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October 31, 2005

Catholics 5, Evangelicals 0

One of the historical oddities of George W. Bush's decision to nominate Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court is that if confirmed, he will establish a majority on the court of Roman Catholics. This fact hasn't gotten a lot of comment so far, in part because it is and should be irrelevant to his qualifications, and in part because hardly anyone noticed that Clarence Thomas reverted to his Catholic upbringing in recent years, joining Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Chief Justice Roberts as Catholic members of SCOTUS. Given the brief but intense campaign by some conservative evangelicals to tout Alito's unsuccessful predecessor, Harriet Miers, as establishing an "evangelical seat" on the Court, you have to wonder how they privately feel about yet another Catholic nomination. My friend Amy Sullivan, that intrepid interpreter of all things religio-political, has been calling around to some of them to see if they'll open up on the subject, but has so far been met with the usual conservative Talking Points about how great it is to have a SCOTUS nominee who rejects judicial activism and respects Original Intent, etc., etc.Now to be sure, most evangelical Protestants this side of Bob Jones University have discarded most of the hard-line Reformation view of the Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon, the Scarlet Woman of the Book of Revelations, and of the Vatican as the most likely address of the Antichrist. And indeed, the detente between evangelicals and Catholics (at least outside Latin America), partly theological, and partly the result of tactical alliances over social and political issues like abortion, has led to one major book with the provocative title: "Is the Reformation Over?"Still, we are not that far away from centuries of bitter hostility between Catholics and evangelicals (including, of course, the heavy involvement of evangelical clergy in the effort to oppose John F. Kennedy's election on religious grounds), and there remain a host of theological divisions, especially between the conservatives in both communions who are most likely to agree on political issues. There are a sizable number of evangelicals, for instance, (e.g., those in Harriet Miers' church) who think infant baptism is meaningless, and that even adult baptism is insufficient for salvation unless it involves full immersion. Even though many evangelicals deeply admired Pope John Paul II for his anti-communism and cultural traditionalism, the intensity of his Marian devotion probably troubled them a lot if they thought about it. And deep divisions remain between evangelicals and Catholics on a whole host of liturgical and ecclesiastical issues.None of this, of course, means politicized conservative evangelicals wouldn't be happy with a Justice like Alito, who on the key constitutional issues they care about, has nearly perfect views. But beneath the surface, you do have to wonder what they think about the heavy representation of their ancient enemy, as contrasted with their own invisibility, on an institution that they regard as one of the commanding heights of American society.Maybe one of them will confess to Amy, and we'll find out the truth.

Judging Alito

The initial reaction to the nomination of Samuel Alito from "The Groups" on the left and right was exactly what you'd expect. Both sides are emphasizing "Scalito's" right-wing credentials, partly because they are real, but partly because this nomination offers the Judicial Armageddon that the Right in particular wants almost as badly as it wants a seat on the Court.But before we got locked completely into Kabuki Theater, it's useful to seek out and find a reasonably objective Democratic voice, as representing the likely reaction of Democratic (and perhaps a couple of Republican) senators who voted for John Roberts' confirmation.As some of you may recall, George Washington University professor Jeffrey Rosen penned an article right after the presidential election analyzing possible Bush SCOTUS picks, and separating them into two camps: "Conservative Activists" (bad), and "Principled Conservatives" (not so bad), with the key dividing line being the jurist's willingness to defer to legislative decisions and to respect precedents. John Roberts was listed as a "Principled Conservative." Samuel Alito headed the list of "Conservative Activists." Here's what Rosen had to say about him:

Known as "Scalito," or little Scalia, he is considered less blustering than the big guy, but liberals will undoubtedly balk at his abortion record. In 1991, he dissented from a decision to strike down Pennsylvania's spousal notification provision--a decision the Supreme Court later upheld in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the decision that reaffirmed Roe v. Wade.What should be far more troubling to Senate Democrats, however, is Alito's 1996 dissent from a decision upholding the constitutionality of a federal law prohibiting the possession of machine guns. Applying the logic of the Constitution in Exile for all it's worth, Alito insisted that the private possession of machine guns was not an economic activity, and there was no empirical evidence that private gun possession increased violent crime in a way that substantially affected commerce--therefore, Congress has no right to regulate it. Alito's colleagues criticized him for requiring "Congress or the Executive to play Show and Tell with the federal courts at the peril of invalidation of a Congressional statute." His lack of deference to Congress is unsettling.
Based on his typology, Rosen was outspoken in urging Democrats to support Roberts. I'd be very surprised if he advises Democrats to accept Alito.Obviously Jeffrey Rosen does not have a vote in the Senate, but his views on this nomination are likely to reflect those of pro-Roberts Democrats unless Alito disappoints his supporters with a major de-fanging exercise during his confirmation hearings.Even if Democrats unanimously line up against Alito, they must make a separate strategic decision about how to handle it (especially in terms of deploying a filibuster that could trigger the "nuclear option" and eliminate this tactic for a future that could include yet another Bush SCOTUS nomination, directly endangering huge precedents like Roe v. Wade.)Certainly The Groups on both sides have ulterior motives for the loud expressions of delight and horror they are undertaking today. But boil off the overheated rhetoric, and there's a real fight brewing over real principles of judicial philosophy with real consequences--a fight George W. Bush seems to have launched with malice aforethought.NOTE: When I published this post this morning, I didn't know that Michael Crowley, on The New Republic's blog, The Plank, had beaten me to the punch by quoting the same passage from Rosen's typology (not surprising, since Rosen's piece was itself published by TNR). But I wasn't ripping off Crowley without attribution. Having recently been on a televised panel with Professor Rosen during which we disagreed about Roberts, I had my own reasons for consulting his typology.

Is Ol' Jerry Losing It?

George W. Bush is going to name his latest SCOTUS choice at some point today, but in the interim, I wanted to make sure to crow a bit about the increasingly strong possibility that Jerry (No Relation Whatsoever) Kilgore may have blown the 2005 gubernatorial election by going harshly negative against Tim Kaine.The Washington Post released a new poll yesterday that showed Kaine up 47-44 among likely voters, with the internals indicating a strong reaction against the tone of Kilgore's death penalty ads attacking Kaine, and a strong rejection of Kilgore's argument that Kaine can't be trusted to faithfully administer Virginia's death penalty laws.I've blogged over at TPMCafe.com about the Post poll and the Virginia race in general, and won't repeat my analysis here. But I do find the immediate and semi-hysterical reaction of the Kilgore campaign to the poll quite interesting.As you might expect, ol' Jerry's flacks claim the godless liberal WaPo is trying to boost a Democratic candidate with a deliberately slanted poll. Kilgore's site features a bar graph illustrating WaPo's underestimation of the GOP vote in Virginia races going back twelve years.There's only one problem with this claim. Most recently, WaPo's polling unit has been famous for diverging from other polls in the opposite, and pro-GOP direction, mainly due to an unusually strong screen for likelihood to vote. In fact, the previous Post poll on the Virginia race, back in early September, showed Kilgore up seven points at a time when virtually every other survey showed a dead heat.Jerry's flacks also argue that unpublished regional breakdowns in the Post poll discredit it, because they show Kilgore struggling in southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, where everyone concedes he will win. But they don't tell you the Post's sample, while big enough to show statewide trends, is too small for full regional breakdowns, which is why the paper didn't publish them (I'm reasonably sure the one regional result they did publish, for Northern Virginia, was created by an oversample, since it's in their prime circulation area).But here's my favorite argument from the Kilgore camp about why we should all discount the WaPo poll:

The poll was conducted on Sunday through Wednesday of this past week. A quick glance back reveals that on early Sunday afternoon when the poll began, the Washington Redskins were playing a home game televised across the entire Commonwealth, the Martinsville NASCAR race was being televised and many families were still in church. The poll concluded its interviews on Wednesday night, another big night for church attendance in rural Virginia.
So, the argument goes, WaPo deliberately undersampled fans of football, NASCAR and Jesus Christ. Now obviously, you can't do a five-day poll that does not coincide with some sporting or religious event, and the planted axiom that anybody who watches the Skins or Martinsville or goes to church is a sure Jerry voter is insulting to say the least. You might as well argue that liberal secularist Democrats were undersampled because last weekend's fine weather drew them into the countryside for pagan harvest festivals, or because the poll coincided with a rash of NPR fundraising campaigns.Ol' Jerry's campaign cannot credibly deny they've lost momentum, thanks to their own hubristic addiction to nastiness. And their nasty reaction to evidence of their folly is a good illustration of the GOP candidate's perilous state.

