The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 9, 2001 Issue

Interesting issues

What one group considers obvious and the right way may not look that way to others

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

The debate over Pres. George W. Bush's appointment of John Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General raised interesting issues.

One complaint of critics was that Pres. Bush had promised to unite the nation, but he nominated an attorney general they see as highly divisive.

The problem with that argument, is that it's hard to imagine an attorney general who would not be divisive. We are at a time in our history when there are many legitimate disagreements on many issues that could fall under the jurisdiction of the attorney general. For example, how should hate crimes be prosecuted? What positions should the federal government take on minority or gender quotas in hiring, awarding contracts or university admissions in the courts or before Congress?

There certainly is no national agreement on these and numerous other issues. These differences in belief can stem from legitimate philosophical reasons - or for some, they may be caused by hatred, or for others, overly paternalistic attitudes.

Beyond that, there are times when it's important to rouse people for change, no matter how divisive that may be. For example, in 1961, Pres. John Kennedy appointed his brother, Robert, to be Attorney General and to push for equal rights for black Americans in the South. He knew that was a divisive move that would anger millions of Americans in the North and South, but he did it anyway because it was the right thing to do.

Pres. Bush has indicated he appointed Ashcroft because he too wants to bring about change. Over the next months, we'll be able to determine the wisdom of that appointment. But whether the selection of Ashcroft was good or bad is a completely different issue than whether the President was entitled to choose someone who is divisive rather than some imaginary national unifier.

Sadly, Ashcroft's critics seem to be exhibiting an attitude that they are always correct - and the only ones who are correct - on issues facing our nation. We see much the same attitude in concerns raised about Pres. Bush's plan for government funding of faith-based groups to deliver social services.

Yes, there are possible problems because of the church-state issue or because it could promote a belief that only church and community groups are responsible for dealing with society's problems. But, it would be well if those who are alarmed about the government paying for the spread of religion were as concerned about the government financing propagation of Planned Parenthood's "religious tenets."

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