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January 31, 2006

State of the Union Poll Bumps

Jeff Jones at Gallup takes a look at the kind of boost President Bush might expect to receive from the State of the Union tonight with the conclusion that typically Presidents receive little to no bump of consequence.

Historical Gallup findings dating back to President Jimmy Carter's administration indicate that presidents rarely are able to increase their popularity following a State of the Union address. George W. Bush may have done so temporarily with his speech last year, but his public standing was largely unchanged following his three prior State of the Union addresses....

In the 24 cases shown here, there are 10 instances in which a president's post-State of the Union approval rating was higher than his rating before the speech, 12 when it was lower, and 2 when there was no change.

Mark Blumenthal has a more thorough analysis on the Gallup track record and historical SOTU bounces over at Mystery Pollster.

Bottom line, I wouldn’t expect Bush’s address to have any meaningful change in the President’s approval three weeks from now. The latest RealClearPolitics Poll Average of 9 polls taken over the last 10 days has his job approval at 42.9%. If that number is materially higher or lower 3-4 weeks from now it will most likely be for reasons unrelated to tonight's State of the Union Address.

Iraq From A to Z

One of the most frustrating things about Iraq is trying to sort out the seemingly contradictory reports of how things are going on the ground. Are we making progress? Is security improving? Is civil war breaking out? Oftentimes, the answers to these questions depends on who you ask.  With that in mind, here are three recent takes on the situation in Iraq from people who've seen it first hand - two journalists and one member of Congress. Read them all and then decide for yourself who you believe is giving a balanced, accurate account of what's happening in Iraq:

Christiane Amanpour, correspondent for CNN (via Malkin):  "The war in Iraq has basically turned out to be a disaster... This is a big drama, because hope is the only thing they have in the middle of this spiraling security disaster. And by any indication, whether you take the number of journalists killed or wounded, whether you take the number of American soldiers killed or wounded, whether you take the number of Iraqi soldiers killed or wounded, uh, contractors, people working there, it just gets worse and worse."

Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH1):  "We should not underestimate the challenges facing Iraq. The formation of a post-election government that can reduce sectarian divisions and diminish sympathy for the terrorist insurgency is crucial. High unemployment and infrastructure problems still plague the country. But on each of my three trips, I have met Iraqis who are confident about their country's future, and that same sentiment is echoed by the troops I have spoken with who interact with Iraqis on a daily basis.

Americans have the right to question the faulty intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction, the military planning for post-war Iraq and the use of U.S. forces to overthrow a dictator. However, should questions about entering Iraq be the determining factor in the issue of leaving now? The variables today are completely different and the strategic landscape is permanently altered. The path that produces a preferred outcome — Iraqi stability — is a continued commitment to self-reliance and self-governance in Iraq. Withdrawal leaves Iraq with an embryonic government at the mercy of sectarian groups, criminal gangs and domestic and foreign fanaticism.

It is not possible to predict exactly when stability in Iraq will occur, but the progress is significant. After three elections, the Iraqi government is increasingly taking command of its troops. Saddam Hussein is on trial and Iraqis now can acknowledge what happened to their families under his brutal reign."

Karl Zinsmeister, editor in chief of The American Enterprise Magazine: "Make no mistake: Iraq is broken. Most residents have never known proper sewage service, 24 hour electricity, or decent health care.

And improvement could be faster. Both terror attacks and the Arab tradition of endemic corruption are making today’s economic recovery less booming than it would otherwise be. Another damper has been the failure of our Western allies to make good on their promises of Iraq aid: Of the $13.6 billion European and other nations pledged to help rebuild Iraq, only a couple billion has so far been delivered.

All the same, progress is visible in Iraq, not just to observers like me but to Iraqis themselves. There is ample proof of this in the latest scientific poll of the Iraqi public, released December 12 by Oxford Research International. Asked how things are going for them personally, 71 percent of Iraqis now say life is “good,” compared to 29 percent who say “bad.” A majority insist that despite the war, life is already better for them than it was under Saddam Hussein. By 5:1 they expect their lives will be even better one year from now. Seven out of ten Iraqis think their country as a whole will be a better place in one year.

Iraqis are particularly pleased about trends in security. By 61 to 38 percent, they say security where they live is now “good” rather than “bad.” Back at the beginning of 2004 those numbers were reversed (49 percent good, 50 percent bad). On a vast range of specific subjects—from the availability of clean water and medical care to their ability to buy household basics—Iraqis say things are good and getting better. Fully 70 percent say “my family’s economic situation is good,” and 78 percent rate their new freedom of speech as “good.”

Republicans And Blacks

As usual Thomas Sowell has an excellent column on Ken Blackwell’s campaign for Governor in Ohio, the African-American vote and Republicans. While it is common knowledge that Democrats overwhelmingly win the black vote in the U.S., what is less commonly known is the fact that the Democrats haven’t won a majority of the white vote in a presidential election in over 40 years. In a country that is 2/3rds white (with a voting demographic that is over 70% white) that is what you would call a political handicap.

Under Ken Mehlman’s leadership the GOP is making an aggressive effort to make a dent in the Democrats' huge margin with African-American voters. One of the key reasons Democrats are able to compete nationally (and in many states) is the 90% margins they roll up with black voters. Sowell is dead on when he writes:

If Republicans can get just a fourth or a fifth of the black vote nationwide, that can shift the balance of power decisively in their favor.

The Democrats’ fear of erosion in their rock solid African-American support is why they increasingly ratchet up racial rhetoric as election day approaches. Whether it is church burnings or the infamous NAACP ad accusing Bush of lynching James Byrd, Democrats increasingly have to push harder and harder to sustain that 90% result. There is no question the Katrina images and racial politics will be ruthlessly exploited this fall by Democrats looking to max out their African-American returns. 

The bigger problem for the Democrats is they are tapped out at 90%-93% of the black vote. They’re not going to get 98% of the vote not withstanding all of the media attention a post-Katrina NBC/WSJ poll received that suggested a 2% African-American approval rating for President Bush.

The troublesome reality for Democrats is in the coming elections that 90% is a lot more likely to move to 70%-85%, as opposed to moving up to 95%-98%. And that is a big problem for Democrats. Which is why candidates like Ken Blackwell, Lynn Swan and Michael Steele are enormous threats to Democratic election prospects in the next 10-20 years. Those three races in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland could have a major, far-reaching effect in American politics and are worth paying a close attention to as 2006 progresses.

SOTU Morning Wrap

President Bush will give his State of the Union address tonight at 9 pm Eastern.  The New York Times tells us that the speech is on its 23rd draft and that Bush has been practicing since Friday.  There has been no shortage of predictions about the address, and the fact that it is already written has not stopped the pundits from giving their own own suggestions for the address.

For instance, Thomas Friedman says "the direction in which America needs to go is obvious: toward energy independence."  Among other things, his version of the speech would call for a "Bush Energy Freedom Act" and the resignation of Vice President Dick Cheney.  He would nominate Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, as Cheney's replacement.

Irwin Stelzer also looks over Bush's energy policy options but concludes:

"If history is any guide, little will come of any presidential initiative. Congress is more concerned with restoring its scandal-ridden reputation (Republicans), and attacking the president (Democrats), than with the nation's energy security."

According to Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, the president will propose an expansion of Health Savings Accounts, and the Democrats are looking back to 2005 in order to fight them:

"Democrats were able to derail the main domestic program Bush highlighted in his 2005 State of the Union address, a move to privatize a portion of Social Security...

Both sides may have a harder time with either selling or stalling the health accounts than Social Security. That's because Social Security is a known factor -- a government institution used by generations of seniors, an easily identified constituency to target and organize."

Writing in the Wall Street Journal,  Fred Barnes says the "ownership society" was a big theme throughout last year and during the 2004 campaign, but this year Bush "is expected to take a more conventional--and politically palatable--approach."  Barnes thinks "he's likely to keep talking about Social Security and private accounts and perhaps even an ownership society. But not tonight, when he addresses the nation."

According to USA Today, tonight's address to the nation will be Bush's "best chance to lay out his agenda and shape the political debate for the next 12 months."  Although his job approval numbers have suffered in the last year, the president could expect a bounce if his speech is a hit.  In 1998,

"Clinton's job approval shot up 10 percentage points in the USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll, from 59% to 69%. Although there were rough days ahead, the speech helped Clinton clear an obstacle that could have been fatal."

On the other hand, Francis Wilkinson is not so fond of the State of the UnionShe notes the "imperious" nature of the speech and then points out that "in 'Lend Me Your Ears,' William Safire's compilation of great speeches, not one State of the Union address makes the table of contents."

Finally, George Will--criticizing pretty much everyone--says "the nation needs an adult hour."

Rahm Emanuel is in a Box

The Democrats don’t have a lot of assets in their top congressional leadership, neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid inspire huge amounts of confidence. However, they do have a winner and savvy strategist heading the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who holds Dan Rostenkowski’s old seat, has risen quickly since coming to Congress in 2002. Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune had a story on a breakfast fundraiser Emanuel attended in Ohio for Mary Jo Kilroy who the Democrats hope will knock off #4 House Republican, Rep. Deborah Pryce. (Pryce won with 67% in ’02 and 60% in ’04, so she isn’t likely to lose.)

Jeff Zeleny reports Emanuel doggedly tried to keep the focus on domestic issues while the audience repeatedly kept coming back to national security.

When the Illinois congressman didn't include national security in his top five talking points, a man raised his hand and his voice.

"Can I give you a piece of advice?" said Ford Huffman, a Columbus attorney. "They obviously believe it's their winning issue. Why can't we get out in front with it and say there's not an issue about security? Every American believes in securing America."

Emanuel tried to answer the question, asserting his eagerness to challenge the White House, but said he does not believe national security should be a political issue. As Emanuel spoke, Huffman turned his head and told those sitting around him: "It sounds like we are trying to dodge the issue. People are going to say the Democrats are being wussies.” [snip]

How do we get our message out?" asked Ann Hughes, a Columbus resident who said she is frustrated by the Iraq war and infuriated that the Bush administration is so skilled at guiding the country's political debate. "It so easily gets portrayed that the Democratic Party is negative, and the issue agenda gets controlled by the Republicans."

After Emanuel answered her question, he ticked through a list of five key themes he said the party should push this year: health care, education, energy independence, technology and fiscal discipline.

It was national security, though, that his audience returned to again and again.

This is informative on two levels. First, it shows that Emanuel gets the politics and understands the dilemma the Democrats are in politically in regard to national security. Second, it points to the difficulty Democrats are going to have in moving the debate to non-national security issues.

