The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, August 21, 2003  

Dog-and-Pony Show Plays Well With Law Enforcement

U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft took his dog-and-pony show on the road yesterday, launching in Philadelphia a month-long tour to promote the so-called Patriot Act, in Orwellian fashion choosing as his venue the city’s new -- and privately owned not-for-profit -- National Constitution Center -- where he spoke to a carefully selected group of regional law-enforcement authorities.

Thomas Ginsberg reports in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer (“Ashcroft: Patriot Act is Effective“):

Attorney General John Ashcroft went on the defensive yesterday over the government’s antiterrorism laws, telling Philadelphia-area authorities that, without the Patriot Act, “America will pay the price in lost liberty.”

“Make no mistake: Our strategy, our tactics, are working. Our tools are effective,” Ashcroft told about 200 area, state and federal officials at the National Constitution Center. “We are winning the war on terror.”

A strange remark, one would think, given the events of recent days, but no matter, the truth counts for little during Bush administration public relations campaigns, especially those aimed at drumming up the rapidly diminishing support for a rush job like the ill-conceived Patriot Act, a law that, as the Inquirer notes, faces a federal court challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union and that has been the subject of condemnatory resolutions in three states and 150 municipalities, including Philadelphia.

Besides, with the hubristically named “Victory Act” -- or “Patriot II,” which, appropriately, sounds more like a missile than a federal act -- waiting in the wings, it’s time to pull out all stops, even in the heat of August.

Ashcroft and his aides certainly picked the right audience for their dog-and-pony show. As Ginsburg reports:

The audience -- which included suburban and city police officers, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher -- interrupted Ashcroft once for applause when he congratulated them on their work and ended his speech with a standing ovation.

Yes, that’s Philadelphia’s own Lynne Abraham, the death penalty’s best friend, hooting it up with the rest of the boys.

But some in the gleefully cheering audience apparently were confused by the larger point of the speech, or are at least unfamiliar with the Bush administration’s modus operandi, fully on display in Philadelphia yesterday.

Take, for example, the clueless Joseph Carroll, district attorney for suburban Chester County.

According to Ginsburg, “Several area officials expressed admiration for Ashcroft and gratitude for his ‘pep talk,’ but uncertainty about his goal.”

One of those “uncertain” officials was Carroll, who said, “I expected a little more detail about his proposal” for expanding the Patriot Act.

Sorry, Mr. Carroll, as you may recall, White House marketing executive Andrew Card once said August isn’t really a good month for new product introductions. That’s better left for September, which, as it happens, is also when we’re all supposed to hear about Iraq’s pervasive program to develop and produce “weapons of mass destruction” on a mass scale, said by Prime Minister Tony Blair to be ready for deployment within 45 minutes.

[Post-publication addendum: For a paean to the Patriot Act, see the editorial, “Mr. Ashcroft’s Roadshow,” in today’s “liberal” Washington Post.]

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