At the 1983 Lincoln Days in the Chase-Park Plaza in St. Louis, I followed a group of partiers from Jack Danforth’s room up a few flights of dingy stairs to Ashcroft’s room. At the time, John Ashcroft was Missouri’s Attorney-General who was seeking to replace Kit Bond as Governor.
As we slithered between preppily dressed bodies in the once glamorous hotel, a shout came from up ahead, repeated in various voices of shock and amazement. “No booze.”
Ashcroft was a tea-tottler. Gads.
I turned, scotch and soda in hand, and returned to the Danforth party, where the open bar seemed, oh, so inviting. My cadre followed.
In historical perspective, John Ashcroft’s improbably ascent to Attorney-General of the United States will be good material for a book. Back in 1983, the Religious Right was sneered as much in Republican circles as it is today in liberal ones. In St. Louis, Missouri, home of Anheuser-Busch, a politician who doesn’t serve beer at Lincoln Days usually doesn’t fair well.
Ashcroft succeeded. He served two terms as Governor of Missouri, then was elected to the Senate in 1994. He would have been re-elected in 2000 were it not for a plane crash in October that took the life of his opponent–the man who followed Ashcroft into Missouri’s governor’s mansion after the GOP candidate, William Webster, admitted to misappropriating government funds in his campaign to succeed Ashcroft. Webster would have won by a landslide were it not for the scandal, and the world would never have heard of Mel Carnahan.
But Webster was a crook, and Carnahan died just before the 2000 election. Missouri sentiment for the dead governor, whose son piloted the fatal flight, swept Widow Carnahan into the US Senate and Bob Holden, an affable dunce, into the governor’s house.
After the contentious 2000 election, President Bush tapped the suddenly available Ashcroft as Attorney-General. Jim Talent, a rising Republic star, cooled his heels waiting to challenge Widow Carnahan for the seat that Missouri Republicans believed destined for Ashcroft.
On September 11, 2001, whoever was Attorney-General would become the most powerful since Lincoln’s first term. The terrorism committed on American soil convinced lawmakers and citizens alike that our nation’s law enforcement and interdiction agencies needed special powers to combat a threat to civilization.
Thank God that the man in that role was a man of faith. His faith and subservience to God helped John Ashcroft walk the tightrope between chaos and tyranny. With skill, deft, and great good judgment, Ashcroft has played a key role in ensuring not a single terrorist attack on American soil in over three years.
As an American, I am as sorry to see him go as I am grateful for his service. As a Missouri, I beam proudly that one of my fellows made history by doing what is right. John Ashcroft weathered bitter, scathing assaults on his character. His faith, no doubt, his crutch. But his astonishing character, as well.
Godspeed, John. Welcome home.