Zeleny continues:

As others echoed similar concerns, Emanuel buttoned and unbuttoned his dark suit. He shifted the weight on his feet and shook the ice in his water glass. He gently disagreed that he had avoided discussing national security, pointing out that he wanted to avoid the trap of being forced into a defensive posture over it by Republicans.

Emanuel is in a box. He’s aware the Pelosi-Dean rhetoric put the party in a defensive posture on national security but he knows he can’t confront the Deaniac/Kos/MoveOn wing because they represent so much of the Democratic base and energy. Given the problems Bush and the GOP are dealing with and the opportunity for Democrats to finally pick up some seats in 2006, a civil war within the party is the last thing Emanuel wants. So he does the politically smart move, really the only move given the situation, and glosses over national security and pushes: “health care, education, energy independence, technology and fiscal discipline”

The problem here is it is going to be pretty hard for Emanuel to keep the focus on domestic issues when both Rove and his own base want to talk about national security. At some point, the Democrats are going to need to have it out on the war, terrorism and national security. Republican difficulties may kick the can down the road in 2006, but this is an internal Democratic problem that is not going to just go away with a few more House and Senate seats.

January 30, 2006

Hillary's Chances

It's a good news, bad news thing for Hillary in the new Marist poll out tonight.

The good news: " 54% of New York State’s registered voters say they would definitely vote to re-elect Hillary Clinton to the U.S. Senate in 2006 including most Democrats and a majority of independent voters." Additional (though not surprising) good news for Mrs. Clinton: she's running 30-points ahead of her nearest GOP challenger for the Senate.

The bad news: "Should Hillary Clinton decide to run for president in 2008, 62% of New York State’s registered voters do not think it is likely that she will be elected." BTW, that includes 54% of registered Democrats. 

Also in the bad news category:  "Clinton’s controversial comment about the Republicans running the House of Representatives like a plantation was not well received by New York State’s registered voters."

Given that Hillary wants to be president more than she wants to be a Senator from New York for life, I'd think the bad news in this poll outweighs the good. It's more evidence her White House bid might be much more difficult than many had assumed.

The Taxes We Don't See

"Politicians need to end love affair with tax breaks." That's the title of Richard Doak's column in the Des Moines Register this week.  Doak writes:

Politicians must have a low opinion of people.

They seem to think there is but one force that motivates all of human behavior — the desire to avoid taxes.

Actually, the desire isn't to avoid taxes, but to pay as little as possible - within reason. Most people are willing to pay a certain amount of taxes so that roads get paved, schools stay open, and the country is adequately defended. But we're far beyond that today. The problem is that we live in a culture of taxation  - and we hardly even notice it. Sit down and start adding up all the taxes you pay - like I did five years ago - and you'll see what I mean:

The current debate on Capitol Hill over whether or not we can "afford" a federal income tax cut obscures a much greater truth: we live in a tax culture. Americans are under assault every single day by an army of tiny, unseen taxes - and they hardly even know it. Don't take my word for it, do the math yourself.

Take a look at your phone bill. Mine has nine different taxes attached, everything from 63 cents per month for "state and municipal infrastructure maintenance fees" to 28 cents for a "number portability fee." I'm not sure what any of these taxes are for, who voted for them or when they started showing up on my bill, but I do know they accounted for seven percent of my total phone bill this month.

Next try your gas bill. Mine, which thanks to Mr. Clinton's brilliant energy policy over the last 8 years was $326 dollars this month, has a $9.45 assessment under the heading of "customer charge" and a whopping $24.33 for a "municipal utility tax." More than 12 percent of the total bill was in taxes and fees.

You get the point. The average American is swimming in government taxes. Property taxes, sales taxes, fuel taxes, state income taxes. There is precious little we can do in America today without incurring some sort of taxation.

This isn't some high-brow debate over multimillionaires and the estate tax, the taxes I'm talking about are regressive. Everyone who has a phone, heats their apartment or drives a car gets charged the same amount whether they make five dollars a year or five million.

Taxes have become burdensome and frustrating, especially so for average Americans trying to make ends meet.  We'd be much better off with more politicians focused on finding ways to ease the tax burden on the public, rather than advising them to "end the love affair" with the idea of cutting people's taxes.

The Priorities of the Palestinian People

"We call on you to continue moral and financial support, and to direct all aid to the Palestinian treasury so it can be used in keeping with the priorities of the Palestinian people." That's Ismail Haniyah, senior member of the newly elected Hamas, making a plea to the EU, the Russians, the U.S. and the UN to keep the aid spigot turned on.

In an article last night for the Washington Post, Scott Wilson broke down the PA's troubling financial situation: $1 billion revenue per year generated locally, $1 billion in foreign aid per year - $403 million of that from the United States and $300 million from European governments.  And the PA still runs a $50 million defecit every month.

Hamas leaders are suggesting they will allow the UN and/or Western governments to supervise the spending of funds. Fine and dandy. But until the "priorities of the Palestinian people" - as expressed through their vote to elect Hamas - cease to include the destruction of Israel, having a few green-eyeshade types looking over the books isn't anywhere near good enough.

State of the Union Roundup

Here's a roundup of links in advance of the Bush's State of the Union Address tomorrow night:

Linda Feldman takes a broad look at Bush's first 5 years in the Christian Science Monitor.
Dan Balz of the Washington Post sums up Bush's "midterm challenge" tomorrow night.
The AP's Nedra Pickler: Bush to Outline Energy Alternatives
Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times: "Bush Sets Sights Lower This Time."
Ron Brownstein also in the LA Times:  "Bush on Collision Course With Himself."
It's All About Bush, says Richard Benedetto.
David Jackson in USA Today: SOTU A Meshing of Many Ideas
The NYT's Elisabeth Bumiller reports on the speechwriter's perspective.
Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco says Bush is facing the big fiscal squeeze.

January 29, 2006

Broder Gets it Wrong on NSA Wiretapping

On the Meet the Press roundtable today, it is surprising how well David Broder captures the Washington beltway conventional wisdom on the NSA wiretapping “scandal.”

Roger Simon makes the obvious point that seems to have escaped many on the left when they rushed to immediately turn the NSA program into some kind of Nixonian illegality.

MR. SIMON:  Unlike past administrations, notably the Nixon administration, there’s no evidence that the Bush administration has used this warrantless surveillance for political purposes. When the president says, ‘I’m doing this to protect the United States of America, there’s no evidence that he is in any way prevaricating. And that is why, I think, so many people are saying, as Kelly pointed out, ‘Well, I don’t talk to al-Qaeda every night, so let them tap my phones all they want to.’ And as long as this remains a genuine attempt to prevent another terrorist attack on the United States, I think the president is going to skate on this.

This is so obviously the common-sense political analysis you wonder why so many get it wrong. But Broder appears stuck in the 70’s:

MR. BRODER: But I want to go back for just one second to this issue that Kelly raised about the support for the president on the wire-tapping. I think that’s true up until the time that you get one court decision that says he’s broken the law. Because what we have seen in the past is that the American people will support a president as long as they think he is operating lawfully. If they can make this one claim stand up, that this is a lawful use of their authority as pr—his authority as president, I will be very surprised.

So Broder thinks as soon as a court rules it illegal, which he seems to indicate is only a matter of time, then he “will be very surprised” if the American people don’t turn on the President.

Well, David Broder should prepare himself for a surprise. For, as Senator Frist pointed out earlier in the program, and Byron York succinctly spelled out right front of him on the roundtable, there are multiple legal arguments for the President's actions.

MR. RUSSERT: What statute authorizes the president to do this?

SEN. FRIST:  The answer is the Constitution of the United States of America in a time of a war our commander in chief, he is given through resolution, through statute passed by the United States Congress to use force, to use force that he, in the same way he can use force to kill, to wipe out terrorists, he can listen in on al-Qaeda conversations, wherever they are, anywhere in the world. Under the Constitution as commander in chief, at a time of war, and the statute is the Resolution of Force that we passed in the bipartisan way on the floor of the United States Senate.

And from Byron York:

MR. YORK:  There was a case in 2002 by the FISA court of review, and rates the old case. It referred to an earlier case called Trong, and it said, “That court, as did all the other courts to have decided the issue, held that the president did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. We take for granted that the president does have that authority.” So they have a legal basis for what they’re doing.

And if it is determined to be illegal, Roger Simon is exactly right on the politics, for as long as this program is being carefully scrutinized and is surveilling al-Qaeda suspects, the President has minimal political vulnerability. That doesn't mean the American people are "condoning breaking the law," because if the program is determined to be illegal the public will understand that this was not a clear violation of law, but rather a gray/disputed area and when it comes to gray/disputed areas and al-Qaeda -- the public's position is clear.

Broder’s analysis today was typical, widespread and wrong a month ago when this story first broke, but now many of his colleagues are grudgingly starting to realize this issue is not going to hurt the President politically.

It looks like David Broder still needs a little more time.

January 27, 2006

Old Media's Decline

There were some excellent pieces this week on the demise of Old Media and its implication on political discourse in this new media world. Hugh Hewitt has an insightful piece on Nicholas Lemann’s attempt to save the Columbia Journalism School (CSJ).

The story of what is going on at CSJ cannot be separated from the collapse of credibility of the mainstream media, also known as "elite media" and "old media" among its detractors. The fortunes of the big five papers--the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as the old TV networks and big weekly newsmagazines--are visibly in decline……

This story in its small way partakes of the seismic shift underway. Its origin is an email request from Lemann last spring: Would I be willing to be the subject of a New Yorker profile? I agreed, on the condition that I could have reciprocal access to Lemann and the Columbia Journalism School for this piece. Hedged with some qualifiers--he could not commit any of his faculty to talk to me or guarantee access to classrooms, though everyone proved to be very welcoming--Lemann agreed. Reactions to his profile of me varied among family and friends, but I thought it complete and fair. Before I sat down with Lemann I had read everything he'd written for the New Yorker and was impressed with his profiles of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. (The Cheney profile earned Lemann some animosity among colleagues, who thought him too gentle with the only man the left fears as much as Rove.) The scorn on the center-right for the "objectivity" and "professionalism" of the mainstream media is deep and sincere. I went to Columbia to see if Lemann was the exception that proves the rule, and to test the rule itself.