October 30, 2005

Ralph's Uphill Climb

While perusing today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution in order to wallow in the misery of Georgia's close loss to Florida, I ran across some interesting polling data, thanks to Tom Baxter and Jim Galloway's Political Insider column.According to a Republican-commissioned poll conducted on October 18, Ralph Reed, candidate for Lieutentant Governor (the first step towards an intended gubernatorial and perhaps presidential run) is viewed favorably by 11 percent of Georgians, and unfavorably by 16 percent. His name I.D. is 42 percent. Here's what Baxter and Galloway say about that last number:

If 42 percent know who Reed is, and only 27 percent offer an opinion of him — whether good or bad — then 15 percent are purposely keeping their mouths shut.GOP analysts think Reed may be generating hidden negatives — that Reed supporters who have stuck with their charismatic leader in the past are beginning to have second thoughts. But they aren't yet ready to voice them.
Interesting theory, eh? But more to the point, there's the simple fact that Reed is about 39 percentage points away from convincing a majority of the electorate to think favorably of him, after two decades as a big wheel in national GOP circles, and a very successful tenure as state party chief. He's been an announced candidate for statewide office for several months now, frenetically touring the state with big names ranging from Democratic apostate Zell Miller to Atlanta Braves pitcher John Schmoltz. Yet here he is with a favorable/unfavorable ratio of 11/16 (an earlier poll pegged it at 15/17). Ralph's 42 percent name I.D. is also a cautionary sign about the extent to which voters pay attention to the obsessions of us political junkies. In addition to all the above attention-getting activities of Reed over the years, there's the Casino Jack Abramoff scandal, in which Ralph has played a conscpicuous and unsavory role again and again. The Atlanta newspapers and several local television stations have been following the story quite diligently. Ralph's Republican primary opponent, state Sen. Casey Cagle, and his large network of legislative supporters, have been regularly piling on, suggesting that Reed's troubles could blow up the whole state ticket next year. Yet 58 percent of Georgians have apparently never heard of the guy.This will obviously change as we get closer to the 2006 elections, but if Ralph Reed hasn't earned the loyalty of Georgia Republicans--much less the general electorate--by now, he's got a long, long way to go. And his vast dossier of political skullduggery will continue to serve as a goldmine for opposition researchers in both parties.

October 29, 2005

Fine Day For Football

Well, Fitzmas is past. Miers is history. Bush's next SCOTUS pick won't be known til next week. For the first time in ages, I don't have a big day-job or moonlighting weekend project. My wife's out of town on business. My kid's away at college. Fall has finally arrived. The day is cool, crisp and windy, what I used to think of in my student days as Nietzsche Weather, when you want to go find an abyss to laugh over.In sum, it is, as Chris Schenkel used to always say, a Fine Day for Football. So in a few hours, I'll try to find something red and black to wear, and mosey over to the local sports bar to watch the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, Georgia versus Florida. Now to yankees and other outsiders, this rivalry probably sounds like the Bud Bowl or something--a drinking contest between two party schools.But it's a serious thing down there, made more vicious, oddly enough, by the rivalry's recent pattern of total domination by one team or the other.Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Georgia routinely won, often coming from behind to rout the Gators in the second half. At one point in early 80s, I watched the game with a work colleague who had gone to Florida. As the third quarter ended, Florida had a small lead, but Georgia had begun one of those soul-crushing long ball-control drives that were the hallmark of the Vince Dooley era, and my friend got up and turned off the television. "Don't you want to watch the fourth quarter?" I asked. "I've been watching this fourth quarter for fifteen years," he wearily replied. Sure enough, Georgia won. In the 90s, with the return to Gainesville of The Evil Genius (a.k.a., the Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier), Florida dominated the series, especially during the tenure in Athens of Spurrier's polar opposite, the honorable but less-than-cerebral good-ol-boy Ray Goff ("If Georgia had to hire a Danny-Ford-type coach, they should have hired Danny Ford," quoth one Dawg Fanatic friend of mine). With both universities beginning to establish themselves as regional academic powers, the intellectual gap on the football field was painful for Georgia fans.Now both teams have Genius coaches. Georgia is undefeated, but its quarterback and moral leader, D.J. Shockley, will miss the game with a sprained knee. If Georgia wins, the post-game assessments will write themselves, because Shockley's replacement is a third-generation Dawg named Joe Tereshinski III, whose major role in his two previous years in Athens was as long snapper on punts. Either way, it ought to be fun. For once, Georgia is playing in the day's marquee game. I won't have to beg Mike the Bartender to find an obscure screen on which to watch my team. I can make barking noises on kickoffs without pretending to undergo a coughing fit. Yes, it's a fine day for football.

October 28, 2005

Sand in the Eyes

Having just watched, along with the whole hep political world, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's press conference, I think you can boil off the legalese and go with his baseball metaphor for what he was saying about the strange decision to prosecute someone for lying about a crime for which no one has been indicted."Scooter" Libby (nicknamed, ironically, after baseball great Phil "Scooter" Rizutto) is, according to Fitzgerald, the guy who threw sand in the umpire's face when the dark-robed arbiter was trying to figure out why the pitcher threw at the batter's head.This implies that (1) the investigation may have in fact determined who leaked Valerie Plame's name, even though key issues like the "pitcher's" motives and knowledge about Plame's undercover status have been so far obscured, making an indictment impossible; (2) Libby's real crime was to throw the investigation off course until the Grand Jury commission expired; and most importantly (3) the underlying crime is still under investigation, and could be exposed by new information or by disclosures Libby now makes at trial, or in order to cop a plea.If that's right, and especially if Fitzgerald is implying that Libby deliberately lied to protect somebody else, then another big shoe could later drop, even if it occurs after Fitzgerald's investigation is concluded.So much for my analysis as a non-practicing attorney, which is free advice and worth it.As for the broader issues raised by this case and by the withdrawal of the Harriet Miers nomination, I recommend you check out the DLC's take today, which among other things, suggests that Karl Rove has no business working in the White House whether or not he someday winds up in the hoosegow:

As for today's news from the special prosecutor, the fact that the indictment of the vice president's chief of staff was not accompanied by the indictment of the president's de facto chief of staff is apparently being greeted in some quarters as a victory for George W. Bush. That's a perfect example of a dangerously low standard of public service.We care too much about the office of the Presidency to wish indictments upon anyone. For the same reason, we believe that for the sake of that office, President Bush should not wait for Patrick Fitzgerald to tell Karl Rove to go.Whether or not he was criminally involved in the Valerie Plame leak case, there's no doubt Rove is openly and notoriously involved in an ongoing effort to create a politics of maximum partisan polarization, infecting every institution of our democracy.From that perspective, it's beside the point that Rove may well escape a long vacation in one of our fine federal correctional institutions. If he truly wants to clear the air, the president should direct Rove to take a permanent vacation from the White House. Let him practice his dark arts at the Republican National Committee or some other venue far from official policymaking circles, and let him be accompanied by the other permanent-campaign warriors who have infested the people's institutions.
Those Democrats who are disappointed that on "Fitzmas" they got coal in their stockings from "Fitzy Klaus" need to keep focused on the larger story of this administration's overall abuses of power.

Miers' Agony Ends

Wow, that was fast.And that's about all that needs to be said about the White House's decision to pull this doomed nomination before it tore up the shaky coalition that is today's GOP. The timing was almost certainly affected by the anticipated landfall of Hurricane Patrick today; at the very least, the announcement of his findings will make the Miers withdrawal a one-day story (at least until her replacement is named), and some folks think it was a hasty gesture of surrender to conservatives whose support will soon be needed on other fronts.As Miers' agony ends, I'm glad Senate Democrats were spared the agony of deciding whether to administer the coup de grace to this nomination, knowing that the next name on Bush's list could be a howler.

October 26, 2005

Bush Goes Back To Bad Economics

As you may have heard, the White House has decided to put W. out there to promote his alleged successes, in order to distract attention from his rather conspicuous failures of late. The first installment of this happy talk offensive occurred in Washington today, when the president delivered pithy remarks about his economic and fiscal policies.Much as I generally avoid extended exposure to Bush rhetoric, I really encourage you to read this speech in its entirety, to get a grip on the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the current administration's economic policies.The economy is peachy keen, he says, thanks to his tax cuts, which need to be made permanent.Fiscal problems? This president, who has yet to veto a single spending bill (or any bill, for that matter), is "working with congressional leaders" to get spending under control, apparently by cutting Medicaid, food stamps, child support enforcement, and other programs benefitting unimporant political constituencies.Energy costs going crazy? Time to suspend environmental regulations, beef up--or pork up--subsidies for oil and gas producters, and then definitely begin oil drilling in the Alaska Natural Wilderness Reserve.Health care costs bandrupting businesses and decimating families? Let's trot out HSAs, AHPs, and every other marginal right-wing idea for undermining broad risk pools and larger coverage.Boomer retirement crisis? Bush trots out his weariest rhetoric for Social Security privatization.Personally, what bugged me most about Bush's speech was its casual failture to announce, explain or embrace any sort of basic macroeconomic strategy for the country.Pardon me for being nostalgic, but I believe every advanced industrial nation ought to have such a strategy. We certainly had one during the Clinton administration.Why not announce one now?Because they (1) can't admit mistakes; (2) consider revenue and spending commitments to "our team" as sacred; and (3) basically don't think Americans are capable of basic math--these guys are incapable of a coherent, consistent budget or economic strategy.And it continues today.

