Flouting Civil Liberties
Libraries or Weapons?
In the aftermath of 9/11, Ashcroft's assault on civil liberties came hard and fast, with many denials that it was politically motivated. The historical antecedents of this assault warrant some explanation. For many decades now, elements in the Republican Party have often played on public concerns about crime and security. (Then again, Republicans sometimes respond to this criticism by charging Democrats with fomenting class antagonism when they propose taxes on the rich to support popular programs for other classes.) In 1952 the young Republican candidate for vice president, Richard M. Nixon, hit Democrats hard with the demagogic “C3” theme formula, “Communism, crime, and corruption. ” The accused Democrats went down like bowling pins, with Nixon, in his role as “basher, ” helping Eisenhower win not only the White House but the Congress for the first time since 1930. In the same way, Ashcroft may deserve some credit for Bush's retaking the Senate in 2002. The C3 theme formula might be updated (phonetically) to “Qaeda, crime, and the career civil service. ”
In 1968 Nixon won the presidency by blaming street crime on civil liberties decisions of (Democrat-appointed) justices that “handcuffed the police” (e.g., decisions requiring police to give Miranda warnings to take confessions and to obtain warrants for house searches). In 1988 George H. W. Bush's political hardball strategist Lee Atwater ran the infamous Willie Horton ad—a picture that did the work of a thousand words, framing