What's the rule? That the elite media are hopelessly biased to the left and so blind to their own deficiencies, or so in denial, that they cannot save themselves from irrelevance. They're like the cheater in the clubhouse, whose every mention of a great round of golf is met with rolling eyes and knowing nods……

Hewitt goes on at length detailing his two-day visit to the distinguished journalism school and closes with a not so optimistic assessment:

Every conversation with one of the old guard citing the old proof texts comes down to this point: There is too much expertise, all of it almost instantly available now, for the traditional idea of journalism to last much longer. In the past, almost every bit of information was difficult and expensive to acquire and was therefore mediated by journalists whom readers and viewers were usually in no position to second-guess. Authority has drained from journalism for a reason. Too many of its practitioners have been easily exposed as poseurs.

Lemann understands completely what has happened. I think he regrets it. He is certainly trying to salvage the situation. And there is simply no way he can succeed.

Thomas Lifson further examines the transformation in American media in his The Antique Media. Lifson explains how television and the evening news broadcast sealed the fate of the evening newspaper industry and details how the “The emergence of talk radio, cable television and especially the Internet “is having a similar effect on today’s Mainstream Media.

When Rush Limbaugh created modern talk radio, most cities of any size had at least two or three dozen radio stations. In search of a niche audience, radio stations were happy to latch on to the under-served market of conservative listeners. Rush demonstrated the concept when the FCC “fairness doctrine” was repealed, and stations could air a political view without having to offer free time to alternative views.

As television viewing options proliferated with the arrival of numerous cable networks, while the American electorate polarized further into liberal and conservative spheres, a huge market niche emerged, and was spotted by Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, undoubtedly cognizant of Rush Limbaugh’s enormous following....

The term for what Ailes and Murdoch accomplished is “market segmentation.” It is a phenomenon that regularly occurs in markets as they grow and mature. But so far, the other television news competitors are stuck in the old mode of thinking. It is a loser’s game, though they haven’t figured out that point quite yet…..The once dominant broadcast network news divisions are no longer mainstream, they are antique. Their assumptions and instincts are based on technologies and resulting market structures that no longer define the state of the art. But their antique character is far surpassed by that of the daily newspaper industry.

Newspapers, of course, are in a death spiral, a case I made almost two years ago. The expense, time, and resources consumed in leveling forests to put ink on paper and transport heavy newspapers to readers’ hands are simply not sustainable when news consumers can look at their computer screens and find far more printed information, far more usefully displayed, at much lower cost....

Internet websites like blogs are an even deeper challenge to the antique media than Fox News Channel was to the antique networks. There are no serious barriers to entry for bloggers. The capital requirements are low to non-existent, and global distribution takes place with no pesky distributors, longshoremen, retailers, or other encumbering interests in the way.

Some day a new industrial structure will emerge for the Internet-based media, but the shape and characteristics of that structure will remain unknowable for some time to come....

America’s media will never be the same. It will take a long time for antique practices to die out, but die out they will. The antique media are on their way out.

And then finally today Tom Bevan takes a look at the Los Angeles Times’ Joel Stein and the increasing impotence of the New York Times editorial page.

In what is becoming a fairly regular occurrence, this week turned out to be another bad week for big media.

On one coast, Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times wrote the sort of career-crippling column most writers dread – setting off a firestorm by saying he does not support U.S. troops – and managed to compound the offense by making his point with bad humor...

On the other coast, the New York Times spent its rapidly dwindling editorial capital trying to browbeat Senate Democrats into blocking a Supreme Court nominee who is unquestionably qualified for the job. No matter that this would entail the first filibuster of a majority supported nominee in the history of the country, or that according to the most recent Gallup poll Americans believe Alito should be confirmed by close to a 2-1 margin…

The veil of “objectivity” in the press has been pulled back over the last few years, and the result has been a massive shift in the media landscape. Audiences are more polarized, markets are more segmented, and news consumption is no longer a strictly passive enterprise. These trends are almost certain to continue, what is uncertain is how big media will deal with them.

Politically this trend is bad news for Democrats, as they continue to see their boost from media bias get reduced every year. George W. Bush would have almost certainly lost both the 2000 and 2004 elections had we been living in a 1980’s media world, as opposed to the 2000’s. So on one hand Dems are losing an asset they had come to rely on, and on the other, the explosion of the Internet has empowered the far left in the Democratic Party which in turn pushes the party to left and reinforces its minority status.

Reid: "Not Enough Votes to Support a Filibuster"

From Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said on Friday he and fellow Democrats lack the votes to block President George W. Bush's nomination of conservative appeals judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Everyone knows there is not enough votes to support a filibuster," Reid said, referring to the procedural roadblock that some Democrats said should be used to put off a vote on Alito.....

Democratic Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, publicly pushed for a filibuster on Thursday, drawing scorn and ridicule from Republicans and opposition from some of their own colleagues.

Kerry, who unsuccessfully challenged Bush for the White House in 2004, made his pitch for a filibuster while overseas for a world economic forum.

"I think it was a historic day yesterday," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "It was the first ever call for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland....

The Independent Red Flag For Dems

The Los Angeles Times does not have a reputation for producing poll results that tend to favor President Bush. And indeed, their new poll does have plenty of bad news for the president, especially when you look at how self-described independents respond to various questions about his handling of a whole host of issues. Bush has clearly lost a decent amount of support from this group over time, and I don't think that comes as a surprise to anyone.

However, the most interesting results are found when you look at how these same self-described independents respond to questions about national security and about Congress. Here are a few examples:

> When asked who they "trust to do a better job of protecting the nation against terrorism"  Independents favored Bush over Democrats in Congress by 19 points.

> When asked whether they agree with those seeking to reauthorize the Patriot Act, 55% of Independents said they agree with reauthorization, 42% said they disagree.

> When asked whether people "should be willing to give up some of their civil liberties so the government can keep the country safe from terrorism", 50% of Independents responded "yes" while 43% said "no."

> 54% of Independents think hearings should be held to investigate the NSA program, but only 41% think impeachment would be warranted if those investigations concluded the President broke the law (that number is 39% overall).

> Independents give Congress nearly as low of a job approval ratings as self-described Democrats do, 32% vs 30% respectively, but when asked about favorable and unfavorable ratings for the two parties, Independents give Congressional Democrats a only a 31% favorable rating (41% unfavorable) while they give Congressional Republicans a 38% favorable rating (34% unfavorable).

> When asked which party in Congress had "higher ethical standards," Independents gave both parties low marks (Republicans 8%, Democrats 5%) with 79% concluding there is "no difference" between the two. That was 11 points higher than overall.

To summarize, based on the results of this poll (and keep in mind it is only a single poll, though it does comport with other data we've seen recently) Independents aren't thrilled with President Bush and they don't have particularly warm feelings toward Republicans in Congress. However, they seem to have an even lower regard for Congressional Democrats and, even worse, they seem to continue to lack confidence in the Democratic party on matters of national security.

January 26, 2006

Karl Rove Interview

Duane at RadioBlogger has the transcript of Hugh Hewitt's interview with Karl Rove.

On NSA surveillance:

Hewitt: I'm great. Now Karl, we don't have a lot of time, so I want to focus immediately on the NSA program, which was a part of a speech you gave last Friday, and which was the focus of a lot of the questions of the president's press conference this morning. And the white paper from the Department of Justice is out there, and Democrats are not buying it, or at least they're pretending not to buy it. Why so much resistance to surveilling al Qaeda operatives contacting their agents in the United States from the Democratic Party?

Rove: Well, you'll have to ask them. I don't understand it, frankly. I think that any American, if they take their partisan hat off, would say that in a time of war, after we've been struck on our homeland, that the President of the United States, if he has the ability to have the appropriate agencies, with Constitutional restraints, and respect for personal liberties of Americans who might unintentionally get sort of swept up in it, if a phone call comes from a bad guy in some bad part of the world to somebody here in the United States, we want to know who they're contacting and what they're saying. And I frankly don't understand what the objection is. Look, under far less terrible circumstances in the 90's, the previous administration used warrantless surveillance in the United States. And this president, particularly after it was struck on 9/11, had a responsibility to do everything possible as commander-in-chief, and after the declaration by Congress to protect the country. And that's exactly what he's doing.

On the Patriot Act:

Hewitt: Karl Rove, will the president accept another short-term extension of the Patriot Act?

Rove: Well, we will do whatever is necessary to keep this on the books. It may be necessary for us to have another short-term extension, in order to sort of work out any last-minute kinks in order to get it reauthorized on a permanent basis. But our goal is...I mean, look. Law enforcement uses the tools of the Patriot Act routinely in the pursuit of other criminal enterprises. Roving wiretaps, for example, are used to get drug dealers. We use search of business records in order to get at Medicaid fraud. We use other tools in the Act in order to get at organized crime. You know, the view of this administration is if these tools are good enough to crack down on drug dealers, you know, white collar crime, and organized crime like The Sopranos, it's good enough to be used against terrorists who are striking at the heart of our country, and killed 3,000 people on 9/11. We cannot let our memories fade of that terrible moment, that terrible morning, bright September morning, when aircraft struck our country, and when al Qaeda declared its intention to drive America back in on itself. And we will only leave a world that is less peaceful and less hopeful for our kids if we falter in this fight.

On illegal immigration:

Hewitt: Last question, a political one, a time bomb, really, for the Republican Party concerns the border. The House of Representatives passed an act at the end of last year. It hasn't yet come up in the Senate. What is your advice to the Senate about the House's decision to crack down on the border and build the fence?

Rove: Well, we support the border security initiative. We are a little bit concerned about the fence. I mean, look. There are now parts of the border, particularly in urban areas, where a fence is necessary and helpful. Frankly, building a fence along a 400 mile part of the Texas border that is high cliffs along the Rio Grande River is probably not the best expenditure of our money. We like to think of the concept of a virtual fence, where we use a combination of fences, barriers at critical points, sensors and technology to in essence strengthen the border. And I'm confident that the Senate is going to take this up. I know this is a strong concern to Senator Frist, the Senate Republican leader. I think the Senate is likely to tackle the issue in a more comprehensive fashion, and not only look at border security, but also look at the issue of a guest worker program as a way to relieve the pressure on our border, so that whatever technology and manpower and resources we've got on the border are concentrated on the border, with fewer people trying to come across because we have got a program to match willing worker with willing employer for jobs that Americans won't do. But we'll see. They're going to try and take this up, I think, in March. We're doing a lot more on the border.

Hewitt: When people say guest worker means amnesty, what's your response.

