Don't Let Me Stop You

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Statues Disrobe

Posted by Dan Draney on June 25, 2005

Ashcroft and Statue

We’ve all heard the story of former Attorney General John Ashcroft and his statuesque friend at the right. We know how the prudish Ashcroft had the statutes covered to hide their nudity because they made him uncomfortable. Now that Alberto Gonzales is in charge, the AP tells us, it’s time to let the good times roll:

Ashcroft Gone, Justice Statues Disrobe: “WASHINGTON – With barely a word about it, workers at the Justice Department Friday removed the blue drapes that have famously covered two scantily clad statues for the past 3 1/2 years.

The drapes, installed in 2002 at a cost of $8,000, allowed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to speak in the Great Hall without fear of a breast showing up behind him in television or newspaper pictures. They also provoked jokes about and criticism of the deeply religious Ashcroft.

The 12-foot, 6-inch aluminum statues were installed shortly after the building opened in the 1930s.”

Silly, childish Ashcroft uncomfortable around nude statues, now there’s something all right-thinking people can chortle about. With the story now so well-established, the AP reporter, Mark Sherman, lets us in on a little more of the joke:

“In the past, snagging a photo of the attorney general in front of the statues has been somewhat of a sport for photographers.”

Indeed it was. We daresay it was a bit of a sport for reporters to write sneering stories about Ashcroft based on the pictures, too.

“When former Attorney General Edwin Meese released a report on pornography in the 1980s, photographers dived to the floor to capture the image of him raising the report in the air, with the partially nude female statue behind him.

The first attorney general to use the blue drapery was Republican Richard Thornburgh, attorney general under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He had the drapery put up only for a few occasions when he was appearing in the Great Hall, rather than permanently installed as it was under Ashcroft.”

So the sport extends to Republican Attorneys General in general. But there’s even more to the story than that, as Jay Nordlinger tells us in this farewell article about Ashcroft on National Review Online:

“The war aside, this AG has been swimming in bad raps. Maybe the baddest of them all has been Breastgate. Surely you are familiar with the statues that live in the Great Hall of the Justice Department: the Spirit of Justice (a lady) and the Majesty of Law (a gent). (Spirit has a nickname, by the way: Minnie Lou.) Because these statues are partially nude, they are noticed only during conservative Republican administrations. Minnie Lou and her one exposed breast became famous when photographers gleefully took their picture with Ed Meese, as he announced President Reagan’s report on pornography back in the mid 1980s. The presence of the Breast was thought to have ‘stepped on’ the administration’s ‘message.’ Washington liberals are still yukking about that one today.

The Breast was pretty quiet during the eight years of Janet Reno. As one peeved administration official puts it, ‘No cameraman was ever at Reno’s feet, trying to get a shot of her with that thing.’ But Minnie Lou’s outstanding feature stormed back with Ashcroft. When President Bush visited the Justice Department to rededicate the building to Robert Kennedy, his advance men insisted on a nice blue backdrop: ‘TV blue,’ infinitely preferable to the usual dingy background of the Great Hall. Everyone thought the backdrop worked nicely — made for ‘good visuals,’ as they say. This was Deaverism, pure and simple. Ashcroft’s people intended to keep using it.

An advance woman on his team had the bright idea of buying the backdrop: It would be cheaper than renting it repeatedly. So she did — without Ashcroft’s knowledge, without his permission, without his caring, everyone in the department insists. But ABC put out the story that Ashcroft, the old prude, had wanted the Breast covered up, so much did it offend his churchly sensibilities. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, ever clever, wrote that Ashcroft had forced a ‘blue burka’ on Minnie Lou. Comedians had a field day (and are still having it). The Washington Post has devoted great space to the story, letting Cher, for example, tee off on it — as she went on to do on David Letterman’s show.”

So who’s immature here, John Ashcroft or the ones pointing, laughing and saying “boobie?” Anyone taking any bets on how long before Minnie Lou’s breasts start appearing in photos of Alberto Gonzales?

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