The Case of John Ashcroft
Both Matt and I have both made comments along these lines before, but with Andrew remarking that "I never thought I'd say this but in comparison with his successor, John Ashcroft is an honorable man," it seems worth revisiting the topic, and asking whether there was ever any reason to think that John Ashcroft wasn't an honorable man? If you think that all conservatives are dishonorable, I suppose there was - but apart from that, Ashcroft was a man of right-wing but fairly unremarkable political views who had a long and reasonably distinguished record as a public servant when he was nominated by George W. Bush to be attorney general. From that point on he was persistently smeared, mocked and ridiculed by liberals and the press, primarily, so far as I can tell, because he belonged to a Protestant sect that prohibited dancing and may have ordered a statue's bared breasts draped during his press conferences. The anti-Ashcroft hysteria never took any note of the fact that he was one of the most competent, experienced and independent-minded members of the Bush cabinet, who was never touched by scandal and whose fingerprints appeared on none of the Administration's blunders; only now, when it has become clear that Ashcroft was an honorable opponent of a particular example of Bushian excess, is he getting a small dose of credit for his conduct as Attorney General.
Alberto Gonzales, by contrast, while he has taken a great deal of (deserved) fire since becoming attorney general, hasn't been subjected to half the scrutiny and smears that Ashcroft endured - because while he may be a lackey, a time-server, and an underqualified yes-man, his religious beliefs don't creep the media out. And that makes all the difference.