Rove: That it doesn't, because what we do is require people to come here to the United States, if they want to come here to the United States, they've got to apply. They've got to be matched up with a job. They can stay here for a certain number of years to work, three years or four years. They might be able to renew that for one time. Look, most people who come here, every bit of evidence that we've got, is that most people who come here don't come here with the expectation that they're going to spend the rest of their life in the United States. They come here in order to get together a grub steak, and go home and support their family. For example, the average capitalization of a business in Mexico is $5,000. Most, particularly younger workers who come here, they're hope and expectation is I'm going to be able to put together a couple of thousand dollars, and maybe go back and buy some land, or buy a tractor that we can use on the land my family owns, or I'll buy the little gas station at the corner, or I'll open up a shop, or I'll gain a skill to make it in life. But we are so good at once they get here, making it difficult for them to go home, that they lose all connections with their home community or home nation. And after ten years of being here in the underground economy, they wake up and way you know what? It doesn't matter to me anymore. I have no connection. What we need to do is have a program where we have rigorous defense of the borders, but workers who come here are allowed to travel back and forth across the border freely, so they can keep those connections, build that little nest egg, and go home. And you know, our economy depends upon immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants. We're an economy that benefits when smart people and bright people and energetic people come here. And we've got to find the right mix in order to keep that balance.

Read the entire transcript here. (Audio)

Kill Hill? The Hillary Scuttlebutt

Since last November, conventional wisdom has favored Senator Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential race.  While some rushed to call her presidency inevitable, most assumed that she would at least have a lock on the Democratic nomination.

One common theme has been to compare Senator Clinton with President Clinton. Trying to explain the "schizophrenia" in some of Hillary's rhetoric, Andrew Sullivan writes:

"She's following her husband's old gamble: triangulate, triangulate. But Bill triangulated once he'd become president. Hillary is triangulating while trying to win over her party's left-wing base and more moderate voters. That is proving the tough part."

Arguing that Clinton's careful triangulation took a bad turn on MLK Day, John McIntyre says the speech "showed the nasty, very partisan side of Senator Clinton, and it raises the question of whether Hillary will ever be able to outrun the first impression she formed with the American public in the early ’90’s."

On the other hand, Dafydd ab Hugh thinks that the challenge to Hillary will come from the left:

"I strongly believe that the least likely result will be to nominate the queen to the king of "triangulation," which most Democrats now see as "Billery Clinton gets the White House, and we get the shaft."

John Avlon says Bill vs. Hillary is like "The Natural vs. The Professional" and says Hillary's problem is "not political, it is personal."

Arianna Huffington adds her voice in taking on the "Hillary CW" and concludes, "Democrats looking to win back the White House had better start offering their 'Reasons Why Not.'"

Still others believe that the Democrats need a fresh face for 2008.  Jim Geraghty wonders whether "Americans will simply be tired of" the Clintons, and Josh Marshall explains that he thinks the idea of "political dynasticism" is going overlooked by those who think Clinton can win:

"George H. W. Bush left office to be followed by two terms of Bill Clinton. He in turn was followed by two terms of Bush's son. If those two terms of the son are followed by the election of Clinton's wife, I don't see where that's a good thing for this country. It ceases to be a fluke and grows into a pattern. It's dynasticism."

As if adding a final piece to the puzzle, a new Gallup poll confirms much of the newfound skepticism of Clinton's 2008 bid.  In the poll a full 51% say they will "definitely not vote for" Clinton, while only 16% say they will "definitely vote for" her.  "According to many Democratic Party insiders, such numbers are adding to skittishness about Mrs. Clinton's potential candidacy," reports Josh Gerstein of the New York Sun.

Kerry's Call for a Filibuster

Kerry’s push for a filibuster is all about internal Democratic politics and the ’08 election. And it is smart politics for Kerry.

Sen. Kerry in all likelihood is finished at the national level in terms of another presidential run. But Kerry certainly doesn’t believe that, and this is all about trying to put his name out there as the leader who represents the nominating base of the party.

While Kerry has zero chances of beating Hillary in a fight for the nomination, say the unlikely happens and Sen. Clinton doesn’t run, then suddenly Kerry is back in the game and he has probably made a lot of hard core Democrats happy this afternoon.

A Lesson From Alito

Senator Tim Johnson came out earlier today saying he will vote to confirm Alito, making him the second Democrat to publicly support confirmation.

The NY Times' opinion page knows Alito's confirmation is a done deal as well, but that doesn't stop them from taking one final pathetic swing:

Senate Democrats, who presented a united front against the nomination of Judge Alito in the Judiciary Committee, seem unwilling to risk the public criticism that might come with a filibuster — particularly since there is very little chance it would work. Judge Alito's supporters would almost certainly be able to muster the 60 senators necessary to put the nomination to a final vote.

A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

On a related note, John Nichols writes in The Capital Times that Russ Feingold's vote against Alito is of special significance:

Simply put, if Alito is unacceptable to Feingold, then he should be unacceptable to a good many other senators including moderate Republicans with whom Feingold has worked closely on campaign finance reform and a host of other issues over the years, such as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

Why give this special status to Feingold? Because, since his arrival in the Senate in 1993, he has distinguished himself by his consistent if often controversial approach to presidential nominations. [snip]

The fact that Alito is the first high court nominee to fail to meet the Feingold standard is significant. And, as the senator explained to the committee Tuesday, it was not a close call.

I think Nichols has a point: Feingold's vote does deserve a bit of extra consideration precisely because he has demonstrated independence in the past voting for people like John Ashcroft and John Roberts.

But Nichols' column really helps illuminate what a strategic blunder it was for 22 Democrats to vote against John Roberts.  There was simply no legitimate or tactical reason to vote against such a reasonable, well-qualified nominee other than to appease the left-wing interest groups. 

I'm not saying that if all 44 Democrats had voted for Roberts it would have necessarily changed the outcome with the Alito, but Democrats would have a more credible case to make to the public against Alito if they hadn't reacted to Roberts with such knee-jerk partisanship.

A Culture of Corruption?

Not in Congress, but at the U.S.-Mexico border:

Six additional current and former U.S. soldiers and law enforcement officials and two civilians have agreed to plead guilty to participating in a widespread bribery and extortion conspiracy which operated from January 2002 through March 2004, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division announced today.

The charges arise from Operation Lively Green, an undercover investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that began in December 2001. Forty defendants have already pleaded guilty in this ongoing prosecution and will be sentenced on Feb. 22, March 24, April 24, and June 12.

There's also this story about a Border Patrol agent indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury after being caught on video tape taking a 23-pound bale of marijuana out of a smuggler's truck while another agent chased the perps through the desert.

We have thousands and thousands of agents who perform the important and dangerous job of manning our southern border every day with honor and integrity. It's too bad there are a number of agents who don't take that obligation seriously.

The Mike Rosen Show

I will be on the Mike Rosen Show in Denver 10:00, 12:00 est.

Listen here live.

Reaction From Israel on the Palestinian Choice

An email from a reader in Israel:

There may actually be much to be gained by Hamas' victory in yesterday's elections in the Palestine Authority (PA).  The Palestinian people participated in democracy; exercised their right to vote; voiced an opinion; and opted for a political party, Hamas.  And they will get what they voted for.
 
On a positive note, there probably will be less corruption.  (Fatah, the party of Arafat and hitherto the dominant party within the PA was corrupt to its core).  And for those who favor confrontation with Israel and the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians (i.e. "terror"), if Hamas is consistent to its history and its platform, they will get this confrontation.
 
On the negative side of the ledger, Hamas will enact new limits on liberty, as it moves, however slowly, to its goal of a theocratic society.  Moreover, assuming the US and the EU are true to their word, then much less funding will be available (unless Hamas should change its charter, and its character).  Foreign investment will disappear.  The Palestinian economy will suffer accordingly.
 
Internationally, support for the Palestinian cause will suffer.  We see that even today, in the annoucements (nothing less than remarkable) of European leaders, including French Prime Minister de Villepin, who conditioned France's support on a change in Hamas' charter.  And Hamas' announcements shows no indication of being remotely interested in such a change.
 
Furthermore, the "confrontation" with Israel may be an unproductive one, to put it mildly.  Israel's defensive barrier is largely built, and is effective.  Israel's intelligence within the West Bank and Gaza is excellent. Israel's retaliatory capabilities are enormous.  Israel is experienced with Low Intensity Conflict, and knows the value of targeted assassinations.  And with Hamas heading the PA, Israel's reluctance to retaliate massively will be reduced.
 
In short, should Hamas pursue its goal to eliminate Israel, and to use terror as the principal means in this process, then clearly the Palestinian people will be 1) isolated internationally; 2) on the receiving end of unprecedented financial hardships; and 3) all the while facing the nightmare of daily chaos and the collapse of internal security.  And they'll have the beginnings of a theocratic regime, for a people who historically have never expressed much interest in this.
 
Of course, Hamas could choose peace, but in so doing it would no longer be Hamas (and would betray its electorate).
 
So, let Hamas win, and make its choices, and let the Palestinian people profit (or suffer) accordingly.  This democratic action will encourage Palestinians to recognize what all mature adults understand: actions have consequences.  And then perhaps in the next election they will choose differently.

When the Bad Guys Win

Today’s Hamas victory is one of the problems in President Bush’s policy to push democracy as the answer to the problems in the Mideast. What happens when the really bad guys win? It’s just a tad bit hypocritical to push democracy and elections, and then when you get results you don’t like say we don’t recognize your government.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily arguing that we should recognize Hamas, only pointing out one of the serious flaws in preaching democracy as a cure all.

I have said this before, when you are transitioning an authoritarian society that has never known democracy the preferable way is to establish the rule of law, a strongly capitalist economy and thus a growing middle class, and then over time a phase in of increased democratic reforms. This allows a country to grow into a functioning democracy and gives it the foundation to succeed. To just go from dictatorship to free elections, in a society that has only known corruption and poverty is a prescription for disaster.

Obviously we face some of these same risks in Iraq. However unlike the Palestinians, Iraq had a relatively educated, functioning society pre-Saddam Hussein and not un-importantly has tremendous oil resources, and these assets might give it enough of a foundation to accomplish the transition from Hussein’s dictatorship to democracy successfully.

We’ll see.

Salazar: Clarence Thomas "An Abomination"

More from "moderate" Democrat Ken Salazar:

Salazar was asked whether he would have filibustered any of the current Supreme Court justices. He replied that he hadn't subjected any of them to the kind of in-depth analysis he did with Alito. Then he continued:

"There are members of the U.S. Supreme Court that I very much disagree with. Clarence Thomas, for example, I think is an abomination when you contrast him to the leadership and principles of someone like Thurgood Marshall. I've been in front of the court and I know the justices."

Just so we're perfectly clear as to the sentiment Senator Salazar is adding to the public discourse, the definition of an "abomination" is "a person who is loathsome or disgusting."