October 25, 2005

Day of the Jiveass

It's a old maxim that in Washington, when breaking news is anticipated, there's an inverse relationship between the amount of actual information available and the breadth and intensity of rumors. So it goes with the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation of the Valerie Plame leak.Best I can tell, Fitzgerald's investigation itself is pretty damn close to leak-proof. Hence, the speculation about its impending fruits is reaching levels of near-hysteria in Washington. Will Cheney be implicated? If so, does his implication implicate Bush himself? Did Rove roll over on Scooter Libby, not only exculpating himself but reinforcing his legend as the guy you don't ever want to mess with? Will Fitzgerald wind up doing nothing, to the shock and disappointment of Democrats and the great relief of Republicans?Who knows? Nobody knows. The tiny trickle of actual news dribbling out today is tantalizing but inconclusive: reports of Fitzgerald paying a visit to Rove's lawyer, and of FBI agents creepy-crawling the Wilson-Plame neighborhood to find out if it was common knowledge Plame was with The Company.There's a general expectation that action will be taken tomorrow, but maybe not until Friday, and of course, Fitzgerald could actually hold over the Grand Jury for another week, raising the rumor noise to a high-pitched chattering whine.This is the perfect atmosphere for the Washington Insider Jiveass, who in the absence of real information, feeds the beast of speculation with wild claims backed by shadowy Sources. My colleague The Moose and I had a semi-serious conversation today about how easy it would be to set Washington on its ear by posting especially lurid speculation of our own: unconfirmed reports of beefed-up security in the office of John McCain, waiting in the wings to replace a disgraced Dick Cheney; Sources describing a stricken president weeping in the Rose Garden at the certain loss of his Pilot, Karl Rove; spot checks revealing a vast and coordinated wave of heavily tattooed bicycle messengers delivering multiple "target letters;" Grand Jurors with relatives in Red States suddenly stepping down. In today's atmosphere, almost anything would get batted around Washington and beyond.I've always defined the Washington Insider Jiveass as someone who constantly seeks to know something unimportant fifteen minutes before anyone else. But when it comes to something important, the Washington Insider Jiveass seeks to convey exclusive knowledge of something unknowable close enough to real news events to get attention, yet far enough in advance to avoid looking stupid when it turns out very differently.That's why this is the Day of the Jiveass in Washington; indeed, it's a veritable Jiveass Jamboree.

Signposts On the Wrong Track

Here's how Andrew Kohut describes the latest findings of the Pew Research Center on public attitudes towards major U.S. institutions and their leaders, released today:

Americans express increasingly negative views of a wide range major institutions, reflecting strong discontent with national conditions. Over the past year, ratings have tumbled for the federal government and Congress. And it is not just Washington institutions that are being viewed less positively. Favorable opinions of business corporations are at their lowest point in two decades. And in the face of high energy prices, just 20% express positive opinions of oil companies.Favorable ratings for the federal government in Washington have taken a hard hit, falling from 59% last year to 45% currently. The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted among 2,006 Americans from Oct. 12-24, finds that even positive views of the military, while still very high, have slipped slightly (from 87% in March to 82%). Just two institutions are unscathed by public discontent. Ratings for the Supreme Court and the news media were unchanged compared to previous surveys.
All this bad news about public assessments of the folks running the country, and even their corporate sweethearts, should be good news for Democrats, right? Well, it's more accurate to say that it creates an opportunity for good news for Democrats in the future. As virtually every poll has shown for some time, Pew finds that sinking assessments of the GOP have not exactly translated into rising assessments of the Donkey Party. After three months of trouble in the GOP ranks, the favorable/unfavorable ratio for the Republican Party has dropped from 48/43 in July to 42/49 today. The Democratic Party's ratio has changed from 50-41 to 49-41 over the same period.This should be a familiar anomaly for Democrats, since it was a central feature of the 2004 presidential cycle. All year long, Kerry strategists (and for that matter, people like me) stared at the stubbornly high "wrong track" numbers and became convinced that eventually all these unhappy campers would drift into the challenger's column, giving the Democratic candidate a sure boost in the home stretch. And indeed, this belief clearly had an impact on the Kerry campaign message; anodyne slogans like "New Directions for America" and "A Stronger America" were basically just welcome signs for the "wrong track" voters sure to abandon Bush if given a clear alternative.It didn't happen, probably in part because voters viewed Democrats as much as if not more than Republicans as the "wrong track" party on some issues, including culture, integrity, and "big government," and because Democrats never offered a tightly constructed argument about exactly how they would do a better job on the most important concerns of wavering voters.We're at a similar juncture today, except that (1) Republican vulnerability is much greater than in 2004, and (2) Democrats don't have the focal point of a presidential candidacy to drive home a clear and compelling message.The Democratic ability to overcome this second obstacle will go a long way towards determining whether 2006 is one of those snarling, low-turnout, plague-on-both-houses elections with mixed results, or a 1994-style wave that sweeps Republicans out of office.We now have just over a year to paint some bright and unmistakable signposts that remind voters exactly who built the wrong track this country is on, and point to the path not taken that's still available with new leadership.

October 24, 2005

Don't Know the Players Without a Program

As the Harriet Miers nomination slouches slowly towards the Senate, it's hard to get a real handle on who, exactly, in the conservative constellation has bitten the bullet--or to put it another way, the hand that used to feed them--and come out against W.'s buddy.Ah, but now there's a web page, WithdrawMiers.org, that is providing an updated list of organizations, individuals and newspapers which have called on Bush to withdraw the nomination. (It's not exclusively a conservative list, and may become less so as Democrats begin to weigh in). All the big names you'd expect are on this list: Will, Buchanan, Krauthammer, Frum, Kristol, Schlafly, Bork and Noonan; along with publications like National Review and organizations like the American Conservative Union.Just as interestingly, the page lists those "deeply concerned" about Miers, i.e., leaning against, but not yet off the cliff. And there you find nine Republican U.S. Senators, plus Robert Novak, Paul Weyrich, Gary Bauer, the Family Research Council, Grover Norquists's Americans for Tax Reform, and The Wall Street Journal.These lists show abundantly how much the fault lines on Miers cut across the Cultural Right. James Dobson's supporting her, but the closely related Family Research Council and its famous former director Bauer are leaning against her. The National Right To Life Committee is on board for Harriet, but the Republican National Coalition for Life is urging her withdrawal. Cultural Right Warhorse Pat Robertson is thundering threats against Senator who dare obstruct her confirmation, but Cultural Right Warhorses Schlafly, Buchanan, and Weyrich appear to be feeding the revolt.Maybe somebody will do up one of those handy-dandy charts that list the major constellations of the conservative universe, and who's bickering with whom in the same solar system. But until then, WithdrawMiers.org is the place to check for trends.

October 22, 2005

The GOP Budget Sideshow

Amidst this week's three-ring circus imvolving the Fitzgerald indictment rumors, the Miers fiasco, and Tom DeLay's court appearance, you may have missed an important GOP sideshow: the collapse of a House Republican effort to patch together an amended federal budget resolution to pay for a small portion of the Katrina recovery effort. Read all about it on the DLC site, and be sure to follow the link to Gov. Tom Vilsack's op-ed on how to help pay for the Gulf Coast recovery. Vilsack wouldn't mess with Medicaid or food stamps; does not rely on the brain-dead approach of across-the-board cuts; and while he identifies far more spending savings than the House GOP green eyeshades, he also doesn't ignore the immorality of implementing new tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, either.

October 20, 2005

Inside the Creaky Miers Spin Machine

Byron York, White House reporter for National Review, put up an online article this afternoon suggesting that the team lobbying for Harriet Miers' confirmation is "gloomy and demoralized," not due to external conservative opposition to the nomination, but because her "courtesy visits" to the Senators who will determine her fate are not going well.

Strategists working with the White House in support of the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers are becoming increasingly demoralized and pessimistic about the nomination's prospects on Capitol Hill in the wake of Miers's meetings with several Republican and Democratic senators. On a conference call held this morning, they even discussed whether Miers should simply stop visiting with lawmakers, lest any further damage be done — and so that time spent in such get-acquainted sessions will not cut into Miers's intensive preparation for her confirmation hearing...."The number of participants [in the pro-Miers conference calls] is declining," says one knowledgeable source. "With Roberts, these calls occurred five or six or seven times a week. Pretty early on, the calls on Miers were scaled back to twice a week. That says something in and of itself.""It's been a gradual descent into almost silence," says a second source of the calls. "The meetings with the senators are going terribly. On a scale of one to 100, they are in negative territory. The thought now is that they have to end....Obviously the smart thing to do would be to withdraw the nomination and have a do-over as soon as possible. But the White House is so irrational that who knows? As of this morning, there is a sort of pig-headed resolve to press forward, cancel the meetings with senators if necessary, and bone up for the hearings....""Demoralization and pessimism?" the source continues. "That's been a constant. We're in the various stages of grief."
Now I realize that the magazine Byron York works for is one of the major sources of the conservative revolt against Miers. But he's a solid, old-school reporter, and moreover, the fact that people involved in the Miers lobbying operation are talking to him, even on "deep background," is significant in itself. Like John Fund's leak-fed revelations about the incompetent vetting of Miers in the White House, it shows that Republican discipline has completely broken down. And that has to be freaking out the White House as much as anything else. In any given meeting or conference call to bolster the nomination, the spin team must be constantly asking themselves: Who can we trust?

