Bad Attitudes, a magazine of culture, politics, art, literature, 
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Willy Was Slick
And Crisco, Too ...

(This screed comes to Badattitudes from a disgruntled Washington
bureaucrat who prefers not to give his name until he finds another job.)

Visitors to this site will be familiar with the richly evidenced position that Attorney General John Ashcroft--The Crisco Kid*--is a retrograde culture warrior of the most vicious and contemptible sort. But that’s par for the course in the Bush Restoration. What distinguishes Ashcroft is that The Kid is so damn good.

The first clue was how The Kid responded to the unjustified twisting at his confirmation hearings of his respect for the history and tradition of the South into accusations that he is pro-Confederate and soft on, of all things, slavery.

Having been embarrassed by this but nevertheless confirmed, The Kid led off with a sustained barrage of African-American appointments to key spots in the Department of Justice. This was a nice touch, but just a little obvious. The question still remained of whether The Kid would turn out to be the most dangerous type of bureaucrat: adroit, and utterly cynical.

The question was answered on April 26, 2001, in a story by Dan Eggen and Marc Kaufman in the Washington Post. It’s an open secret that The Kid wants to kill the Justice Department’s anti-tobacco litigation, largely because that is what Jesus Christ would do.

A battering ram like Dick Armey would just pull the plug, batten down the hatches, light up a cigar, and enjoy the storm. Not The Kid. Instead, The Kid’s team told the Post that “The litigation team handling the tobacco suit has not done a good job...There is a lack of confidence in some of the people involved.”

In other words, the wrong team is in place.

Anybody familiar with the quality of work done by the Justice Department’s Civil Division in general, and in particular by Sharon Y. Eubanks, who heads the tobacco team at Justice, knows this is preposterous. The lawyering out of the Civil Division ranges from good to excellent, and Eubanks is one of the most seasoned and respected managers in the Division.

Eggen and Kaufman found this out when they had the good sense to talk to William B. Schultz, the deputy assistant attorney general who oversaw the tobacco team during the Clinton administration. He told the reporters, “We were always very confident and very pleased with the job that group was doing. The leadership has been outstanding, and the quality of the line attorneys is first-rate.”

Thus The Kid was right, from his particular point of view: the wrong team is in place.

It seems The Kid is a student of bureaucratic history. Remember the Resolution Trust Corporation? That’s the government agency that was set up to manage the Savings & Loan bailout by the real Bush Administration in the late eighties and early nineties. Poppy Bush’s men were faced with the delicate PR problem of seeming to run the S&L litigation in the public interest while actually giving sweetheart deals to the mostly Republican financiers who wanted to buy S&L assets at fire sale prices.

Perhaps because big money was at stake, Poppy’s high command showed uncharacteristic finesse in dealing with this knotty issue, and The Kid must have been watching.

Hark back to August of 1992, when three former RTC attorneys testified to Congress that experienced litigators were being forced out of the agency and replaced by inexperienced lawyers. These attorneys were referring to the real Bush Administration’s June 1992 staff shakeup at RTC, which, as reported by the AP on May 14, 1993, “created rapid turnover and left inexperienced attorneys responsible for cases they were unfamiliar with...”

Will The Kid kill the tobacco litigation outright, on the grounds that Eubanks and her squad have made such a hash of it so far? Not a chance. That would be wrong.

Like The Ex-Guv for whom he works, The Kid understands the basic precepts of strong public administration: put the right people in place, and get out of the way. Look for The Kid to install soon a whole new team of fresh and inexperienced young attorneys. Then, once the correct team is in place, watch The Kid get out of the way.

*The author refers here to the fact that Mr. Ashcroft had himself anointed on two occasions before assuming high offices in his home state. Crisco was used instead of olive oil, as the ceremonies were held in Missouri rather than ancient Judea.

April, 2001


Copyright © 2004 by Jerome Doolittle