January 25, 2006

Earmarks Shmearmarks

Allow me a brief but somewhat heretical observation. Yes, earmarks are bad news. Yes, they  "enable" more Congressional spending - often of the most frivolous kind. And yes, earmarks have ballooned - in both raw numbers and the amount of money spent - under Republican leadership in recent years. All bad things. And all reasons they should be sharply curtailed if not done away with altogether.

But, according to figures from the Wall Street Journal, earmarks accounted for $27 billion last year. Now, $27 billion isn't chump change, it is real money - our money - and if we can save it we should.  However, to put that number in perspective, earmarks accounted for only 3.3% of discretionary spending last year and about 1.06% of the total FY2005 budget of $2.55 trillion.

There's a tremendous amount of outrage and self-flagellation going on in GOP circles over $27 billion. That's all well and good. But Republicans in Congress have had it (and continue to have it) within their power to enact meaningful entitlement reform that would have a far more lasting impact on the budget - given that entitlements eat up more than $1.7 trillion per year (or 68% of our annual budget).  But they haven't. Instead, they've done just the opposite, passing the largest entitlement expansion in more than two generations. Now that's something worth being outraged about.

The Decline in the Canadian Military

Austin Bay has a good column where he points out how the decline in Canada’s military since the end of the Cold War has taken away one of the strategic weapons the West had relied on in the past.

The lack of military punch weakens Canada as a global political player, because Canada cannot act with a full spectrum of foreign policy options.

In many ways, the Canadian rhetorical and political game of "We Aren't America" is a reasonable, if semi-hypocritical posture. The game has actually benefited the great cause of freedom. In Cold War situations where American troops or observers might have escalated tensions, Canadians could provide security, stability and democratic presence. Canada could be the United States without Washington's alleged baggage. Those of us who understood the stakes were thankful.

However, as the Canadian military declined, the Canadian "We Aren't America" game -- particularly under Paul Martin's Liberals -- degenerated into rank, adolescent anti-Americanism. Is there a connection between increasingly strident, appeasement-laden rhetoric and the loss of military capability? I think the answer is "yes."

Canada's Conservatives have managed a narrow victory and now confront the challenges of a coalition government. Let's hope the first consensus Canadians reach is to restore and revive the Canadian military.

I agree with Austin that the loss of military capability does probably coincide with an increase in appeasement-laden rhetoric and that the election of Harper as the new Prime Minister will hopefully improve U.S.-Canada relations. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath that the new Conservative government is going to make any significant changes in their military outlays. The rest of the West gets a free pass on the backs of the U.S. military and taxpayer and unfortunately the only thing that will change Canada’s and the rest of NATO’s attitude, is the U.S. walking off the job or a big Chinese, Islamic or Russian bear on their doorstep.

Fear

A reader responds to my column today on why a bit of fear is a good thing when it comes to matters of national security:

Dear Mr Bevan,

The problem with being afraid is that it can make people behave irrationally. It can also cause people to become obsessed with their particular fear and forget about other important potential threats to their lives which may be more insidious but equally important. American policy since 2001 is proof of both of these principles.

Once your enemy has made you afraid, he dominates and controls you, and it seems that Mr bin Laden, having made a relatively modest initial investment of his resources, dominates American foreign policy. By making America afraid, he wins, because he controls.

The Iraq invasion, an irrational reaction to fear rather than to a cold calculation of the national interest, is Mr bin Laden's crowning achievement.

Let's clarify: too much fear (i.e. panic) is indeed a bad thing and can lead to irrational behavior. But fear, when properly managed, can be a very good thing that motivates and sharpens focus. Fear of failure is what drives individuals to great success. Fear of competition is what produces constant innovation in the economic marketplace. 

As to the reader's suggestion that "American policy since 2001 is proof" fear has caused us to behave irrationally, I find that a less than credible characterization of the invasion Afghanistan.  To the contrary, from a military and diplomatic perspective our actions in Afghanistan were measured, precise, and completely rational - not to mention effective.

There might be a slightly better argument for appyling such a characterization to Iraq, given that we did fear Saddam had WMD at the time. But bad intelligence hardly invalidates those fears or makes them any less rational, and WMD was only one part of the justification for invading Iraq.

The Bush administration's policy is based on a "cold calculation" of national interest - that establishing a free, democratic Iraq reduced the short term threat to America and to the region by getting rid of a terrorist-supporting tyrant and laid the foundation for long-term security by establishing a bulwark of freedom in the Middle East. History may judge the policy in Iraq to be wrong for any number of reasons, but not because it was an irrational act of fear.

More on The Race For Majority Leader

Last night John posted a clip giving the current rundown on the race for Majority Leader. This morning, The Hill has more detail on the effort by Boehner and Shadegg to force a second ballot:

The prospect of a second ballot generates significant uncertainty for each team heading into the Feb. 2 election, but it creates a particularly difficult dynamic between Boehner and Shadegg because the two lawmakers must work together in forcing the second vote while trying to beat each other on the first.

With most members already committed to one of the three candidates, the race is stuck in a momentary lull. This question about a second ballot is just one of the many uncertainties lawmakers must confront when they return next week for the president’s State of the Union speech and an as-yet-undetermined number of leadership races.

Much further down you'll find the key graph in the article:

Blunt has already claimed enough support to win the election on the first ballot. Yet this race is unlike tough votes he has whipped over the years because the secret ballot will not allow him to see who, if anyone, has betrayed him. Blunt’s claim has solidified his position as front-runner, but it could damage him politically if the votes don’t back him up Feb. 2.

This continues to be a very intriguing, very important race for Republicans.

The Moment of Truth

Floor debate on Sam Alito begins today. As of right now, Alito has the public support of 50 Republicans and 1 Democrat: Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Twenty-three Democrats plus Jim Jeffords remain publicly undecided as well as 5 Republicans:  Lamar Alexander, Lincoln Chafee, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Ted Stevens. 

Leon at RedState has the skinny on how things will proceed:

The scuttlebutt at this juncture is that Frist will open up the floor for debate on Alito immediately, and pretty much allow the Democrats to bloviate about Vanguard uninterrupted. He will even hold the floor of the Senate open overnight, if the Democrats are so inclined to debate. However, first thing Thursday morning, there will be a cloture vote, and if it fails, the sparks will fly postehaste. Bush has called upon Frist to have Alito seated before the SOTU, and Frist intends to see it done.

Democrats have all but conceded Alito's nomination and a filibuster seems almost completely out of the question. This is all about delivering a moral victory to the base in the short term (Harry Reid: ''I think it sends a message to the American people that this guy is not King George, he's President George'') and then hoping to parlay Alito's rulings this year into an election issue in November:

Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University Law School and an outspoken opponent of Alito, said Alito’s hard-right stance — specifically on abortion and presidential power — would remind voters in November of his confirmation, making him “the political gift that keeps on giving” for Democrats.

The obvious problem with this strategy is that Democrats have tried their best to make the SCOTUS an issue in past elections but it simply hasn't worked. Republicans, on the other hand, keep winning elections with the federal judiciary as one of their animating principles. Maybe the addition of Justice Alito changes this equation, maybe it doesn't. The best bet for Democrats this election year is not going to be producing more demagoguery of Alito, but producing new ideas.

January 24, 2006

Update on the Majority Leader Race

Update on the race in the House to succeed Tom DeLay from the Evans-Novak Political Report. (via Rich Lowry)

Three candidates continue to scramble for their colleagues' votes for House Majority Leader.

1) Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has been claiming for nearly two weeks that he already has the 116 votes [actually, 117] he needs to win on the first ballot, but on Capitol Hill almost no one believes this, neither friend nor foe. If Blunt really does have the votes he needs to become majority leader, why hasn't he resigned from his whip position? Blunt is running what insiders call a "Rose Garden" campaign, refusing to debate his opponents or appear jointly with them on television.

2) Rep. John Boehner now claims roughly 90 supporters, and most people believe that his whip count is accurate. This makes Blunt's number even more difficult to believe, unless the third candidate, John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), really has only about 20 supporters. The consensus view is that there will be a second ballot.

3) Rep. Mike Pence (R), the conservative head of the Republican Study Committee, had hoped to wait until his group's upcoming retreat to wait on making an endorsement, but such a delay would have made the late endorsement ineffective. Unsurprisingly, Pence made his endorsement of former RSC chairman Shadegg, the most conservative congressman in the race. Pence's endorsement, like Shadegg's entry into the race, may have come too late, however.

4) Shadegg has had the conservative media on his side, and he got another boost with the endorsement of moderate Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.). This confirms our prediction that some moderates would be attracted to the most conservative candidate, despite his ideology, just because of his commitment to reform. On the conservative side, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) has abandoned his earlier public support for Blunt and will be backing Shadegg. The question at this point is how many congressmen will do the same.

What is the Los Angeles Times Thinking?

From Joel Stein, on the Los Angeles Times op-ed page today:

I DON'T SUPPORT our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on……

Blindly lending support to our soldiers, I fear, will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there — and who might one day want to send them somewhere else. Trust me, a guy who thought 50.7% was a mandate isn't going to pick up on the subtleties of a parade for just service in an unjust war. He's going to be looking for funnel cake.

Besides, those little yellow ribbons aren't really for the troops. They need body armor, shorter stays and a USO show by the cast of "Laguna Beach."

The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war…..

I understand the guilt. We know we're sending recruits to do our dirty work, and we want to seem grateful.

After we've decided that we made a mistake, we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.

But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not……

But when you volunteer for the U.S. military, you pretty much know you're not going to be fending off invasions from Mexico and Canada. So you're willingly signing up

I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea. All I'm asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return. But, please, no parades.

Seriously, the traffic is insufferable.

Now, I realize this piece is written to supposedly have some humor in it and, to be extremely charitable, is perhaps not supposed to be taken literally. But why would a major newspaper like the Los Angeles Times, that is trying rejuvenate their sales, run a column that displays this type of ingratitude to our men and women who volunteer to defend this country?

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt has an interview this afternoon with weekly Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein, RadioBlogger has the transcript.

The Latest on Iran

In recent weeks much has been written on the growing threat of Iran.  There is a wide range of opinion on the subject, so it can be difficult to keep up with the opposing camps.  One point on which everyone seems to agree is that the current policy is failing.

Fareed Zakaria provides a good starting point: "We have a worthy goal: trying to stop Tehran from building nuclear weapons. We have gone about this in a sensible way, using allies, multilateral organizations and international agreements to pressure Tehran. But the policy simply isn't going to work." 