October 19, 2005

Message: I Don't Care

In response to my last post suggesting that the Miers nomination saga might have taken another strange turn with the revelation of her 1989 support for the Human Life Amendment, I was put in my place by a number of friends and correspondents who reminded me how remarkably uncontroversial support for the HLA used to be in conservative circles; so uncontroversial, indeed, that it didn't seem odd for a city council candidate to embrace it to get a local endorsement.And in fact, yesterday's revelation didn't seem to much impress Miers' conservative opponents; they're not even talking about it. Indeed, the only discussion of the material released by the Senate about Miers yesterday on sites like The Corner and Red State involves derisive comments about her answer to the Judiciary Committee question about "judicial activism." (BTW, the constant use of passive verb constructions indicates that Miers herself, or someone immersed in her Collected Works, filled the thing out).What many conservatives have been talking about, from the very beginning, is a point that Jonathan Chait riffs on brilliantly today at the New Republic site: how little political capital the White House seemed willing to spend on a crucial Supreme Court nomination.There's an almost universal conviction among conservative Miers-o-phobes that Bush could have rammed a qualified and unambiguously Scalia/Thomas-type jurist through the Senate (probably anybody to the left of Janice Rogers Brown) if he had really wanted to. Sure, it might have required some serious arm-twisting, and maybe a resort to the Nuclear Option, but the deal about Supreme Court nominations is that it requires just 50 of 55 Republican votes to put somebody on the Court for a lifetime. And Bush wouldn't do it. He came to the eve of the long-awaited Armaggedon, and flinched.As Chait points out, what galls cultural conservatives most about this decision is that it was diametrically opposed to the White House M.O. on economic issues:

When it comes to tax cuts, regulation, or other controversial budget changes, Bush's Republicans usually muscle their legislation through both Houses of Congress without any votes to spare. (Last week's House vote to ease oil refinement restrictions-during which the GOP leadership extended a five-minute vote to 45 minutes while they twisted enough arms to prevail 212 to 210--is a typical display). The goal is always to win as many benefits as possible for the party's business and donor base.
Actually, as Mark Schmitt likes to point out, the GOP often seems determined to win votes without any significant Democratic support, in part because they don't want to compromise, but also because they deeply believe that maximum partisan polarization is in their party's long-term interest.So why, ask cultural conservatives, isn't that the case with their own most important priority? And all the rationalizations the White House has been providing for the Miers choice--Bush's loyalty to his friend, her "stealth credentials" as an evangelical Christian, Karl Rove's distractions, Andy Card's sponsorship, Bush's low poll numbers, etc., etc.--add insult to injury. On something this big, how was it possible for Bush to stray so far from the obvious course of giving the Right what it wanted and what he had the power to give? That's a hard question to answer without quickly concluding that Bush just didn't care enough to get it Right.

October 18, 2005

Miers and the Human Life Amendment

Just when you thought you had a handle on the Miers nomination, a document emerged today from her thin dossier that could change the dynamics dramatically. Senate sources released material from a routine questionnaire answered by the nominee, disclosing that as a candidate for Dallas City Council in 1989, Miers informed the local branch of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum that she supported the so-called Human Life Amendment, a constitutional amendment that would endow human embryos with the full protections of "personhood" accorded by every other provision of the constitution, from the moment of conception. The White House quickly issued a statement downplaying the disclosure: "A candidate taking a political position in the course of a campaign is different from the role of a judge making a ruling in the judicial process." Well, yeah, sorta kinda, but not really, and so what? Yes, it's theoretically possible to believe that Roe v. Wade is a settled judicial precedent that should be, and can only be, reversed by a constitutional amendment. But let's remember what the Human Life Amendment (in its most common iterations) was designed to do: not simply reverse Roe and return the subject of abortion to the states and to Congress, but instead to permanently ban any federal or state legislation permitting abortion at any stage of pregnancy after conception (with the sole exception of conditions threatening the life of the mother). Arguably, the Human Life Amendment would create a constitutional challenge to laws allowing the dispensation of contraceptives that prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum in the uterine wall. It would definitely lead to a judicially-enforced ban on the widespread practice of embryo destruction by IV fertility clinics, not to mention embryonic stem cell research. In other words, support for the Human Life Amendment is the most extreme position imaginable on abortion, and one which--precisely because it reflects the belief that the courts should define the word "person" as contained in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as including embryos--is based on an implicit injunction to the most radical form of judicial activism. Indeed, for all the whining about judicial usurpation of legislative prerogatives that's become so common on the Cultural Right, it's this--a judicial reading of the anti-abortion movement's interpretation of the word "person" right into the Constitution--that has long been their ultimate fantasy, abandoned for tactical reasons in favor of the current drive to undermine and then reverse Roe. Who knows, maybe Miers was just checking a conservative box on that Eagle Forum questionnaire, and maybe she didn't and doesn't embrace a radical interpretation of what it means in the U.S. Constitution to be a "person." But aside from its political ramifications, this disclosure means her inquisitors in the Senate Judiciary Committee should not be satisfied with questioning her about the constitutional underpinnings of Roe, such as Griswold and the right to privacy. A belief in fetal "personhood" as a constitutional doctrine trumps all those issues. And unless Miers and her defenders come up with a better explanation than "that was then, this is now," it could introduce a whole new dimension in a confirmation debate where her lack of qualifications, and her evangelical Christian identity, have been the only issues.

October 17, 2005

Redistricting: Devil's in the Details

Over the weekend, Markos of DailyKos, pondering his California absentee ballot, posed a very pertinent question: why shouldn't he vote for Proposition 77, Arnold Schwarzenneger's redistricting reform initiative? Yes, he suggests, it might have a short-term negative impact on Democratic margins in the congressional delegation and the state legislature, but if it contributes to a national redistricting reform movement, it's likely to help Democrats nationally, particularly if Democratic-backed reform initiatives in Ohio (this year) and Florida (next year) succeed as well.I can't answer Markos' question definitively, but do want to draw attention to peculiarities of the California initiative that make it different from those in the other states. I've written about this subject extensively here and here (note that the first piece was written before the Ohio initiative got underway, while the second was written before the California initiative overcame a judicial challenge), so I'll just hit the high points.Prop 77 relies heavily on the assumption that nonpartisan redistricting is (a) feasible, and (b) will produce a more balanced map. Both these assumptions are very questionable. But that's why the initiative focuses so heavily on who draws the maps, rather than what criteria they use. The Ohio initiative (and for that matter, the Florida initiative that's now in a legal limbo) requires use of partisan voter registration and performance data to create an overall redistricting plan that maximizes both competitive districts and statewide partisan fairness, while the California initiative prohibits use of such data and does not make competitiveness or partisan fairness criteria at all. The one state that has successfully applied this take-the-politics-out approach to redistricting is Iowa, but Iowa, with its relatively homogenous population, stable partisan balance, and strong "good government" tradition, is not California, by a long shot. So in the end, Prop 77 is pretty much a leap into the unknown. Thus, for Democrats in particular, the decision on Prop 77 is pretty much a matter of how you feel about the current map and the system that created it. But there's one major piece of misinformation circulating (it's very visible in the comment thread after Markos' post) that needs to be refuted: the idea that the current map is a standard-brand partisan gerrymander that maximized Democratic seats. Not so. For both the congressional delegation and the state legislature, the Democratic leadership pursued an incumbent-protection strategy that all but eliminated competitive districts. Yes, it created a floor under Democratic majorities, but also created a ceiling. In effect, the map traded potential opportunities to win new Democratic seats for the assurance that incumbents wouldn't have to worry about general elections. (Another motive, according to everybody I've talked to, was to enable primary challenges to centrist Democrats in the state legislature, many of which succeeded). California's situation is in sharp contrast to that of Ohio and Florida, where the reigning Republicans did indeed focus on partisan advantage to the exclusion of virtually every other factor.In other words, the Democratic advantage in California's congressional delegation and state legislature is the product of an unavoidable Democratic advantage among voters, not of Democratic control of redistricting. And there's no particular reason to believe the system established by Prop 77 would change that reality. The bottom line for me is that I don't like the system set out in Prop 77, but I also don't think partisanship is a good reason for opposing it, particularly since the current map is so egregiously aimed at eliminating competition altogether. I hope this analysis helps Markos and other California Dems make their decision. All redistricting reforms are not created equal; nor is the status quo in Democratic and Republican-controlled states the same. It's entirely possible to oppose Prop 77 while supporting the initiatives in Ohio and Florida on substantive grounds, but not because California's current system is particularly good for Democrats, or for democracy.

October 14, 2005

Back to the '80s in Virginia

A Republican gubernatorial candidate in a close race launches a vicious attack on his opponent as a weak-kneed liberal who coddles illegal immigrants and criminals and opposes the death penalty. Where are we? California, circa 1986? Nope, it's the Commonweath of Virginia in 2005, where Jerry (No Relation) Kilgore is bringing back the cultural wedge issues of a bygone era with a vengeance.The rationale for this atavistic effort is a bit tangled. Kilgore's big problem is that incumbent Democratic Governor Mark Warner is very, very popular. Democratic candidate and Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine is his designated successor. Having spent four years fighting everything Warner has tried to do, ol' Jerry cannot exactly claim he'll build on the Warner legacy. To be sure, Kilgore is more than willing to make spending promises, especially on the critical transportation needs of Northern Virginia, based on using the tax revenues he fought to deny the Commonweath. And he's trying to coopt the Warner magic in more subtle ways as well. Down in central Virginia, the landscape is covered with big "Sportsmen for Kilgore" signs that are carbon copies of the "Sportsmen for Warner" signs of 2001.But nobody really believes Jerry is a sensible centrist like Warner, so his only option is to claim that Kaine isn't either.As the Washington Post's Robert Barnes noted yesterday:

Kaine has based his campaign on the promise that he is the logical choice to "keep Virginia moving forward" since Warner is barred from seeking reelection. But the Kilgore campaign believes it can break open what both sides describe as an extremely close race by portraying the lieutenant governor as a chameleon who doesn't share Warner's middle-of-the-road persona.

