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WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is apparently on the hunt for votes in the 2004 presidential race. He criticized the Bush administration on just about every ground at a recent dinner hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus. The greatest moment of unintended hilarity came when he said Attorney General John Ashcroft “is not respectful of civil liberties.”

Unfortunately, that’s true. Gore even was right when he argued, “One of the tests of our nation is whether in times of grave challenge, we have the courage to be true to our deepest principles.”

But it’s bizarre to see these fine sentiments come from someone in the Clinton-Gore administration, which perfected the practice of jackboot liberalism. Start with Attorney General Janet Reno, just defeated in her quest for the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida.

On her watch, federal law enforcement officials burned the children in order to save them in its assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. She stonewalled attempts to hold anyone accountable for Waco or Ruby Ridge, Idaho, where federal agents earlier killed the wife, son and dog of loner Randy Weaver in order to arrest him in a case verging on entrapment.

The Clinton-Gore administration used the Oklahoma City bombing as an excuse to propose sweeping new federal powers, even though civil liberties protections had not inhibited terrorist investigations. The most wiretap-friendly administration in U.S. history sought to gut the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement for searches — requiring public housing residents to sign away their constitutional right to a search warrant and backing warrantless (indeed, suspicionless) drug tests for high school athletes.

The Clinton-Gore gang requested greater FBI authority to conduct “roving wiretaps,” without a court order. Officials pushed the Communications Assistance Act, which required telephone companies to retrofit their systems to ease police surveillance, supported restrictions on the sale of Internet encryption technology, and requested legislation forcing firms to give the government the “keys” to such technology.

The administration consistently sought to frustrate state voters who approved measures to allow the desperately ill to use marijuana to ease their nausea and pain. Administration appointees even threatened to prosecute physicians who prescribed marijuana as allowed by state law.

The Clinton-Gore gang jailed people for resisting federal designation of their (very dry) property as “wetlands” and committing other environmental offenses. Other administration proposals and actions included: curfews for kids, random drug tests for welfare recipients and kids seeking driver’s licenses, attacks on the requirement of a jury trial, ex post facto tax hikes, uncompensated property takings, prosecutions implicating the double jeopardy clause, pretentious claims of federal criminal jurisdiction and infringements of the Second Amendment right to possess a firearm.

The Justice Department supported Draconian restrictions on abortion protesters. The Defense Department also attempted to gag military chaplains to stop them from discussing abortion. Clinton, Gore & Co. politicized the FBI, using it to justify the White House Travel Office purge. Presidential aides snooped through FBI files on potential administration opponents.

The IRS audited a suspiciously large number of conservative foundations and groups. The White House pressured the Treasury Department to limit the latter’s probe of Madison Guaranty, which financed the Clintons’ dubious Whitewater investment.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development intimidated opponents of federally subsidized housing projects. The misnamed U.S. Commission on Civil Rights investigated anti-immigration groups for engaging in activities clearly protected by the First Amendment.

The Clinton-Gore administration supported the Communications Decency Act to ban the transmission of “indecent” materials over the Internet. The law, voided by the Supreme Court, inevitably meant heavy-handed federal censorship of today’s most free communication medium.

Although President Bill Clinton spoke of reforming affirmative action, his administration promoted it with a mailed fist — supporting, for example, the Piscataway, New Jersey, school district that fired a teacher because she was white. The Department eventually flip-flopped in that case, but left its support for the government’s vast system of racial spoils otherwise undisturbed.

The Department of Agriculture disciplined an employee for privately criticizing its policy of offering spousal benefits to same-sex partners. The State Department fired an employee for questioning discriminatory hiring and firing policies, make-work Foreign Service jobs, and the failure to defend the religious freedom of Americans working in Saudi Arabia.

Whatever the administration’s defense of any particular decision, Wired magazine’s John Heilemann accurately termed the Clinton-Gore civil liberties record “breathtaking in both the breadth and the depth of its awfulness.”

Complained Tim Lynch, assistant director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, the administration’s rhetoric aside, it “actually weakened a number of fundamental guarantees.”

Now Gore says he is worried about our civil liberties. Too bad he didn’t evidence a similar concern when he was in office and his administration was routinely sacrificing Americans’ liberties to impose its philosophy of jackboot liberalism.

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