But not everyone agrees with Zakaria that "we have gone about this in a sensible way."  Many commentators are unhappy with how the situation has been handled, and they have naturally looked to assign blame.  In the New York Times, Flynt Leverett recalls "how poorly the Bush administration has handled this issue."  Charles Krauthammer, on the other hand, blames Europe for getting nowhere after two years of talk.  And Reuel Marc Gerecht faults both the U.S. and the Europeans for not seeing sooner the seriousness of "clerical Iran's 20-year quest to develop nuclear weapons."

Looking ahead, other observers have begun discussing possible courses of action against Iran.   Peter Brookes outlines the military option but does not yet take a position on its use.  Ivo Daalder and Phillip Gordon make the case for striking Iran, "but not with bombs."  And at WindsofChange.net, Thomas Holsinger lays out the case for invading Iran this year.

Mark Davis sums it up nicely:

What we need is a sober realization that we will first try everything short of a military option to thwart the unacceptable prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of this madman, which may work and may not. If not, then what?

What we do not need is American politicians looking skittish about what we might have to do. Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, is part of a small chorus of voices already distancing from a military solution, choosing instead to blame the Bush administration for “ignoring” Iran for four years.

I'm wincing in advance. Any serious assessment of the need for a military strike to take out Iranian nuclear facilities will rely on — brace yourself — reliable intelligence.

The lessons of Iraq should make that intelligence better. I hope we also see improvement in the tone of debate if diplomacy and sanctions fail. Things will be tense enough without partisanship sullying that debate the way it has on Iraq.

The Left Comes After Hillary

Arianna Huffington is the latest on the left to challenge the conventional wisdom that Hillary is a lock for the Democratic nomination. She lampoons the argument by Eleanor Clift and Mike McCurry that Hillary has been able to win over upstate New Yorkers and thus will be competitive in winning red-states.

"Like Moses leading her party to the Promised Land," wrote Eleanor Clift in Newsweek, "Hillary is treading a path to Red-State America. She may be the darling of the liberal left, but she won in New York by appealing to upstate voters who are traditionally Republican."

Clinton insider Mike McCurry agreed: "Hillary really went upstate New York and won the hearts of people there. That's hard to do, because that's pretty much red-state country in some of those counties up there."

Sounds very convincing. The trouble is, it's wrong -- as Marisa Katz shows in this week's New Republic in her terrific takedown of the Upstate = Red State myth. "Numbers-wise," Katz writes, "upstate [New York] is far more purple than red." And she reminds us that "even in this less-than-hostile-terrain" Hillary "actually lost upstate by three points to her 2000 opponent, Rick Lazio."

Even more damning is the fact that the presidential runs of both Al Gore and John Kerry attracted more upstate voters -- and carried more upstate counties -- than Hillary did. "If Gore and Kerry won upstate New York," writes Katz, "but couldn't make sufficient red-state inroads, Clinton's loss upstate doesn't seem to bode well for her potential in truly red parts of the country." The final nail in the upstate/redstate coffin: Hillary's upstate numbers are very similar to those of the senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer -- and, as Katz zings it, "no one is talking him up as the Democrats' best chance to reclaim the White House."

Huffington is right to disabuse the notion that Hillary’s victory over Rick Lazio in New York automatically proves she will be competitive against the GOP in states like Ohio, Florida and Colorado.

Arianna goes on to suggest that the conventional wisdom regarding Hillary’s strength among the Democratic base is misinterpreted as well:

The other side of the Hillary-can't-miss equation is her strength with the Democratic base. You often hear this from those trying to rationalize her feints to the right -- the thinking being that her triangulation is okay because, hey, she's already got the grassroots sewn up.

Here I disagree with her analysis, because even though I think Hillary will receive an aggressive challenge from someone on the left, I can’t see her losing the nomination on her left flank for a number of reasons. First, Bill Clinton is an asset that should not be minimized in the Democratic nominating process and I think he will single handily deliver an enormous portion of the African-American primary vote to Hillary. The far left “netroots” community may not back Hillary, but Hillary doesn’t need money or hype, the principal assets the “netroots” community brought Dean in 2004. She needs votes in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan, and I don’t know that lacking the backing of Molly Ivins, and websites like MyDD, Daily Kos or the Huffington Post is really that damaging to her candidacy. It’s actually probably an asset.

I agree that Hillary isn’t as much of a lock to win the nomination as she was a year ago, but I’ll stick to my analysis of last week that if she is truly going to be denied the nomination I have to believe it will be to someone like Mark Warner.  It's plausible Democrats could make a cold decision to move beyond the Clintons and nominate a candidate they feel has a better chance to win in November, but they won't pass over Hillary to nominate someone to her left who would be slaughtered in the fall of 2008.

Zarqawi Steps Aside, Terrorists Restructure

Interesting report from Liz Sly in the Chicago Tribune about a possible restructuring of the terrorist insurgency in Iraq driven by the rift between Zarqawi and Iraqi nationals:

BAGHDAD -- In a further sign of the rifts emerging within Iraq's insurgency, Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has stepped aside as the head of a new council of radical groups in favor of an Iraqi, according to a posting on a Web site used by Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups.

The statement, whose authenticity could not be independently verified, said Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, "who is Iraqi," had taken over from al-Zarqawi as "emir" of the new Mujahedeen Shura, or Council, which groups six extremist organizations including Al Qaeda and whose creation was announced last week. [snip]

"He [al-Zarqawi] must be really under pressure," said Mustafa al-Ani, director of the Center for Counterterrorism at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. "There's been a lot of talk since the election about divisions between Iraqi mujahedeen and Al Qaeda, and this is to prove that even the Arab mujahedeen are led by an Iraqi and not a foreigner."

Al Qaeda in Iraq also is looking ahead to the day when U.S. forces leave and is starting to realize it needs to form alliances and structures to further its dream of establishing a Taliban-style Islamic state in Iraq, said Jaafar al-Taie, a Jordan-based analyst who closely monitors the insurgency.

"For the first time, the U.S. is on the defensive and is about to withdraw, so they're restructuring," he said. "It's an attempt to expand the breadth of Al Qaeda politically and militarily. You give Al Qaeda an Iraqi face, you give it a different dimension."

I wouldn't characterize the U.S. as "on the defensive and about to withdraw," but it's edifying to know that's how some in that part of the world view our position.

Right vs. Wrong on National Security

Last week Karl Rove stated the obvious: national security will continue to be a signature issue for Republicans in 2006. E.J. Dionne reacts this morning:

What Democrats should have learned is that they cannot evade the security debate. They must challenge the terms under which Rove and Bush would conduct it. Imagine, for example, directly taking on that 9/11 line. Does having a ``post-9/11 worldview'' mean allowing President Bush to do absolutely anything he wants, any time he wants to, without having to answer to the courts, to Congress or the public? Most Americans -- including a lot of libertarian-leaning Republicans -- reject such an anti-constitutional view of presidential power. If Democrats aren't willing to take on this issue, what's the point of being an opposition party?

Compare this with John's analysis today:

In the post 9/11 world the public expects - in fact, the public demands - that their Commander in Chief do everything in his or her legal power to protect the American people. So when a President gets counsel that he can legally monitor international-domestic communications involving al Qaeda suspects and when he consults with the appropriate leaders in Congress, the only political damage will be to those politicians who demand this type of program be stopped.

Dionne is right about one thing: Democrats can't avoid the national security debate. But McIntyre is right about everything else, for a lot of reasons.

One reason is that Bush occupies the vastly superior political position of strength and motive. In other words, people aren't going to buy the "abuse of power" argument unless Democrats can prove that Bush kept reauthorizing the wiretapping program for some nefarious personal reason unrelated to national security.  Lacking that, the public will give the President the benefit of the doubt because 1) he was acting aggressively against our enemies and 2) he was acting with the best of intentions.

Another reason McIntyre is right and Dionne is wrong is that most people's libertarian streak doesn't run as deep as Dionne thinks. I know mine doesn't, and I've seen plenty of evidence in polls and elsewhere that I'm not the only one who feels this way. At its core, that feeling is derived from a simple but powerful belief: only the bad guys have something to hide. Most people can accept the idea of targeted eavesdropping because they are secure in their own innocence, and they want to know the government is doing what it can to protect them against real threats.

James Carville and Paul Begala were on Meet the Press on Sunday reciting a catchy phrase from their new book. The Democrats' problem, they said, "isn't ideological, it's anatomical: they need to grow a spine." This is new twist on a common refrain among the left for the last few years: if they just stand up taller and speak up louder, people will become more attracted to their cause. 

This may be true on some issues, but it's dead wrong on national security. The problem is ideological. And in all likelihood the hearings on the NSA program are going to prove it again, with Democrats attacking the President for trying to protect the country. The result is going to look very much like a courtroom drama, with Democrats playing the part of zealous prosecutors cross-examining a man who acted in defense of his family.

January 23, 2006

More Hillary

Another email on Hillary's "Plantation" and 2008:

"The issue isn't that huge numbers of the public are paying close attention to this particular story, but rather what sort of judgments the political elite in the Democratic Party may draw from the Hillary "plantation" dust-up."
 
That's exactly right.  I am a Democrat.  I read all the left blogs (though I tend to be centrist on foreign affairs/military matters), and I can tell you that she is by no means a lock for the nomination.  What's interesting is that many MSM commentators like Chris Matthews, Nora O'Donnell and Andrea Mitchell don't know or understand this yet.
 
Like I said, I am a rather centrist Dem.  But I will count the left wing Kos crowd as allies in the nomination process because we share a common goal: stopping Hillary.  Even though we may oppose her for different reasons (me because I am an electoral college realist, and they because of anti-war sentiment) we will form a kind of accidental alliance that could block her.  Imagine if the Dean kids from 2000 teamed up with the Edwards and Clark people?  That would have been enough to stop Kerry.

2008 will be fun to watch because right now the MSM is getting it so wrong.  They're in for big surprises...

The NYT's Last Gasp on Alito

Leave it to The New York Times. Having watched Senate Democrats miss the opportunity to damage Alito in the hearings and fail miserably in mobilizing public opinion against him, Gail Collins & Co. play what looks to be one final card in the SCOTUS game today by trying to browbeat Senators into supporting a filibuster:

The real risk for senators lies not in opposing Judge Alito, but in voting for him. If the far right takes over the Supreme Court, American law and life could change dramatically. If that happens, many senators who voted for Judge Alito will no doubt come to regret that they did not insist that Justice O'Connor's seat be filled with someone who shared her cautious, centrist approach to the law.

Take a step back and think about the irony here.  Last March The New York Times editorialized (Times Select) in support of the Democrats' unprecedented filibustering of 10 of Bush's federal appellate nominees  - a move, by the way, which required the paper to repudiate its decade-earlier call to abolish the filibuster altogether when Republicans were in the minority under Bill Clinton. 