The strategy is "separating Kaine from Warner and further making the case he's not Mark Warner part two," said a Republican strategist familiar with the campaign who would discuss campaign tactics only on condition of anonymity. "It is probably one of the most crucial elements for success."

Hence the barrage on old-style cultural issues where Kilgore can claim Kaine diverges from Warner.Kilgore has constantly sought to exploit a local dispute in the Washington exurbs over a day laborer gathering point (which Kaine, accurately, calls an issue not within the state's power to control) to luridly suggest the Old Dominion is about to be overrun by illegal immigrants and Hispanic gangs, even claiming they are connected to al Qaeda.But ol' Jerry's demagogic Big Bertha, which he appears to have kept in reserve for the home stretch, is reflected in the wave of ads he's running about Kaine's opposition to the death penalty, which feature relatives of murder victims (include one whose killer Kaine defended as a court-appointed attorney) excoriating the Lieutenant Governor.Kaine has put up an ad offering a dignified response, speaking personally about the basis for his opposition to the death penalty in his Catholicism; making it clear he will enforce the current law if elected; and rather frankly denying there's any particular connection between executions and violent crime rates, which are, in any event, near historic lows.It's too early to tell whether Kilgore's gambit will succeed. If he wins after this low-road effort, the implications will extend well beyond the misgovernment Virginians will be virtually guaranteed for the next four years (not to mention the personal pain I will experience in having my surname tainted)."Off-year" elections are almost invariably over-interpreted by political analysts, and over-imitated by political pros. I can't imagine anything that would poison this country's already toxic political climate more than a decision by Republican operatives to supplement the Karl Rove generation of cultural wedge issues with those of the late Lee Atwater.If Jerry loses, on the other hand, maybe this kind of crap can be put in a political Superfund site, roped off with skull-and-cross-bones signs, and buried for a very long time.

October 13, 2005

Anatomy of the Miers Blunder

As the furor over the Harriet Miers nomination has grown, I've been wondering when somebody would finally produce an insider account of how, mechanically, the choice was made. Sure, there are plenty of theories, but not much in the way of actual information.That changed today. While it's not exactly a tick-tock account, John Fund in the Wall Street Journal provides a peek behind the veil, and in particular helps us understand why the White House seemed to be blind-sided by the powerfully negative reaction.Read it yourself, but the basic story line is this: the moment John Roberts was nominated to become Chief Justice, Bush and his staff decided O'Connor's replacement would be a woman. Miers started the usual intensive vetting process for the women on the short list. Andy Card suggested to Bush that Miers herself be considered. Bush agreed. Card ordered Miers' deputy, William Kelley (who had just been hired) to carry out a quiet vetting of Miers "behind her back." Kelley soon came back with a green light. Card formally proposed her nomination to Bush; POTUS signed off; Laura Bush jumped on board. Card told the rest of the staff, and angrily overrode objections. Total secrecy about the pick was imposed. It was announced according to a rigid schedule, and then all hell broke loose.The two things that really stand out about this account are:(1) Where was the Helmsman, Karl Rove in all this? Fund doesn't say, though there's a lot of circumstantial evidence kicking around that the post-decision political vetting of Miers was even more haphazard than the vetting of her qualifications for the Court. Is this because Rove was distracted by other tasks (e.g., overseeing Katrina recovery and trying to avoid an indictment)? Or was it because nobody, even Rove, wanted to raise objections about an appointment to which Bush was very committed personally? Or, worse yet, did Rove simply think he could quickly sell Miers to conservatives on grounds of the usual Machine loyalty, underestimating the growing unhappiness of the Right with W.'s overall performance? All of these factors may have come into play.(2) Card's back-door vetting of Miers by her own deputy almost guaranteed a sloppy process. As Fund points out, the conflicts-of-interest this step imposed on Kelley were formidable--investigating his own boss behind her back for a position that might pave the way to his own promotion, knowing all the while the risks of becoming the messenger who would be shot for bearing bad news about Bush's close friend. And presumably, Kelley had to do a lot of this on his own, without the resources or time available to Miers in her own, official vetting process. That's the big irony here: the famously process-obsessed perfectionist Miers got her big break from a process that glaringly diverged from her own standards.And the price she and the White House are paying for that lapse in discipline grows higher every day.I normally wouldn't quote from one of those columns now sequestered by the New York Times as "premium content," but David Brooks today penned a pitiless dissection of Miers' columns for the Texas Bar Journal in the early '90s that illustrates the kind of material a serious vetting of her would have revealed. He supplies paragraph after paragraph of samplings from "the largest body of public writing we have from her," and even aside from Miers' mangled syntax and a fatal addiction to passive verb constructions, it's not a pretty sight. (My own favorite: "When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved." Word up.)As Brooks himself concludes: "I don't know if by mere quotation I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid abstractions that mark Miers' prose. Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided."And so it goes, another predictably negative revelation about a nominee whose main distinguising features are her work habits, a genial personality, and a devotion to church, family and most of all W.My gut feeling is that Bush let her down by exposing her to this ridicule. And though it's hard to tell at this point, he may be exposing Harriet Miers and himself to a humiliating experience in the Senate.

October 12, 2005

Senate Staff Revolt on Miers?

The headline news today on the Miers nomination is Laura Bush's suggestion that resistance to the nominee among conservatives may be based on reflexive sexism, an argument that made the Right go nuts when RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie articulated it in private meetings earlier on.But the more important news, written up by David Kirkpatrick in today's New York Times, is that there is a revolt brewing among Republican Senate staffers, especially those on the Judiciary Committee, against the nomination:

As the White House seeks to rally senators behind the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers, lawyers for the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee are expressing dissatisfaction with the choice and pushing back against her, aides to 6 of the 10 Republican committee members said yesterday."Everybody is hoping that something will happen on Miers, either that the president would withdraw her or she would realize she is not up to it and pull out while she has some dignity intact," a lawyer to a Republican committee member said.All the Republican staff members insisted on anonymity for fear of retaliation from their supervisors and from the Senate leaders.

At two stormy meetings on Friday - the first a planning meeting of the chief counsels to Republican committee members and the second a Republican staff meeting with Ed Gillespie, the former Republican Party chairman who is helping to lobby for the nomination - committee lawyers were unanimous in their dismay over Ms. Miers's qualifications and conservative credentials, several attendees said...."You could say there is pretty much uniform disappointment with the nomination at the staff level," another Republican on the committee staff said. "It is clear there is quite a bit of skepticism, and even some flashes of hostility."Another Republican aide close to the committee said, "I don't know a staffer who approves of this nomination, anywhere. Most of it is outright hostility throughout the Judiciary Committee staff."In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Specter emphasized that the senators would make their own decisions."I think those staffers, like anybody else, have a right to their opinions and to express them," he said. "Senators will make independent judgments. You have some pretty strong staffers on the committee, but you have got some stronger senators."

Specter's quote is very interesting, because (a) it appears to be his own Judiciary Committee staff who are the chief grousers about Miers, and (b) throughout his long Senate career, the Pennsylvanian has consistently distinguished himself for imperious treatment of staff in an institution where Sun King disdain for the opinions of underlings is standard.You don't have to put on a tin-foil hat to wonder if Specter is playing a double game on Miers, especially given his own rather conflicted comments about her qualifications. Maybe the White House's well-known injunctions to Specter to get along better with conservatives are producing some unintended and ironic consequences.

