three days to get the procedure done. He can't wait to get his slimy hands on Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, all of which he wants to restructure. He wants to convert Medicaid to a system of block grants to states (when states have already proven remiss in administering Medicaid to those who qualify).
Unfortunately, the Democrats are not fighting these nominations as hard as they should. The nominee who is gathering the most opposition, Ashcroft, will win confirmation. Even worse, the others, despite some grassroots noise, will all sail through with the usual senatorial and media kissy-kissy.
Thanks to Maria Tomchick for her invaluable research assistance.