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Judged, but by whose standard?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted August 5, 2002

Recently, The New York Times ran a story quoting yours truly, suggesting that some in the religious right are concerned about some of Attorney General John Ashcroft's policies. The bulk of the story, which obviously came from leaks or planted stories originating in the White House, had nothing to do with our concerns. It has all the earmarkings of a campaign to dump the Attorney General. Let me make it clear upfront: I do have some policy differences with the Attorney General, but in no way do I want to be connected in any way with a campaign to dump him. I was never asked by the reporter about any of the supposed unhappiness in the Administration with Ashcroft. The reporter seemed to be working on two or three different stories and strung them all together.

Soon after the Times story appeared, the editors of the Weekly Standard took it upon themselves to publish an opinion piece saying that the only people concerned with John Ashcroft were conservative activist Grover Norquist and myself. Moreover, the article suggested that I can't be a spokesman for the religious right since I don't represent anybody anymore. You see, according to the Standard, I once was effective in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but since my effectiveness has been in a state of decline.

This is one of several similar gratuitous attacks by the editors of the Standard, who have also suggested that the Free Congress Foundation, of which I have been President of for the past 25 years, was increasingly a fringe organization, out of the mainstream. In fact, one of the editors of the Standard told one of the Free Congress Foundation staffers that we will never get any favorable coverage in the Standard because we opposed President Bush's nominee for Drug Czar. The problem is we never opposed the President's nominee, but getting it right has never been the hallmark of the Standard, much of whose work I still admire.

But I digress. To the point about whether I represent anyone, I recently composed a letter to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), in which I congratulated the Chairman for his legislative oversight of the new FBI guidelines. The Chairman was upset because the Attorney General and the FBI Director issued the guidelines without having consulted the Congress. Chairman Sensenbrenner expressed the same concerns about civil liberties that have been expressed by the Free Congress Foundation. I mentioned this at our weekly Wednesday policy lunch in which we connect conservative outside groups with conservatives in the House and Senate. I asked if anyone wished to join me in that letter. Some 33 groups did, including the Family Research Council. FRC is the group that the Weekly Standard cites to try to prove that we have no influence, but they were one of the first signatories.

Since the Times article appeared, Pat Trueman of the American Family Association, weighed in and said the reason his organization has problems with the Attorney General is because there have been very few prosecutions of child pornography cases.

When I told the Times that the movement had some concerns about the conduct of the Attorney General, it was based on that letter. I would never represent that the movement was involved if it were my opinion alone. The Standard never called me to ask that question. Grover Norquist told me the Standard never called him either.

I don't know what all of this is about. Perhaps it stems from when I said Bill Kristol, the Standard's editor, should keep his mouth shut. You will recall that early on in the Bush Administration one of our planes went down in China. The President was negotiating for their release. Kristol called that episode a massive foreign policy failure and an example of appeasement.

I called his remarks unseemly and suggested that it was time he kept his mouth shut. Perhaps this is payback time. Whatever it is I wish the silliness would stop. The Weekly Standard may make light of the erosion of our liberties. We at the Free Congress Foundation don't believe it is a trivial matter. And it would appear that, at least, a majority of the Washington-based social conservatives share our concerns.

Paul M. Weyrich is President of the Free Congress Foundation.

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