Support for those filibusters led to a crisis that eventually resulted in The Gang of 14, a compromise that by almost all accounts is seen to have worked out poorly for the Democrats. In addition to letting through some of the nominees most objectionable to the left like Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, The Gang of 14 agreement obliterated the standard of "extraordinary circumstances" and left Democrats even more hamstrung to deal with SCOTUS nominees of the caliber and quality of Roberts and Alito.

In other words, Democrats are finally paying the price for having used the filibuster so excessively and injudiciously during the Bush administration. A former Judiciary Committee counsel for the Democrats put it bluntly

"We shot our wad. We filibustered 10 guys, and at the end of the day the worst got on anyway. If we had not used the filibuster and pissed off the Republicans over the past four years, if it was seriously being entertained for the first time [against Alito], we might have succeeded."

Best of RCP: 1/17-22

In case you didn't catch them the first time around, here are a few pieces from last week that should not be missed:

Jack Kelly writes on "The People's (Conditional) Right to Know."

Charlie Cook is "deeply troubled by the tenor of current political discourse in this country."

John Stossel follows up on his ABC TV special on public education and responds to the hate mail he received as a result.

John McIntyre and John Podhoretz each take a look at the Hillary Clinton "plantation" remark and come to opposite conclusions about its impact on 2008.  Larry Sabato also weighs in on Hillary and her chances against the rest of the Democratic competition. (Part I on the Republicans is here).

On the Supreme Court, Ron Cass is not pleased with the conduct of Senate Democrats at the Alito hearings, while Ruth Marcus is disappointed at the  nominees' "unwillingness to engage in this discussion in an honest, meaningful way."  Froma Harrop says "Federalism Is Not For Sissies."

Mort Kondracke interviews Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about the NSA's warrantless spying program, and Pat Buchanan wonders "what liberal Democrats of the ACLU variety would do to a real-life Jack Bauer."

On Friday (1/20), Karl Rove re-entered the spotlight with a speech to the RNC titled "The GOP Remains the Party of Ideas."

For more of last week's best links, including blog posts and talk show transcripts, click here.

Is Joe Lieberman in Trouble?

If you asked the hard core left who they would rather see defeated between Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman, that might be a more difficult question for them to answer than you might think. It is hard to adequately describe the rage the left feels toward Sen. Lieberman. It is infuriating to them that any Democrat could possibly have his stance on the Iraq war.

Kevin Rennie in the Hartford Courant has a good overview of Lieberman’s trouble in Connecticut and his potential challenger in the Democratic primary:

Greenwich millionaire Ned Lamont is strongly considering a challenge against Lieberman for the Democratic nomination to the Senate. Lamont, whose active interest in politics has been limited to developing a dead-on JFK imitation, a run for the state Senate in 1990, service on the state's pension advisory board, raising money for Bill Clinton and working with the liberal think tank the Brookings Institution on budget issues, may have found his unlikely moment.

At 52, Lamont is tan, fit and possessed of an easy confidence that often comes with being born into a fortune and making it bigger. He understands the long odds against succeeding in a primary against an incumbent senator……

The prospect of a challenge from Lamont is already changing Lieberman - who's reinvented himself more often than Madonna - back into a partisan Democrat. Lieberman even hinted to a group of liberal state legislators last month that he just might vote against Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Don't expect any State of the Union kiss from Bush this month.

Lieberman's dismal showing in the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries should have raised alarms about his popularity among the party troops. He never broke 10 percent in the few places he competed.

Polls show Lieberman in a strong position to win in November. His standing among state Democrats, however, is in decline. Three-term senators with disaffected party members can be ripe targets. That's why Lieberman beat Lowell Weicker in 1988. He's also been alerted to serious discontent that is growing louder in redoubts such as the Manchester and West Hartford Democratic town committees.

At the liberal blog Daily Kos, one of the places where Lieberman is perhaps most hated, Markos Moulitsas writes:

Lamont faces an uphill challenge, no doubt, but the task is not impossible. He'll have the money and the netroots and grassroots support. Lieberman will have more money (the insurance and neocon lobbies will spend big) and his name recognition, but his ground game will be hired guns.

This thing will be more of a contest than the CW currently recognizes…… bottom line, Lieberman is beatable.

What is interesting from the Hartford Courant piece is the line at the end. Rennie writes:

Lieberman acknowledged to a newspaper reporter this month that he will be on the ballot in November, no matter what the Democrats do. Lieberman will not be bound by the decision of Democratic primary voters if he loses. To threaten to run as an independent is an extraordinary admission that trouble approaches.

In the end I suspect Lieberman will continue his tack back to the left on domestic issues and will win his primary relatively easily and walk away with it in the general. What would be more interesting, however, is if Lieberman decided to pull a Jeffords in reverse and go independent.  I suspect he would still win the ’06 general in a walk.

And to add a little more intrigue: while we are speculating about people running as independents, if GOP voters spurn McCain again maybe we could see a McCain-Lieberman ticket in '08....

A Wall More Sacred Than Church & State?

Fascinating article in Sunday's Seattle Times on the dicey, increasingly blurry line between military and commercial technology:

Last April in Everett, in a tense meeting with an investigator sent by Boeing headquarters, a small group of 787 engineers dropped a bombshell.

The engineers, veterans of Boeing's work on the B-2 stealth bomber two decades ago, told investigator Rick Barreiro that technology and know-how developed for that secretive military program would be used in manufacturing the company's newest commercial jet.

The engineers refused to sign forms declaring that the 787 program is free of military data. One said he feared signing would leave him open to federal indictment.

Their assertions set off flashing red lights at Boeing. Federal law prohibits U.S. companies from letting militarily sensitive technical expertise go abroad.

Yet Boeing's entire global manufacturing plan for the 787 hinges on having foreign suppliers build large structures out of advanced composite materials.

Read the whole thing.

Obama Analyzes 2008

Frankly, I was shocked by the firmness of this statement by Barack Obama on Meet the Press:

 

MR. RUSSERT: So you will not run for president or vice-president in 2008?

SEN. OBAMA: I will not.

Sure, Obama could probably get away with still accepting a VP slot in 2008 by dismissing this as "his true intention at the time" and then acknowledging that, well, things have changed since then. A fawning, star-struck press corps is certainly not going to make a big deal of it.

However, Obama's willingness to be so firm ruling out 2008 definitely raises the antennae of political observers. He's been the topic of 2008 Vice-Presidential speculation for a year and a half now - but to my knowledge he's never been mentioned as a potential running mate for anyone other than Hillary. Perhaps after witnessing Hillary's ham-handed pander last week, Obama reassessed Mrs. Clinton's chances of success and decided he'd be better off taking a pass this time around and waiting for a better opportunity.

More on Hillary and '08

Some interesting email in response to my column on Hillary’s "plantation" comment and 2008.

We saw the real Hillary in her plantation remarks, particularly the words, "...and you know what I'm talking about." The audience loved it, but my sense is that not one person in that crowd, if asked, could have explained what precisely it was she was talking about. What did she mean? That Democrats in the House were working for slave wages? That some white overlord was preventing House Democrats from speaking? What did she mean? Her audience didn't know and they didn't care. Speaking to her hard core supporters, Hillary is a master demagogue. How that works with the general public remains to be seen. But her inclination recklessly to pander is, for her, dangerously close to the surface. Unrestrained, she is an incorrigibly disagreeable person….My sense is that she'll win reelection to the Senate by a landslide, use that momentum to win the Democratic nomination, and then run a highly professional, deceptively Clintonesque campaign for President. She'll probably win. Republicans who dismiss her chances forget that Gore won the popular vote, and Kerry came within one state of winning.

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You are right about Hillary and 2008. A powerful lady Democrat in New Hampshire, with whom I am very close, does not want Hillary to be the nominee in '08, principally because she thinks that Hillary cannot win the White House.

I am not a Democrat but I have tons of Democrat friends, and never do I hear them say that they want Hillary in '08. The women especially say they absolutely do NOT want her to be the candidate because they think she's a hypocrite.

She will win re-election to the Senate from New York in a walk, but based on my individual reading of Democrat temperatures, in the presumably friendly (for Hillary) climate of the Northeast, I don't see her getting very far, both because of the old Clinton baggage and because she's just not very likable as a person.
 
I don't think her nomination, much less her election to the Presidency, is a sure thing at all.

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What a pleasure to finally read an article without a right or left bias.

You stuck with the facts and I agree with your analysis completely. Any left of center Democratic candidate in 2008 doesn't stand a chance, especially a Senator from a Blue state. I share your view that the only successful Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 will be a Governor from a "red-state". My personal favorite would be a Warner-Obama ticket.

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Newt Gingrich former speaker of the House made the same stupid comment as Hillary about plantations and you hypocritical bastards did not comment on it. What assholes you are.

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A few things to add:

1) Will Hillary have a "Sister Souljah Moment" to redeem herself? 
Otherwise, Monday will stand as "Hillary's Plantation Moment"

2) Bill's strength is his ability to "fake sincerity".  Hillary has absolutely none of this talent.

3) If Hillary wins the nomination, her pick for VP will be interesting. 
The person must be willing to immediately and permanently be a wall flower.  Hillary's real running mate will be Bill.  Talk about co-presidents!!  If elected, this "ticket" violates the 22nd Amendment, because Bill will have been elected to the White House for a third time.

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This was not a brilliant strategic move.  This was unplanned.  She was being pushed by a questioner who wanted to know why the Democrats were any better than the Republicans -- a question I don't think she expected from this crowd.  So, under pressure, the natural Hillary -- the nasty, partisan and shrill Hillary -- came out. 
 
Either Rush or Hannity regularly play the tape of her screeching attack on the Bush administration.  It was a very embarrassing moment and, according to Dick Morris (I think), there has been a concerted effort to keep her out of situations that will result in the "bad" Hillary from rearing her head.  But as the "plantation" remark shows, it doesn't take much pressure for the "bad" Hillary to come out.     
 
If that is what happens before a friendly crowd, what happens when things go bad on the campaign trail where there is little sleep, more press attention and a zillion times more pressure? 
 
Richard Nixon had the same personality/temper problems as in "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore."  When he ran for President in 1968, his campaign dealt with these problems by hermetically sealing him from any contact with anything unfavorable.  It worked, but that strategy won't work today with 24/7 coverage.

