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[From NYT] Far, far from the center

Posted January. 09, 2001 19:20,   


George W. Bush's cabinet may look like America, but on a host of important domestic policy issues it sure doesn't think like America.

We are about to embark on a rough ride into the distant past. John Ashcroft, Mr. Bush's choice for attorney general, believes, for example, that if a 13-year-old girl were raped by her father and made pregnant, she should be required to carry that pregnancy to term. Most Americans do not feel that way.

But Mr. Ashcroft goes further. While in the Senate he proposed federal legislation and a constitutional amendment that not only would criminalize abortion, but would define human life as beginning at fertilization. Under those circumstances, the law could be used to attack some of the most common types of birth control, including the pill and intrauterine devices, which in very rare cases may work by inhibiting the implantation of a fertilized egg.

The lobbying group People for the American Way noted that in 1998 Mr. Ashcroft was one of eight senators (including Jesse Helms) who signed a letter opposing legislation to require federal employee health plans to cover the cost of prescription contraceptives.

The letter said, "We are concerned with what appears to be a loophole in the legislation regarding contraceptives that upon failing to prevent fertilization, act de facto as abortifacients."

Abortifacients are drugs or devices that induce abortion. Most Americans do not consider taking the pill to be the equivalent of having an abortion.

Mr. Bush gave the impression during the campaign that he would preside over a reasonably moderate administration. Mr. Ashcroft's politics are somewhat different. He once said that the two things you find in the "middle of the road" are "a moderate and a dead skunk."

Linda Chavez is Mr. Bush's selection to head the Labor Department. The secretary of labor is supposed to serve the interests of working men and women. If Ms. Chavez's career to date is any guide, America's working men and women should run for cover. We have been enjoying the greatest period of prosperity in the nation's history, but Ms. Chavez has steadfastly opposed even a modest hike in the minimum wage. A few years ago she derided a proposed minimum wage increase as Marxist, saying, "The folks at the Clinton Labor Department seem to think wage policy should follow Karl Marx's dictum, `From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."'

Ms. Chavez doesn't even attempt to conceal her disdain for the labor movement. Just last summer she wrote, "Union members are hardly representative of the American working public."

Working women? No problem. Ms. Chavez has declared that women do not face a "glass ceiling" that keeps them from advancing beyond a certain point. And she has ridiculed sexual harassment lawsuits, which are on the increase, saying they have made the U.S. "a nation of crybabies."

It will be interesting to see how Ms. Chavez, if she is confirmed as labor secretary, will respond to complaints by women of employment discrimination and sexual harassment. I presume she'll shout, "Stop crying!"

Gale Norton is Mr. Bush's pick to head the Interior Department, which was the cue for environmentalists to run for cover. Almost as soon as the announcement was made the wire services were crackling with stories about her lobbying efforts on behalf of a lead-paint manufacturer that is facing numerous lawsuits. The company was identified as NL Industries of Houston. It used to be called the National Lead Company.

According to The Associated Press, "The company said it has been named a defendant in suits involving 75 Superfund or other toxic-waste sites, plus a dozen lawsuits involving children allegedly poisoned by lead paint."

Environmentalists were upset by that, and by the fact that Ms. Norton's favored approach to the enforcement of environmental laws is to have corporate polluters police themselves.

John Ashcroft, Linda Chavez and Gale Norton are peculiar picks from a man who was expected to govern largely from the center, and who billed himself as a uniter, not a divider.


Bob Herbert NYT Ä®·³´Ï½ºÆ®