October 11, 2005

Lieberman, Buckley, and Fraternization With the Enemy

I wasn't inclined to comment on the relatively-little-noticed topic of Joe Lieberman's attendance at the 50th anniversary dinner for National Review. But my colleague The Moose has more or less challenged my mammalhood or Murrowhood if I fail to weigh in, so I will.Let me warn you: this is going to be one of those long posts that probably depress this site's traffic while offering up easy targets for people who will stop reading once they hit a bump in the argument. But stick with it if you can; it's an interesting subject when you dig a bit deeper. For those of you who missed it, Atrios went after Lieberman for his prominent position at the NR dinner, citing a 1957 National Review editorial that defended the South's efforts to ban voting rights for African-Americans on grounds that it was defending a "superior" civilization. Markos linked to Atrios, but appeared to simply (and rather mildly) deplore Lieberman's action on the usual fraternization-with-the-enemy grounds. The Moose demanded an apology for Atrios' implicit argument that Lieberman was endorsing racism, or at least hanging out with known racists, given Joe's own sterling civil rights record. Steve Gilliard fired back, arguing that Joe is dishonoring his own personal history by hanging out with racists, adducing NR's recent comments on Katrina as fresh evidence of its racism.These folks are obviously talking past each other, but the exchange does raise some important points about acceptable and unacceptable opposition viewpoints; about history, memory, and forgiveness (or unforgiveness); and about the moral dilemmas involved in appearing in "enemy forums." More to the point, it raises three questions:1) Is William F. Buckley a racist with whom no self-respecting Democrat should fraternize? By way of full disclosure, I grew up reading National Review and Buckley's columns and books (along with a lot of other pundits ranging from Frantz Fanon to Joseph de Maistre), and like many people from all points of view, enjoyed his acerbic style of writing and debate on purely aesthetic grounds. (I have also published one article in NR, making the case for a Democratic House win in 1998, along with several election-prediction-and-analysis gigs on their web page, though not recently). That did not mean I agreed with or even found acceptable his underlying political philosphy, but sometimes you just had to LOL.An example (most of WFB's material is ungooglable, so you'll just have to trust my prodigious memory for this kind of trivia): On some late -1960s talk show, the actress Shelley Winters (as ubiquitous on the Talks back then as Charo and Monty Rock IV were in later years) was asked why she was a Democrat, and she replied that as a child growing upon in the Depression, "Franklin Roosevelt gave me a hot bowl of soup while Herbert Hoover hated me." Commented Buckley: "Really, Mr. Hoover was a man of extraordinary foresight."Another: when Eleanor Roosevelt said she was never under any circumstances cross a picket line, Buckley called on "patriotic citizens to immediately post a 24-hour picket line around Hyde Park."And still another: during his Conservative Party bid for Mayor of New York in 1965, Buckley was asked what his first action would be if he won. "Demand a recount," he said.And one more, which is relevant to the current controversy: confronted with claims that open racists were supporting his mayoral candidacy, Buckley said: "Look, you, whoever you are, I don't want your vote. Go back to your fever swamps and find somewhere else to peddle your nonsense."On other occasions, Buckley penned extraordinarily eloquent explanations of conservative cultural impulses that are still very relevant today. In an agonized column on his visceral reaction to the post-Vatican II vernacular mass, he wrote that it was like "entering Chartres Cathedral and finding the stained glass replaced by pop art posters of Jesus sitting in against the slumlords of Milwaukee."Believe it or not, I'm not old enough to have read the late-1950s editorial that Atrios cited--and which managed to shock me, as it would probably shock Joe Lieberman--but I do remember NR's and Buckley's various rationalizations for supporting Barry Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Worse yet, a few years ago I ran across a collection of Buckley columns from the late 1960s that I had bought decades ago which included several about Dr. Martin Luther King. They were not racist according to the commonly accepted definitions of that term, but exhibited a moral obtuseness that is now breathtaking.Yet Buckley later recanted about civil rights, not abjectly or systematically, but still definitively. I distinctly remember a column observing that for African-Americans in a Jim Crow society, the refusal to dignify the laws and political processes that sustained that society was the only true option.The most compelling argument (as The Moose reminded me today) for rejecting the idea that fraternization with Buckley is sinful is the history of his 33-year television show, Firing Line. Buckley's very first guest was Norman Thomas, the venerable American socialist leader. And that was typical. As one obiturist for the show when it finally expired put it:

''Firing Line'' became a necessary stop for the leading liberal figures of the era. Muhammad Ali, Allen Ginsberg, Jesse Jackson, William M. Kunstler and Murray Kempton, among others, all made appearances. Mr. Buckley was helped by close friendships with liberals like Mr. Galbraith and Ira Glasser, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
I vividly remember another show where the guest was then-Congressman Ron Dellems (who's now mulling a comeback run for mayor of Oakland), who was a national hero for what would now be called Progressive Caucus Democrats. One of Firing Line's regular features was a panel of younger politicos, from the U.S. and the U.K., and from the Left and Right, who shared in the questioning and debate; American participants included Mark Green and Michael Kinsley. For decades, the show was Crossfire with a much higher I.Q.; more genuine diversity of opinion; and more actual debate.Now, you can argue that all the liberals and even socialists who hung out with Buckley on the air (much closer than we are to the racist editorial of 1957) were themselves morally obtuse. But it is very clear that treating him like he's David Duke misses much of why people have paid attention to him and his magazine and television show over the years.If this sounds a bit like the Ezra Pound Defense (an appreciation of the stylist's contributions trumping his obnoxious views and even his contributions to historic wrongs), so be it. Maybe to young bloggers Buckley is nothing more than one of the original and most extreme architects of the Noise Machine, but back in the day, he was much more, and was acknowledged as such by just about everybody. That's the point E.J. Dionne was making in his column today about Buckley. Presumably, that's a lot of what was being celebrated at the dinner Joe Lieberman attended.2) Are there new rules about fraternization with the Right? I suspect some young-and-angry Democratic readers will react to what I've said, and what E.J. said, by responding: This is the problem with all you old bastards in Washington. You don't recognize the enemy when you see him, and you value your insider connections to the enemy so much that you don't know when he's cutting your stupid throat.Well, personally, I don't have that many insider connections to much of anybody; don't get invited to anybody's big dinners; and am aware that my own ever-increasing partisanship in the Age of Bush has certainly cooled my casual email relationships with conservatives, including those at National Review. But unless we just want to talk to ourselves, it's important that we figure out where in the "enemy camp" there's an openness to actual give-and-take debate. (This was the subject of an open question posed by Markos on August 24, so it's not just a "centrist" concern). And in my own experience, there are two kinds of Republicans, who cannot be sorted out by ideology: those who would be perfectly happy living in a one-party dictatorship (Karl Rove and most of the White House and RNC staff, Tom DeLay and most House Republicans, Rick Santorum, James Inhofe, Grover Norquist, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, James Dobson, Bill O'Rielly, Britt Hume and much of the Fox News Staff, etc.) and those who would hate to live in a land with no debate or controversy.I'm reasonably sure the National Review folks--and for that matter, those at The Weekly Standard, with the possible exception of the once-reasonable Fred Barnes--fall into the latter category.Hell, National Review named Daniel Patrick Moynihan its Man of the Year in 1975--one year before he took away the Senate seat of William F. Buckley's brother Jim.And while I'm not going to any dinners celebrating any right-wing publication or personage, I do have to say that engaging conservatives who are willing to engage honestly and on a relatively high plain (both conditions that must be insisted upon) is something progressives should welcome, not deplore.So: have the rules of engagement changed? Yes, but only so far as the Right has changed them. Where they haven't, we should pick up our intellectual cudgels and have at it, and yes, express a little comity with those relatively few conservatives willing to play by those rules. Eating their food is no big scandal if it gives us the opportunity to eat their lunch.3) Has Joe Lieberman defected to the opposition? This question probably gets to the heart of The Moose's complaint. He says some of our blogger buddies are engaged in a "McCarthyite attack" on Joe; I don't agree. But I do think there's a half-conscious effort to attempt a Zell Millerization of Joe Lieberman. To be clear, I personally am not the adoring Joe fan that I was five years ago; I have lots of issues with what's he's said and done since then, especially in terms of the Homeland Security debate, and his original and more recent postures on Iraq. But (and here comes a line I've been saving up for a while) I knew Zell Miller and worked with Zell Miller, and Senator Joe Lieberman is no Zell Miller, not by a very long shot. Lieberman votes with and sometimes leads Senate Democrats on a wide variety of issues. He was the loyal running mate of our 2000 candidate, and loyally supported our 2004 candidate. On some issues (e.g., heath care and tax reform), he was arguably the most progressive presidential candidate last year. Reading him out of the party, which a fair number of bloggers have talked about recently because they (sometimes erroneously) suspected him of heresy on this issue or that, makes no sense. If, as some have suggested, he's too "conservative" to represent a blue state like Connecticut, then the Democratic voters of Connecticut have every opportunity to turn him out. Lieberman's appearance at the Buckley/NR dinner, which everyone knows represents a personal bond going back to WFB's endorsement of Joe in his first Senate campaign, is not that different from the decision by his Connecticut colleage, Chris Dodd, to vote against the party line for John Tower's confirmation as Secretary of Defense back in 1989 (Tower had voted against a Senate censure of Dodd's father). I don't recall any big partisan recriminations towards Dodd for supporting a man whose credentials on civil rights and a lot of other subjects were arguably worse that Buckley's, without all the mitigating circumstances I discussed earlier. It was personal, and everybody respected that. My bottom line is this: let's all of us de-escalate this controversy, and use it to bring light, not heat, to the many questions it raises.

October 10, 2005

Bushies At Work(out)

Michael Crowley over at &c. has drawn attention to a Jonathan Chait column in the L.A. Times this summer that I missed, about George W. Bush's "creepy" obsession with the exercise habits of his staff. As Crowley points out, this obsession may have something to do with Bush's close bond with Harriet Miers, who not only helped him clear brush down at the ranch, but has also gone running with her idol on occasion, matching him step for step. I realize that "working out" is something of a bipartisan obsession among young political folk in Washington. I'm constantly amused at twenty-something colleagues who care barely afford to rent a rabbit warren, and who live on reception food and dollar beer specials, but who invariably have expensive gym memberships. "You're at an age where your body will forgive you anything," I occasionally say to them. "Junk that monthly gym fee, and you could probably eat lunch more than twice a week, or take the big step up from 3.2 beer to Sierra Nevada." But in Bush's White House, the working-out thing seems to be a priority unlimited by age. And this must warm the well-exercised heart of Gary Aldrich, the former FBI agent who penned a tell-all book that focused on the devolution in body-shapes and overall personal grooming between the Bush 41 and Clinton White Houses (a theme similar to the paradise-lost maunderings of Linda Tripp, who also considered the Democratic invasion of the White House something of a Sack of Rome). When Aldrich's book first appeared, I figured he was just a semi-fascistic outlier who cashed in on the bottomless right-wing appetite for anti-Clinton material. But there seems to be a pattern here: who cares if the White House "works" in Democratic administrations, and doesn't in Republican administrations; the real question is whether it "works out."Betcha "Brownie" was a real Spartan.

