U.S. News has cover story profile on John Ashcroft that reaches some pretty surprising conclusions.

For all of the controversy he manages to attract, John Ashcroft is one of the least understood men in Washington. Derided as a religious zealot by some, Ashcroft has never invoked religion in policy or procedural discussions, say colleagues, who add that they have never even seen him pray. Challenged during his confirmation hearings as insensitive to minorities, Ashcroft worships regularly at a mostly black church. An ardent opponent of abortion, Ashcroft is praised by pro-abortion-rights groups for prosecuting violence against abortion clinics. A longtime gun-control foe, Ashcroft has increased prosecutions of certain gun crimes nearly 70 percent over three years. “One of the things that’s frustrating about watching from the outside is he’s a very charming, intelligent guy,” says James Comey, who was confirmed as Ashcroft’s deputy a month ago and served as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan before that. “He’s shockingly smart, but most people wouldn’t think that. The guy is ferociously honest, but there are people who would not believe that. To some in the public, he is Darth Vader, but it’s unfair because he’s really not that way.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    It is not so much he is misunderstood as much as the persona his enemies have created was not based on reality.

    The liberals (for whatever reason) expend a hugh amount of effort building personas of both their friends and foes. Bush was the dumbest man alive and Gore the smartest despite the fact Bush spanked him in 3 straight debates. Bill Clinton is the second smartest man alive (only after Al Gore) but he did some of the dumbest things in political history.

    The fact that one of these personas is completely bogus is hardly surprising unless you believed the spin in the first place. He is not being misunderstood. He is being smeared. The difference between the two is vast.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I think there’s more to it than that. After all, not EVERYBODY gets smeared. I think Ashcroft is an odd duck by Washington standards and people honestly don’t know what to make of him.

  3. SwampWoman says:

    Paul, I think you’re absolutely right. If you build an ugly enough caricature, and abuse it roundly in the press, then *everyone* believes that the caricature is the person.

    Sort of like the “Gore really won in Florida” that keeps popping up even though everything was painstakingly recounted more than once and Bush still won.

  4. McGehee says:

    You wouldn’t know it from the way the media have reinvented him now that he’s AG, but I understand he was elected to several statewide offices in that wacko extremist state he comes from — which, strangely, has the same name as the almost certainly different, moderate, centrist, middle-of-the-road state Richard Gephardt is from…

  5. cj says:

    I think I remember a factual news report that Ashcroft holds (used to, anyway) a morning Bible study and/or prayer meeting in his office (as AG).

    I’m from Missouri (now live over the state line in KS, in the KC metro area), and Ashcroft WAS considered an odd duck for his religious beliefs. (And lost an election to the then-recently-deceased Carnahan.) But I don’t think anyone questioned his ethics.

  6. Teri Lester says:

    Ashcroft lost the election to Carnahan because he refused to capitalize on the man’s death, and out of decency refrained from heavy campaigning during the mourning period. Carnahan’s widow did not.