Sometime in the future (unless Osama and Saddam do actually find a way to turn us all into radioactive dust) the history of the great terrorist war of the early 21st century may record that the greatest enemy against American freedom was not some Islam-spouting madman from the desert sands but, instead, a jack-booted fundamentalist from Missouri.

Hussein and bin Laden are dangerous enemies and we should fear them (and kill them as soon as possible), but our way is life is just as much under assault from John Ashcroft and his totalitarian views on homeland security.

That’s right. John Ashcroft, a former U.S. Senator so rejected by voters that he lost re-election to a dead man. John Ashcroft, who wants to put national ID cards in the wallets of all Americans; who plans to build a database that knows everything about you, me, and our neighbors; and who encourages the postman, the milkman and the meter reader to spy on all of us.

If John Ashcroft has his way, the FBI will have more power than Russia’s vanquished KGB and the federal justice system will have a mandate to ignore individual rights and trample all over the U.S. Constitution.

When George W. Bush gave in to Republican reactionaries and actually appointed this Hun to be attorney general, my first reaction was Christ, Dubya’s drinking again. What else could explain such a lapse in judgment?

Ashcroft? My God, the man has been a joke for most of his political life. The son of an Assembly of God preacher who practiced faith healing and led a congregation that spoke in tongues, Ashcroft doesn’t drink, won’t cuss, wouldn’t gamble and could never, ever be caught – God forbid – dancing.

As Governor of Missouri, Ashcroft demanded job applicants reveal if they had ever committed adultery, cheated on a test or if they were gay – questions prohibited by the very employment laws he would later swore to uphold as U.S. Attorney General.

As a junior Senator from Missouri, Ashcroft drew snickers from colleagues when he tried to sing his own compositions. He formed The Singing Senators, an off-key collection of elected officials who once ventured to Branson in Ashcroft’s home state to sing before The Oak Ridge Boys, after which one of the Oaks turned to a reporter and asked “just who are these clowns anyway?”

Running for a second term as Senator from Missouri, Ashcroft trailed Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan when Carnahan’s plane went down three weeks before the election. Ashcroft still lost – to a dead man – and the new Governor appointed Carnahan’s widow to the seat.

Bush had several qualified choices for US Attorney General, but he caved in to GOP conservatives who wanted to find a job for an ousted Senator who couldn’t even beat a dead man, so Ashcroft got the job.

Once in office, Ashcroft made it clear he would do whatever he damned well pleased and wouldn’t let a little thing like the law of the land stand in his way. After telling his confirmation hearings he would enforce civil rights laws, for example, he then told staff members to slow down enforcement of those same laws because he didn’t agree with them.

He spent eight grand of taxpayer’s money to cover two partially nude statues at the Department of Justice just so they wouldn’t show in press conferences.

But 9-11 gave John Ashcroft his chance to prove just how little he cared about rights, the constitution and American freedoms.

He ordered the FBI to round up the usual suspects, which meant anyone with an Arab-sounding name or a skin tone that didn’t look 100 percent Anglo-Saxon, Then he declared them to be prisoners of war and subject to military tribunal, which meant no phone call, no right to counsel and no public hearings.

He ordered his staff to draw up plans for a national identification card, something that any American would have to produce upon demand of a cop or agent of the federal government.

He announced a nationwide TIP program where cable repairmen, meter readers, postmen and your next door neighbor would be encouraged to spy on you and report anything they thought was suspicious. Once they reported, a file would be opened and the American in that file would officially become a “person of suspicion.”

Ashcroft ordered the FBI to step up surveillance and wiretaps on ordinary Americans, a level of domestic snooping that surpasses even the big brother is watching days J. Edgar Hoover.

“This guy is a real nutcase,” says a career FBI agent I know. “He’s out of control.”

But Ashcroft proved his real stupidity last June when he, on his own, went public with claims that Jose Padilla, a.k.a. Abdullah Al Muhajir, was ready to set off a “dirty” nuke in the U.S.

On a Monday morning from Moscow, Ashcroft issued a statement that “in apprehending Al Muhajir as he sought entry into the United States, we have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive ‘dirty bomb.’” The irresponsible statement set off a wave of fear in this country.

By Monday night, FBI spokesmen admitted the Attorney General had “overstated” the threat.

By Tuesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the network newscasts “I don’t think there actually was a plot.”

By Wednesday, Bush administration sources admitted to USA Today and other news sources that Dubya had called Ashcroft on the carpet and told him to keep his big yap shut.

Ashcroft may have been silenced from issuing more utterly stupid pronouncements, but he is still part of Bush’s homeland security team, still planning on tagging every American with an ID card and building a background file on anyone who breathes.

Which means John Ashcroft, the man sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, is a constant threat to that Constitution and the freedoms it represents.

Which makes him an enemy of the United States of America.