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Stateside with Rosalea: Job's Lot

Stateside with Rosalea

Job's Lot

John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States, is a bit of worry. He was on the telly this morning in the 'Hour of Power', speaking in the Crystal Cathedral here in California. There's a statue of Job on the campus of the Crystal Cathedral, and the congregation's leader, Robert Schuller, pointed out to his flock that when he gave Ashcroft a tour the AG knew the quotation on the front of the statue's pedestal by heart. Not only that, but he'd just quoted in their televised conversation the scripture on the back of the pedestal - which Ashcroft hadn't seen - as well: "Though He slay me, still I trust Him".

Considering that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has determined that there is such a level of threat against Ashcroft that he has to travel everywhere by private jet, at a cost to the taxpayer of $1600 an hour, it's hardly surprising such a thought is foremost in Ashcroft's mind. When asked at a press conference earlier this week what these threats are, Ashcroft said he didn't know and it wasn't his business to know, he was just complying with what the FBI thought necessary. Among other things, he supervises the FBI and its activities around the world and in this country, as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Bureau of Prisons - the latter two, coincidentally, both host to disappearing interns. But that's another story.

The Attorney General controls a budget of more than $20 billion, and exercises broad discretion over how to allocate it, enabling that particular Cabinet position to set law enforcement priorities that are only "very rarely and then only sparingly reviewed by the Congress", according to Vermont Senator Leahy's speech on January 29 this year during the Senate's debate on the confirmation of Ashcroft as Attorney General. Leahy was opposed to the nomination and his speech goes to great lengths explaining why.

Frankly, the combination of reading that speech and searching through the Book of Job for the exact quotation has had a very disquieting effect on me. It's hard not to feel that Ashcroft has a Job complex. In case you don't know your Old Testament, Job was ground zero for a battle between God and Satan. Satan challenged God to prove that if He allowed Satan to take away the advantages He'd given Job - wealth, position, power - he would still have faith. God did; Job never wavered. OK, said Satan, let me cover him with boils and then see what he's made of. God said: Go ahead, just don't kill him. So Satan did and Job took it in his stride until three of his friends dropped by and hung out for seven days and seven nights to mourn with him in silence. Chapters 3 to 42 then go over all the arguments for and against having faith in a Higher Power that uses you for bragging rights. In the end God gives Job twice as much earthly goods as he had before and three daughters who are the fairest in the land and "So Job died, being old and full of days."

I hope you'll pardon my King James Version capitalisation, but it makes it much easier to figure out who the male pronoun refers to. I kind of figure that Ashcroft thinks of "Him" with a big "H", anyway since he uses some very old-fashioned words and concepts. For example, in his 'Hour of Power' conversation this morning he talked about the many races of people who came to visit his family home - his father was a preacher - and at the end of the list was "Orientals".

Golly. Just when I thought that the Bush administration had been mending its linguistic ways - Colin Powell this week eschewed "Middle East" in favour of "South West Asia" when he was describing areas of the world the US should stay involved with - we have the AG using a term that has entirely negative connotations when it is applied to people rather than to rugs. He was talking about his aim in life being reconciliation, and when Schuller asked him if he could reconcile himself to the criticisms that are leveled against him because of this strong faith, Ashcroft replied: "I'm interested in the purpose of God, not the motivations of men."

"People", John. The collective noun for the human race is "people".

Besides supervising the FBI and the other agencies listed above, the Attorney General also evaluates judicial candidates, recommends judicial nominees to the President, and advises on the constitutionality of bills and laws. Leahy points out in his January speech that in Ashcroft's six years as Senator, Ashcroft sponsored or supported constitutional amendments on no less than eight different topics, and even introduced a proposed amendment - supported by no other Senator - to change Article V of the Constitution itself. Article V governs the way amendments to the Constitution can be made and Ashcroft reportedly wanted to "swing wide open the door" for states to decide on new amendments.

His opinion about the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision - which, according to one writer quoted at, "judicially created abortion on demand in the United States" - was part of the focus of the opposition to his appointment as Attorney General. In that role, Ashcroft gets to heavily influence the choice of new appointees to the Supreme Court, and in many other situations his thoughts about when human life begins will be pivotal. He believes that human life begins at fertilisation of the egg. End of argument.

At the beginning of Chapter 3 of the Book of Job, the first thing Job says when he ends his seven days and nights of silent grief over his skin problem, is: "Let the day perish wherein I was born and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived." That is one depressed dude, if I might say so.

I guess shrugging and getting on with life when things aren't the way you'd like them to be doesn't rack up the celestial reward points the way 40 chapters of agonising over not being able to turn back the clock does, but it kind of seems a good deal more healthy in this day and age.

Lea Barker
Sunday, 29 July 2001

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