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The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Wednesday, April 2

Freedom and Liberty: John Ashcroft

John Ashcroft in Skidmore College's Gannett Auditorium

Stuck in a corner, this is what most of his talk looked like from my vantage point.
My apologies to the bald photographer.

First of all, for anyone confused about yesterday's post, it was a joke. I'm not actually setting up a bureau in City Hall. However, the last paragraph of the post, was not part of the joke, Commissioner Kim really did pull that item from the agenda. And now, on to more important matters.

One headline that was not an April Fool's Day joke (though it could have been, and would have been a really funny one), was John Ashcroft's visit to Skidmore. John Ashcroft? At Skidmore? You must be kidding, isn't that the left-leaning college better known for organizing Earth Day events and eating veggie burgers than voting for GOP candidates? Yes. The former Attorney General's visit was, without a doubt a cou for Skidmore Republicans. But it was also a cou for the entire community.

The benefit is to all of us, who had the chance to hear the speech, and gain new insights. There was, without a doubt, no bigger event in Saratoga Springs tonight than former Attorney General John Ashcroft's lecture at Skidmore College. Although Paul Post was on hand to handle our coverage of the event for the newspaper, I decided to attend as well, to A) offer my own insight into the lecture, and B) When a figure of national importance comes to town, and you can go listen for free, you go!

Having spent nearly five members as a member of the Skidmore community, I can say with certainty that tonight's lecture was the best attended event I can recall, with the only exception being the annual commencement exercises. I arrived an hour early, and the 230-seat Gannett auditorium was already filled to capacity, with students filling in the aisles and doorways, and spilling out into the hall. There were some seats reserved in the front for donors who had paid for the privilege, and the media. Of course, there weren't nearly enough seats for the six TV stations and five newspapers, so I wound up standing to the left of the podium, behind a few of the TV cameras.

I heard the other auditorium, in which the lecture was simulcast, was similarly packed. The only other I can remember getting that much turn-out, was a lecture by Daily Show correspondent Mo Rocca.

Ashcroft was everything that I would expect from a man of his stature: he was charismatic, he was engaging, he wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself, and he easily held the attention of about 600 people. The substance of his speech was his belief in the importance of defending liberty, and the USA Patriot Act, adopted in the wake of 9/11/01, which was Ashcroft's crowning achievement. Ashcroft said that laws should exist only to protect our freedom, and to make us more free. He also read Emma Lazarus's poem, inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: give me your poor, tired, hungry, etc...," calling it an important, patriotic work.

After the speech, a handful of Skidmore students had the opportunity to question Ashcroft, apparently forgetting that he is no longer a law maker. Most of the students called on were prepared with good questions. One or two were not, and got thoroughly trounced by Ashcroft, who has the benefit of a life spend steeped in government. Questions ranged from a questioning of Ashcroft's position on abortion (How can you say that laws preventing abortion expand and protect liberty?), gay rights (How can you say that laws preventing same-sex marriage expand and protect liberty?), immigration (if we need to accept more people into our country, why are we turning away so many people from our boarders?), and our mission in Iraq (How is our occupation of Iraq expanding the liberties of the Iraqi people?).

The answers were, generally, not to the liking of the audience, which was not shy about reacting with cheers to the questions and jeers to the answers. In general, Ashcroft stuck by his conservative beliefs: I believe that life begins at conception, and we need to protect the freedom and liberty of that unborn person; We're not going to take away your freedom to have any relationship you want, but marriage should be based around building the next generation; We need to help the Iraqis reach freedom by giving them the choice to choose; and I welcome more immigrants.

Ashcroft made one significant gaffe, when he referenced the national campaign. "Now Osama.. uh, oops, I mean Obama..." yeah, right. That one clearly didn't go over too well, especially not from a man who began his speech by saying the President directed him (and others) to "never let this happen again," on Sept. 12, 2001, a directive that lead to the creation of the patriot act, which Obama voted to renew as a senator.

One the whole, if the point was to more the greater conversation forward, it was a success.


Anonymous Alyssa said...

Well written article.

November 10, 2008 at 11:17 AM 

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