October 9, 2005

Beyond Polarization

Last week a sequel appeared to one of the great classics of political analysis--Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck's 1989 paper, The Politics of Evasion. The previous report was published by the Progressive Policy Institute; the latest, entitled The Politics of Polarization, by the folks over at the congressionally-focused group Third Way (which is friendly with the DLC, but is a completely independent organiztion). This is a 71-page report chock full of findings and recommendations, so my first suggestion is that you read the whole thing, and don't rely on the Cliffs Notes version reported in the newspapers, or on the generally carping references to it in much of the blogosphere, based largely, I suspect, on the Cliffs Notes version. Yes, Galston and Kamarck argue that the real gold in American politics is in the ideological center, and they will annoy some of you who think counter-polarization is the key for Democrats. And yes, they claim that Democrats haven't developed a credible consensus on national security issues, and that will annoy others of you who think a position favoring withdrawal from Iraq will do the trick (for the record, Galston and Kamarck both opposed the invasion of Iraq in the first place).But the real value of the paper is that it hammers home three fundamental realities of contemporary partisan politics that cannot much be denied: (1) the GOP-engineered polarization of the two parties along ideological lines has made Democrats much more dependent than Republicans on sizable margins among self-identified moderate and independent voters (and thus more vulnerable to base/swing conflicts) (2) George W. Bush's 2004 win was produced as much by persuasion of a sizable minority of moderate voters (particularly married women and Catholics) as it was by mobilization of his conservative "base;" and (3) a changing issues landscape has reinforced the importance of Democratic efforts to deal with chronic negative perceptions by voters on national security and cultural issues--efforts which fell short in 2004.If that sounds familiar to regular readers, it's because it's pretty much the lesson the DLC took away from the 2004 elections.Galston and Kamarck place special emphasis on "candidate character" as a significant voting factor for "values voters," and like many other post-election analysts, think John Kerry was fatally wounded by voter perceptions that he was on both sides of not one but two wars (Vietnam and Iraq). But they also make it clear that Kerry's problem wasn't simply inconsistency, but the suspicion that his "real" positions were out of line with mainstream sentiments. In other words, it's not enough to avoid "flip-flopping;" attention must be paid to the political impact of choosing "flip" over "flop," or vice-versa. This extremely simple point is one that a lot of Democrats, in an understandable mania for clarity and partisan differentiation, sometimes miss.If I have one criticism of The Politics of Polarization, it's that it fails to say much about the Democratic opportunity to make enormous gains with "values voters" by drawing attention to the incredible and ever-growing pattern of ethical lapses and dissembling by Bush and the GOP.There is little question that Bush's current dive in support, particularly from independents, is attributable in no small part to buyer's remorse among voters who thought he was, if nothing else, a man of simple virtues and basic honesty (we tried to tell them otherwise in 2004, to little avail). And there's little question the only way Democrats can be sure to benefit from this vulnerability is to support a reform agenda designed to help repair the damage the GOP is inflicting on our institutions and our national interests.Still, there's plenty of great value in the Galston-Kamarck analysis, including a number of fascinating studies of changing perceptions of the two parties over time. One example: as late as 1986, six years into the "Reagan Revolution," a comfortable plurality of voters considered Democrats rather than Republicans as the party of "traditional family values."Like I said: read the whole thing.

October 8, 2005

Evangelical Identity Politics

One theory of the intra-conservative split over the Harriet Miers nomination is that she's being sold to conservative evangelical Christians as "one of their own," with all the carping from elite opinion-leaders on the Right representing a continuation of the much-alleged discrimination against evangelicals, from a different direction.Indeed, there's been talk, undoubtedly abetted by the White House, that Miers' appointment represents the establishment of an "evangelical seat" on the Supreme Court, similar to the "Jewish seat" that supposedly existed for much of the twentieth century.Amy Sullivan punctures the idea that Miers is the first evangelical to get nominated to the Court, citing the (then-) evangelical Episcopalian Clarence Thomas, but go back a bit further and you find Southern Baptist Hugo Black, and a significant number of southern Methodists.But in any event, this effort to attach conservative evangelicals to the Miers nomination as a matter of group identity is obviously ironic given the supposed hostility of conservatives to group entitlements. And it's also casts some new light on the peculiar but characteristic Christian Right conviction that anyone who loves Jesus and reads the Bible will reach the same conclusions about issues like abortion and homosexuality.Lord knows I've spilled a lot of ink exploring and criticizing that assumption, and in casting doubt on its accuracy with respect to Miers herself. But it has certainly become a central feature of the Christian Right's own self-justification for its decisive and spiritually hazardous commitment to partisan politics, and perhaps the White House figured that out in making its own politically hazardous commitment to this nomination.

October 6, 2005

Miers, "Hector," and Rove's Double Game

In my last post, I painstakingly put together an analysis of the religious tradition that Harriet Miers has embraced, concluding that it doesn't much provide definitive evidence of her probable views on issues like abortion. Imagine my chagrin when I picked up the newspaper the next day to discover that her sometimes boyfriend and fellow parishioner at Valley View Christian Church, the right-wing Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, has been running around telling anybody who would listen that there's zero doubt about Miers' views on abortion.In my own long discourse on Miers religious background, I concluded that the nexus between her religion and her judicial philosophy would probably remain a mystery so long as "she and her friends and associates decide to keep it that way." Well, Hecht would certainly qualify as someone in that inner loop; after all, he's the one who introduced Miers to Valley View about a quarter century ago, when she, a lapsed Catholic, was seeking a renewed spiritual life.And indeed, Hecht's assertions seem to be having an effect in some circles. The influential conservative evangelical Marvin Olasky (best known as the coiner of the phrase "compassionate conservatism") has placed great stock in Hecht's assurances in his cautiously pro-Miers blog posts. More importantly, the ultimate Christian Right bigfoot, James Dobson, in his bizarre radio remarks yesterday defending his early support for Miers, mentions his friendship with "the man who brought her to the Lord" as one part of the "confidential" information persuading him. This is clearly a reference to Hecht.But is Hecht speaking for himself, for Miers, and for the White House? Well, it's not like he's some loose cannon with no insider connections. Karl Rove ran his first campaign for the Texas Supreme Court. He knows the president well enough that W. has bestowed him with one of his famous personal nicknames: "Hector." It sure looks like he's on a mission from the administration to help preempt any Christian Right revolt against this nomination.But the weird thing is: it may not be working that well. Yes, the latest C.W. among the chattering classes is that the intra-conservative fight over Miers is one of those Main Street/Country Club fights pitting the GOP's Christian Right base against snobby elitists who care more about a prospective justice's legal resume than about her willingness to overturn Roe v. Wade. Indeed, some point to the non-Christians prominent in the conservative opposition to Miers (e.g., David Frum, Bill Kristol) and luridly suggest a big-time Theocon/Neocon split.I don't think so. Aside from Frum, most of the National Review luminaries (e.g., Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru) who are prominent in the revolt against Miers are serious Right-to-Life Catholics. Nobody can out-Main Street Phyllis Schlafly, another Miers skeptic. Nobody's more focused on cultural issues like abortion than Paul Weyrich. Tony Perkins, Dobson's comrade-in-arms in the Colorado Springs Empire, has been notably neutral on the nomination.And even Dobson himself is expressing doubts and fears on Miers and the abortion issue, noting in the radio address that he will have "the blood of all those babies" on his hands if he guesses wrong about her views.You have to figure at this point that the White House is playing a dangerous double game on Miers, trying to get the word out to the Cultural Right that she's a sure vote to overturn Roe, without providing any evidence that could blow up on her during the confirmation hearings. The fact that the Cultural Right is split on Miers is an indication this preemptive strategy has failed, which means that conservatives as well as Democrats are going to press her and the White House for clearer answers to their questions.My guess is that "Hector" will now shut up, leaving Rove and company to come up with a new strategy for threading this particular needle. It won't be easy.

