Feb. 1 (Cox News Service)--If you fight the Taliban, maybe a little of it rubs off.

Granted, as attorney general, John Ashcroft is up against the Taliban only second-hand and at some remove. Still, here he is, going after statues.

You may recall that among the myriad of misbehaviors for which the Taliban had made itself noisome even before it went to war on Osma bin Laden's behalf was its eager destruction of any pre-Islamic art that it could get its hands on. Most notoriously, it dynamited monumental Buddhist statues that were counted among, not just Afghanistan's, but the world's cultural treasures.

Ashcroft's gesture is of a rather lesser order, to be sure, only a hobbyist's artistic vandalism, but it qualifies as at least a minor-league version of the Taliban purge.

You may have seen photos or TV images of Ashcroft at news conferences at the Justice Department with a large statue of a woman, usually about half out of focus, behind him. Quick: hide the kids! One of her breasts is bared.

Ashcroft has now had blue drapes installed and drawn across the offending figure.

This, according to reports, because Ashcroft was nothing less than "mortified" to be caught in the same photos with a partially naked statue.

The cast-aluminum figure was commissioned in 1933 and was installed three years later, along with a more modestly attired male statue. They are, respectively, the "Spirit of Justice" and the "Majesty of Law." ("Majesty" has been draped, too, in a weird gesture of political correctness.)

The errant breast gave the attorneys general of the 1930s no pause. Nor did it bother those of the '40s, '50s and '60s. Or those of the '70s and '80s. Or the 90s. It was OK not just with Democratic administrations, which are of course wanton, but with the Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan administrations and with Bush the First, all pillars of Republican rectitude.

Its allure is so low-wattage that Bill Clinton was never discovered making midnight visits to the Justice Department's Great Hall to cop a look.

Nonetheless, the "Spirit of Justice" apparently has been subliminally corrupting our morals all along and so insidiously that none of us busy as we were climbing out of the Great Depression and winning World War II and the Cold War and so on realized we were being lured into sin by this silent siren.

But there's no fooling John Ashcroft. Flamboyantly straight-laced, Ashcroft has long been one of the religious right's poster lads in Washington. He is a Bush administration sop to that demanding quarter of the Republican Party.

There is clearly more to Ashcroft's modesty drape than just sparing himself from being seen with a little aluminum nudity. If that was all he was after, the attorney general only had to:

1) Hold his press conferences in another room, or

2) Move the microphone.

Perhaps the attorney general figures that, as with a vaccine, a little dose of theocracy will immunize us against a really bad case of it. There. Aren't you feeling better already?

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