Meet the New Ashcroft.
In the tradition of Tricky Dick -- and with roughly the same level of candor -- U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft has been busily reinventing himself for re-election. This is nothing new (Ashcroft always softens at election time), but for the first time in his political career, the senator finds himself on the ropes, now that Jean Carnahan has agreed to serve in the U.S. Senate if voters next Tuesday choose her late husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan.
Expect a really New Ashcroft as he tries, in the next six days, to appear to be something he has never been: a kind and gentle moderate.
Enjoy the contrasts:
Old Ashcroft: Received $50,000 campaign gift from Schering-Plough, maker of allergy drug Claritin, then served as key Senate sponsor (one of just nine) of bill that would extend the patents for this and other drugs; in freezing out generic competitors, the bill was worth $11 billion to drug companies over 10 years -- $9.64 billion on Claritin alone -- directly out of consumers' and taxpayers' pockets, but an Ashcroft spokesman told us the $50,000 contribution had "no relationship" to the senator's support of the bill.
New Ashcroft: "Announces plan to help seniors with drug costs," according to his Senate Web site (ashcroft.senate.gov).
Old Ashcroft: In 1998, while seeking the 2000 GOP presidential nomination, advocated $4 trillion tax cut that could only have been funded by raiding Social Security.
New Ashcroft: Top priority is protecting Social Security; centerpiece of presidential campaign "is no longer active."
Old Ashcroft: Built political career around signature issue of fighting to outlaw abortion and overturn U.S. Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade decision; one of few public officials to defend -- and accept award from -- American Life League, a radical group opposing all abortions for any reason.
New Ashcroft: Doesn't consider abortion issue important enough to be mentioned among the more than 30 priority topics highlighted on the main page of his Web site or in most campaign commercials and speeches.
Old Ashcroft: Made strong and early endorsement of Jo Ann Emerson, widow of U.S. Rep. Bill Emerson (R-8th), as the person to succeed her husband when he died in office just a few months before the 1996 election; wasn't deterred by the fact that she had not previously held public office.
New Ashcroft: Not talking personally about this, but his campaign strategy is to raise doubts about the legitimacy and experience of Mrs. Carnahan as a candidate.
Old Ashcroft: Accepted $148,800-plus in campaign contributions from insurance industry (seventh-highest of Senate races); voted repeatedly against Patient's Bill of Rights that would have, among other things, allowed individuals to sue their HMOs.
New Ashcroft: Backs legislation that "should empower doctors and patients, hold HMOs accountable" (without patients' right to sue).
Old Ashcroft: Banned alcohol from governor's mansion during eight years in office on moral and religious grounds; vetoed bill allowing Sunday alcohol sales.
New Ashcroft: Fifth-largest campaign contributor, at $27,650, is Anheuser-Busch.
Old Ashcroft: Was outspoken supporter of last year's ill-fated proposition to legalize carrying of concealed weapons in Missouri; voted faithfully for National Rifle Association agenda as senator.
New Ashcroft: See abortion issue.
Old Ashcroft: Left state in bottom 10 in education funding (bottom two for higher education); repeatedly slashed or froze education budgets, warred with educators and otherwise failed to back up his education rhetoric with money; positively dwarfed by Carnahan's record of real dollars for smaller class sizes and better schools; repeatedly voted against education funding as senator until past year.
New Ashcroft: Suddenly a big-time federal spender on education, calling for 10 percent of federal surplus to go to decreasing class sizes and other Carnahan priorities.
Old Ashcroft: Fought vociferously as governor against efforts to require state licensing and regulation of church-operated daycare centers.
New Ashcroft: Fighting for "better, safer schools ... to protect teachers, kids."
Old Ashcroft: Slashed state funding for drug-prevention efforts, killing at least one prominent agency in St. Louis.
New Ashcroft: Scrapping for federal funds to shut down meth labs.
Old Ashcroft: Received a "zero" rating from the League of Conservation Voters for his environmental-voting record in five of his six years in the Senate (including the past three).
New Ashcroft: "Working to preserve Missouri's environment."
Old Ashcroft: Made a top priority of fighting school desegregation; opposed all affirmative action; told racist Southern Partisan magazine "we should all do more" to promote the legacy of the Confederacy; accepted honorary degree from Bob Jones University (the anti-Catholic mecca that banned interracial dating); killed the federal-bench nomination of Missouri's first African-American Supreme Court justice, Ronnie White (falsely accusing him of having a "pro-criminal" judicial record); hired no key black staffers.
New Ashcroft: Shown on Web site accepting a cookie from a smiling black woman after giving blood in St. Louis.
This isn't complicated. The biggest problem with John Ashcroft isn't his conservatism, it's his deceit. He is the classic example of the career politician who will say anything to get elected -- without regard to what he has done or what he will do -- and if they gave Emmys to politicians, he'd have earned a lifetime-achievement award by now.
What a contrast to the late Mel Carnahan and his wife, Jean, who never needed to hide or contort their past to project a decent and honorable public image.
There's only one choice in the Senate race that truly reflects "Missouri values."
And Ashcroft's not the one.