October 4, 2005

Miers and Her Church

Inevitably, Harriet Miers' religious views are going to get some scrutiny in the very near future, particularly since the initial reaction to her nomination from Christian Right leaders was significantly warmer than that of other conservatives. So far, all the press seems to have figured out is that she spent many years as a devoted member of a "conservative evangelical church" in suburban Dallas, and that she was raised as a (apparently nonobservant) Catholic.I did a little quick research last night on Valley View Christian Church, and also happen to know a bit about the tradition it comes from, so I thought I'd share this analysis for future reference. Keep in mind that I am at best an amateur Church historian, so this account may well include errors, though I profoundly hope it gets the big issues right.VVCC is an independent "Christian" church aligned with the conservative wing of the Campbell-Stone "Restorationist" tradition. It's closely related to the conservative quasi-denomination, the Churches of Christ, and more distantly related to the mainline protestant Disciples of Christ.[IMPORTANT NOTES: the term "Restorationist" is occasionally applied to "Reconstructionism" or "Dominion Theology," a scary theocratic movement of recent vintage. It has no connection whatsoever with historic "Restorationists," or with Harriet Miers. And no one should confuse the conservative "Churches of Christ" with the "United Church of Christ," a very liberal denomination created by the merger of the Congregationalists with German Reformed Churches in the 1940s]."Restorationism" is a distinctly American religious tradition, a product of the Second Great Awakening on the midwestern and southern frontier, largely under the leadership of Thomas Campbell and Barton Stone, both former Presbyterians who were troubled by denominational and intradenominational rivalries. The basic idea of "restorationism" was a systematic effort to return to what its adherents understood as the practices of the Primitive Church, rejecting "human" creeds, theological traditions (Protestant and well as Catholic), and sectarian denominations, with Scripture, and especially the New Testament, serving as the only source of authority in all matters.Ironically, under the leadership of Thomas Campbell's son Alexander, the restorationists created their own denomination (albeit a loosely organized, congregationally-based denomination with a strong commitment to ecumenism), the Disciples of Christ, which grew most rapidly in the Midwest and Southwest. Their most distinctive feature was an insistence on weekly communion (most evangelical denominations, following the Calvinist practice, had long detached communion from regular Sunday worship and observed it irregularly) along with a continuing hostility to theological speculation or creeds.Eventually, and roughly at the same time that the Fundamentalist Controversy broke out in the larger Protestant denominations, a significant minority of conservative Disciples, especially in the South and Southwest, drifted out of the Disciples, most affiliating with the new Churches of Christ but others simply becoming "independent Christian" congregations like VVCC. While conservative Restorationists maintained the traditional Disciples belief in biblical inerrancy (echoing Thomas Campbell's famous slogan: "Where Scripture speaks, we speak; where it is silent, we are silent") other factors distinctive to restorationists were more important, particularly an insistence on adult baptism by full immersion and rejection of the Disciples' gradual acceptance of musical instruments to accompany singing in church. But the most important contributor to the split was the conservatives' belief that restorationists were the "one true church" replicating the Primitive Church, which, given their anti-credal and anti-denominational biases, paradoxically made them increasingly sectarian and preoccupied with "scripturally sound" doctrine, especially in matters of worship.Little has changed in the Churches of Christ and their "independent" satellites in the last century, aside from their rapid growth.Most conservative restorationists dislike the label "fundamentalist," mainly because the fundamentalist movement in the larger denominations involved theological arguments alien to their own tradition. But they certainly share the fundamentalist position on biblical inerrancy, with an important twist: the tenet that "where [Scripture] is silent, we are silent" has made conservative restorationists much less likely to get involved, at least as a group, in battles over matters like abortion where there are virtually no direct Scriptural references, especially in the New Testament. Indeed, a 1998 article in Restoration Quarterly excoriated Churches of Christ for lagging behind other conservative evangelicals in full-throated commitment to the anti-abortion cause.What complicates this question is the conservative restorationist hostility to denominational order, formal doctrinal statements, and other "litmus tests." These are not Southern Baptists who insist on examining their clergy and staff in search of heresy; they have few formal organs for pronouncing anathemas even if they wanted to; and much of their literature focuses on controversies like whether to use one or two cups at communion, not quasi-political topics.And this formal silence is characteristic even more of "independent" congregations like VVCC. Even if 90 to 100 precent of conservative restorationist clergy have convinced themselves the Bible does speak to the abortion issue, the gay rights issue, the school prayer issue, and other cultural matters that may come before the Supreme Court, few would know it outside their individual congregations.So: what does all of this mean in terms of "the religious question" as it relates to Harriet Miers nomination? The obvious answer is that like other aspects of her philosophy, the influence of her religious beliefs on her judicial thinking is ultimately a mystery so long as she and her friends and associates decide to keep it that way.A Washington Post profile on Miers reported that Valley View Christian Church occasionally screens Focus on the Family films, and has anti-abortion literature available in the vestibule. That kind of circumstantial evidence is probably the only kind that will turn up. Like Harriet Miers herself, her faith tradition doesn't supply much in the way of "paper trails" on the subjects that may affect her confirmation or rejection.

October 3, 2005

The Miers Surprise

This has been one of those arguably rare days when being a political junkie gives one a better insight into a major news development than just watching it on television. Why? Because the reaction to Bush's nomination of White House Counsel (and before that, his personal lawyer) Harriet Miers has been an extremely dynamic story, in ways that may have a major bearing not only on this particular event, but on the political landscape generally.Watching CNN this afternoon, the reporting about Miers was very muddled and misleading: she seemed to have broad bipartisan support in the Senate, though some conservatives were worried about her views. There was lots of RNC-talking-points-inspired talk about all the glass ceilings she had shattered in Texas legal circles, but little about her actual qualifications for the Supreme Court.But if you were following this via blogs, emails, and phone conversations, the story was very different. There was almost universal astonishment among the legal congnescenti, right, left and center, when Miers was named. Sure, she was on most of the lists of possible nominees that had been circulating for months, but virtually no one thought she'd actually get the nod.After the initial shock died down, conservatives began reacting very negatively, not just because her judicial philosophy was a mystery, but because of her slender resume. I don't have the time to link to all these posts I read, but just go to redstate.org and National Review Online (especially The Corner) and read what they were saying this morning and most of the afternoon, and it's pretty amazing. Conservatives were mocking her qualifications; conservatives were deliberately drawing the cronyist analogy to "Brownie;" conservatives were angrily denouncing the White House/RNC talking points about her.Here's just one example: a post by National Review editor Rich Lowry at The Corner:

Just talked to a very pro-Bush legal type who says he is ashamed and embarrassed this morning. Says Miers was with an undistinguished law firm; never practiced constitutional law; never argued any big cases; never was on law review; has never written on any of the important legal issues. Says she's not even second rate, but is third rate. Dozens and dozens of women would have been better qualified. Says a crony at FEMA is one thing, but on the high court is something else entirely. Her long history of activity with ABA is not encouraging from a conservative perspective--few conservatives would spend their time that way. In short, he says the pick is “deplorable.” There may be an element of venting here, but thought I'd pass along for what it's worth. It's certainly indicative of the mood right now.
The worm began to gradually turn mid-day; you could almost hear the humming of the spin cycle. At noon, I did something I can rarely stomach: I listened to Rush Limbaugh's show, and this famously articulate if deranged Big Mouth sounded atypically confused and incoherent, wanting to pile on to the conservative line of "betrayal," but holding back somewhat, apparently waiting for reassurance. And sure enough, by the end of his three-hour show, he had made time for an emergency appearance by none other than Dick Cheney (who also appeared on Sean Hannity's show), who provided a personal pledge that Miers was rock-solid conservative.As the afternoon wore on, more voices supporting Miers spread across the conservative commentariat (Marvin Olansky and Hugh Hewitt in particular). And at day's end, the Big Bertha weighed in with a qualified approval: James Dobson of Focus on the Family.So: given the trend, I would expect most conservative shrieking about Miers to die down tomorrow, but as Dobson's fire-extinguisher statement indicated, there will be a big price to pay during the confirmation hearings: conservatives will demand some serious reassurance about her "judicial philosophy." And those "reassurances" will provide serious ammunition to Democrats, who have generally and wisely kept their mouths pretty much shut today, other than vaguely positive statements about Miers' apparent lack of ideological commitment, and general injunctions for more information and robust confirmation hearings.More broadly, you have to wonder why Bush nominated this particular non-judge. The White House clearly did not vet Miers with conservative activists and flacks in advance; their initial reaction is proof positive of that. As everyone concedes, her qualifications are questionable for a lower-court federal judgeship, much less The Big One. Miers virtually demands a sharp contrast with Roberts, whose resume was strong precisely on the points where hers is weak. And most of all, you'd think the White House would go far out of its way to avoid any possible linkage of this supremely important lifetime appointment to its pattern of cronyism in other appointments, given the enduring stain of "Brownie."All day long, you half-expected someone to facetiously report that Bush gave Miers the big news with the words: "Harriet, you're doin' a heckuva job." Given her personal links to Bush, and probably to the First Lady (who was a contemporary of Miers at SMU), the nominee is painfully dependent on the eroding degree of trust that conservatives, Republicans, the Senate, and the country still have for George W. Bush.We'll soon know how it plays out, but I really don't understand what Bush and Rove were thinking with this troublesome nomination.

October 2, 2005

Weekend Reading on Africa

During a busy weekend down in Central Virginia where, literally, I had to see a man about a horse, I got a bit of reading done about African history.I'm currently reading two relatively new and very important books: Gerard Prunier's Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide, and Martin Meredith's The Fate of Africa.Prunier's book makes it clear early on that the present slow-motion genocide in Darfur is the product of the region's perenially secondary status in a long series of external political and military conflicts, and of a heightened and largely artificial distinction between "Arabs" and "Africans" that was fed not only by Khartoum's politicians but by outside players, most especially Libya's Ghaddafi.Meredith's book is a massive history of post-colonial Africa that encapsulates and (in a country-by-country manner) details the long decline of social and economic progress of the continent since the early days of hope immediately after independence. Meredith is especially compelling in explaining the economic impact of failed Western and Marxist development models for Africa, and how they contributed to the rapid decline in democracy and human rights observances in all but a few countries.I'll write more about these books when I've finished them, but you should definitely read them if you have the chance. Given the recent interest in Africa stimulated by the humanitarian disasters in Rwanda and Darfur; the political crisis in Zimbabwe; and the focus on AIDS relief and debt forgiveness that Tony Blair has helped make a major priority for the world's economic titans: this is a subject on which we must all begin to understand the basics.