Democratic Underground

Dear John
January 22, 2002
by Isaac Peterson

Dear Attorney General Ashcroft,

I never thought I would be writing to you, but as you've said, these are unusual times.

I've wanted to talk to you, but you haven't been very good about returning my calls, so I'm writing you this letter. I hope you can make the time to read it. I know how busy you are, what with rewriting the Constitution and all.

John (I can call you John, can't I? Your salary is being paid by my, and all of our tax dollars, after all. I guess that kind of means you work for me and all of the rest of us, but I would never let that come between us), you've been catching a hard time lately from some people who want to ask questions about what the hell you think you're doing. When you appeared before the Senate committee last month, you didn't seem to understand why that is. Maybe I can help a little.

First off, John, it looks like you have a different idea about how this country is supposed to work than a lot of people do. I know this is true about the Second Amendment. On May 17, 2000, you said "...The text and the original intent of the Second Amendment clearly protect the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms." I'm not so sure the Supreme Court sees it that way, since they've never ruled that way in a case that came before them. Not in the 18th century, not in the 19th, the 20th, or so far in the 21st century.

I think what must be hanging you up are the words that the NRA leaves out, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state....". The tricky part is where it says "militia" and "state." I can see how that might be confusing.

Now, one of the things that's got some people bent out of shape is how you figure the Second Amendment applies to fighting terrorism. First you go on a big racial profiling spree and lock up lots of people who look like the guys who flew airliners into buildings last September. Then you refuse to release information about who they are. And on top of that, word gets out that they may be getting treated pretty rough in prison, and at least one has died there. But you say you don't want step on their rights and release any information about them. 3 or 4 Amendments are just flushed down the toilet, but that's okay, because they're not Americans. And when the FBI wants to investigate whether any terrorists have bought guns in this country, all of a sudden the detainee's rights matter a whole lot. You won't let them do it. You held up a manual last month and explained how terrorists are trained to take advantage of this country's loopholes in gun sale laws. But you don't want to violate their rights to buy guns. I have to admit I'm a little confused about that one. And I'd be willing to bet that if the people you're holding had their say, they'd rather have you pay attention to the part of the Bill of Rights that says unreasonable search and seizure is a bad thing that we just will not do, than the part that talks about guns. But maybe that's just me. Maybe you could ask them yourself to make sure. Especially since you say that only maybe 1% of them had anything to do with terrorism.

You see, John, when I and a lot of people like me were still in school, we were told certain things about the Constitution. It feels kind of weird to be telling the Attorney General about constitutions, but like I said, I'm just trying to help. Maybe you just simply missed that day in school.

In school, they told us some stuff like this: Countries have constitutions for a reason. These constitutions are rules which are applied to everyone - they level the playing field between the landowner and the pauper and between the majority culture and minorities. People feel like they are actually a part of a nation and that they might be treated equally when justice is blind. Even though this justice system might not completely ensure equal treatment of everyone, it is a huge step in that direction. However, without a constitution, the citizens of a country can be guaranteed that arbitrary laws will be applied to them based on their standing in society. In other words, constitutions are a big step in eliminating the arbitrary application of laws-laws which can essentially become a means of revenge, racism and political agenda when they are enforced outside of an impartial set of basic rules, such as the Constitution.

And a lot of what you've been up to even before Sept. 11, 2000, looks real arbitrary to a lot of folks here. And in other countries, too. And I'll tell you for free that USA PATRIOT Act you came up with looked arbitrary as hell. A lot of people who've studied terrorism and security said that the things you put in that act wouldn't have done a thing to stop the attacks last year-spying on Internet surfing, roving wiretaps, warrantless search and seizure and unlimited detention, all that stuff has more people wondering how far you're going to go. Especially when you're the one who decides the definition of terrorism.

Now when you went through your confirmation hearing, you assured the Senate that you would enforce the laws in this country, even the ones you don't agree with. Some people are showing their lack of character by expecting a man to do what he said he would do. But I guess it's different if you just change the ones you don't like. Some people are petty enough to be honked off about that one, too.

Now I've been as respectful as I can so far. I haven't called you any names like the Count of Monte Crisco or anything like that, and I won't because we're all friends here, right?

But let me tell you, John, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what you said to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This part where you said "To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil." I've been known to spout off my opinion when I think something is wrong. And I know when something is wrong. Like when the Supreme Court makes an arbitrary (actually, partisan) ruling in a case that they had no business being involved in that put a guy in the White House who didn't win the election. We probably don't see eye to eye on that one since it meant you got a great job out of the deal. I won't even stoop to mention that you were available for the job because you lost the Senate election in your state to that dead guy, though. That would be wrong, and I know the difference between right and wrong.

But now it sounds like you're saying that if I say what I think is wrong, I'm supporting terrorism. Maybe I can help you out here because you seem a bit confused on this one too. I wrote an essay in college about patriotism once. The dictionary I used had as one definition "One who shows concern for one's country". I wish I could find that dictionary so I could make sure you know I didn't make it up, but I didn't.

Anyway, when I talk about the problems I believe I see, it's because I'm concerned about who we are and where we're going, John. Let me put it another way. Let's say someone you care deeply for, your wife, husband, child, father, mother, friend or whoever, is gravely ill. Do you ignore it, say "oh well", and let that person die? Or do you do whatever is in your power to get someone to come in and try to do something that will help? Do you give up without a fight, or do you try every thing or person or resource that could possibly help? That's the situation a whole lot of us are in, John. You see, it was still America we woke up in after September 11, 2001. It's just that some of us want to see a different America than the one that we feel some of you want to shove down out throats. We want the America we were promised and that we tell the rest of the world that we are. Can you chalk this up to an honest, legitimate difference in opinion? And can you be a big enough man to understand that trying to force us to see it your way is going to make us feel less free, instead of more?

I know this is going long, but I wanted to leave you with one more thing. It's a quote from a Supreme Court Justice, Robert Jackson. He said "The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, free press, freedom of worship & assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections." Including the last one. That part was from me. I know this isn't likely to come up in the morning prayer meetings you hold on government property, but think about it some, will you?

We know all about what you say your values are. My mother always told me that your values aren't what you say, but what you do. Think about that one a little too, would you? A lot of people, including me, are real concerned about the difference between what you say you believe and what you do. We could be more convinced that when you ask yourself "What would Jesus do?" that you listen long enough to get the answer right.

I'll end this now. I know it was long, but look at the bright side: if you read this at work, you got paid to do it.

I hope I was able to help a little.

With all the respect you've shown me and the Bill of Rights,

Your friend,

Isaac Peterson

P.S. I think it was real good that you decided not to get involved in that whole Enron mess. You said you thought you should stay out because they were contributors to your campaign, but I think you're too modest. If somebody gave me $50,000 or whatever it was, they're not "contributors" or even "friends". Anybody that gave me that much money would be my "pal for life". But that's just me. Don't be so modest.

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