January 22, 2006

Polls: Missouri & Illinois

Two new polls out from Research 2000, one in Missouri and one in Illinois. Here is a quick summary of the results:

Illinois
Governor Rod Blagojevich's "favorable/unfavorable" rating is at 47/43 and his job approval is at a questionable 46%. When paired against potential GOP challenger Judy Baar Topinka (pro-choice, moderate), Blagojevich holds an 8-point lead (45/37) with 18% undecided. Other results: President Bush has a 36% favorable rating and Barack Obama has a 62% job approval.

Missouri
Senator Jim Talent's "favorable/unfavorable" rating is 50/42 and his job approval rating is 49%. However, Talent trails his likely Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill, 44% to 47%.

In the 2008 race for governor, incumbent Matt Blunt has a "favorable/unfavorable" rating of 44/48 and a current job approval of only 40%. He trails possible Democratic opponent, Jay Nixon, by eight points, 43%-51%.

January 20, 2006

Will the Dems Filibuster After Last Week's Debacle?

Last week at the start of the Alito hearings I suggested a filibuster was a very real possibility and figured that if the Democrats really wanted to give themselves a shot at beating Alito they were going to need to come out swinging and produce a few errors on Alito’s part. 

Instead of Alito being the one to stumble, however, Senate Democrats were the ones who came off looking less than stellar, punctuated by Alito’s wife breaking down when Senator Graham came to the defense of her husband’s honor. By the end of the week it looked like Alito was home free.

However, as this week comes to a close there are whiffs that maybe a filibuster attempt isn’t dead after all. Many of the liberal blogs are picking up an intensity on the Alito nomination that wasn’t evident last week. One of the biggest, Daily Kos, is keeping a daily whip count on the nomination, gleefully chalking up the growing number of Democratic 'no' votes.

Today’s Chicago Sun Times reports Sen. Durbin, the Senate’s number two Democrat, will vote against Alito, which is no surprise given he voted against Roberts.  However, Durbin explicitly says they have not ruled out a filibuster.

Durbin said so many other senators intensely oppose Alito that they may have enough votes to sustain a filibuster against the conservative jurist…… He said he won't know until Tuesday if there are enough strong opponents to filibuster Alito's nomination……A week ago, I would have told you it's not likely to happen. As of [Wednesday], I just can't rule it out. I was surprised by the intensity of feeling of some of my colleagues. It's a matter of counting. We have 45 Democrats, counting [Vermont independent] Jim Jeffords, on our side. We could sustain a filibuster if 41 senators ... are willing to stand and fight.

This shocks me. And it leads me to believe that had Alito made a few gaffes or had Senate Democrats delivered a better performance last week, we would almost definitely be staring at a filibuster.

We’ll see what next week brings.

Taking People's Homes

Last night on Hannity and Colmes (video, transcript) they did a story on a woman in upstate New York who is going to lose her home of 50 years so that the Seneca Nation of Indians can expand their casino operations. The report was very disturbing because there is just something that is profoundly un-American when the government can “legally” come and take your home under the power of eminent domain, to expand a casino.

In the aftermath of the Court’s 5-4 Kelo decision these type of eminent domain stories are going to fester with the public as long as city and state governments continue to press their “right” to take private land for “economic development.” Unfortunately, both Rehnquist and O’Connor were in the dissent on Kelo vs. New London, so the additions of Roberts and Alito is unlikely to change much given the five in the majority on Kelo are still on the court.

These type of eminent domain cases animate libertarian conservatives, and many progressives as well, because 9 times out of 10 the individuals who are getting their property taken from them are poor or middle class folks who don’t have the money or the connections to stop it. It is one thing when we are talking about legitimate uses of eminent domain to build roads, sewers, or airports. But casinos and office parks hardly fall in that category.  

Channeling Bill Kristol

You weren't aware that Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes are running the country? The always-dopey Mansour El-Kikhia says they are:

Where do we go from here? No one knows except the new Oracle of Delphi at the Weekly Standard. When the time comes, it will speak as it has done on a number of occasions during the past five years, and President Bush, who is not known for reading magazines and newspapers, will obediently follow.

This is stunning - all this time I thought Roger Ailes and Brit Hume were the ones calling the shots for the White House.

Is Salazar A Moderate?

Vince Carroll, editorial page editor of the Rocky Mountain News, wrote on Tuesday:

If Sen. Ken Salazar is a political moderate, as he is typically portrayed, he'll vote to confirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

Guess not: Salazar Voting Against Alito

Honor Killings

I just realized I forgot to highlight this story on the rise of "honor killings" in Europe that ran in Monday's Boston Globe:

As Europe's Muslims become increasingly conservative, growing numbers of women are being killed or mutilated in the name of ''family honor," according to law enforcement agencies, women's activist groups, and moderate Islamic organizations. These cases usually involve an attack on a Muslim woman by a close relative -- typically a brother or father -- angered by her refusal to accept a forced marriage or her insistence on leading a Western-style life.

There were at least eight such slayings in Berlin alone in 2005, and 47 honor killings of Muslim women across Germany in the past six years, according to police, media reports, and activist groups. Not coincidentally, activists say, tens of thousands of European-born Muslim women are annually forced into unwanted marriages, often to much older men, in their family's home countries. Refusal to submit to such marriages can bring a death sentence.

It has been said before but is worth repeating: one of the cultural factors that will help break the spell of radicalism in Islam is a rise in the rights of, and respect for, Muslim women.  A major catalyst to making that happen - and something not coincidental to the current administration's policy, by the way - is giving Muslim women the right to vote and to stand for office.

RELATED: The Arab Street Rises - With Women 

Hillary and 2008

John Podhoretz has a different take than me on Hillary's "plantation" dust-up in today's New York Post. Podhoretz writes:

Hillary Clinton is playing a long game — a game for 2008 — and when viewed in that context, what she did and said was very canny.

Saying that the Republican-run House of Representatives is "run like a plantation" won't do her any damage with any Democratic political constituency. The emotion that unites Democrats more than any other is visceral loathing of Republicans — the president especially, but with House Republicans certainly gaining on him……

By adopting the cheap but resonant rhetoric of African-American politicians, Hillary Clinton may have offended the sensibilities of professional political watchers, who prefer to referee a clean game. But she wasn't speaking to them. Hillary was trying to send a message to a key Democratic constituency that she speaks their language and shares their view that the Republican political leadership is motivated by racism.

She played the race card on Monday because she was being grilled about her votes in favor of the Iraq war and subsequent defense appropriations. It was her way of making clear to her audience that, despite her hawkish votes, she was really one of them in spirit and in her heart of hearts…

The "plantation" remark is of no enduring significance except that it will leave an impression — not among most Americans, but among African-American primary voters and delegates. And that will only help Hillary. We should all make such mistakes.

I don’t disagree with Podhoretz that the “plantation” line will help her among black voters, but I question whether that was ever a real vulnerability for her. They don’t call former President Bill Clinton the first African-American president for nothing, and I suspect Bill is in a position to deliver the African-American primary vote to Hillary, lock, stock and barrel.

The point I make in my column today is whether her comment will affect the view of her electability after the primaries. And to the degree that it makes the Democratic powers that be and voters question whether she can win in the general election, the remark could work to hurt her chances.

Much of the conventional wisdom in Washington is that Hillary’s challenge in the primaries will come from the left, and while I have no doubt that a virulently anti-war Democrat will emerge, ala Howard Dean in 2004, I think her real vulnerability is someone like Mark Warner and the Democratic establishment coalescing around the idea that they’d actually like to win in 2008 and move beyond the Clintons.

January 19, 2006

More Thoughts on the NSA

Yesterday I promised to offer some more thoughts on the NSA story. The thing that's been nagging me about this story is the timing. We know Risen brought the story to his editors at The New York Times in October 2004 and they took a pass. Given that by that time the NSA surveillance program had already been active for somewhere between one and two years, only a complete fool would believe the timing to be a coincidence. Obviously, the intention was for the story to have maximum impact on the Presidential election. That leaves us with three basic options:

Option 1: Russell Tice, who has now come forward as one of Risen's sources and a "whistleblower" in the case, wanted to damage Bush's reelection. This explanation doesn't make sense for a number of reasons. Tice may have had a bone to pick with the NSA, but so far there doesn't seem to be any evidence he harbored ill will directly toward President Bush. Nor do we have evidence so far that Tice was partisan in any way – unlike fellow "whistleblower" Joe Wilson.  Furthermore, if Tice's main motivation was to damage President Bush, he could have easily gone public or leaked his story to any number of other media outlets that would have published the story prior to the election.

Option 2: James Risen had motives for the timing of the story. This is certainly plausible, and Risen's reasons could have been either political (wanting to see John Kerry elected) or professional (he saw increased odds of winning a Pulitzer by dropping such an explosive story during a time of high interest). Or maybe it was a little of both.

Option 3: Some as yet unidentified source or sources engineered the timing of the story.

If we are looking for the motives behind a story intended to do political damage, and we work under the assumption that all parties involved in this affair were acting rationally and in their own self interest, then it follows that the people most likely to be involved would be ones who care most about political outcomes - in other words, partisan operatives and politicians.

We’ve already established that there is little evidence so far suggesting Russell Tice is a partisan, and while James Risen may not have been a big fan of Bush and was complicit in the timing of the story, it’s safe to assume his primary self interest was to get a big scoop with his name on it into print. That leaves us pondering who else among Risen's dozen or so sources would have partisanship as a compelling interest.

Given that this was such a secretive program, the list of people who would have had the knowledge of the NSA surveillance operation and the motivation to put Risen onto this story would be pretty short.

We know, for example, that the White House only briefed a handful of Congressional leaders on the matter. We also know that two of the Democratic members who were made aware of the NSA program, Senator Jay Rockefeller and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, wrote and sealed letters at the time expressing their concerns and objections.

Finally, we also know from a strategy memo discovered in late 2003 written by a staffer of the aforementioned Senator Rockefeller – the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee – that Democrats were actively exploring options to damage President Bush’s reelection by “pulling the trigger” on an independent counsel investigation on intelligence-related issues in 2004.

This is, of course, nothing more than informed speculation. But the timing of all the different elements surrounding the NSA story suggests Risen was fed this story by people with partisan motivations. Hopefully the Justice Department investigation will help get to the bottom of it all.

The Blurry Face of Beltway Corruption

Republican Ed Rollins on the results from the new Diageo/Hotline poll: “Abramoff is the new face of Beltway corruption – but his mug shot is still blurry to most people.”

Ironically enough, Congress' job approval rating in the new poll - conducted just over a week after news of Abramoff's guilty plea made headlines coast to coast - is up five points to 31% since the last survey in December. Go figure.

Other results from the poll: Bush JA at 46% (down 4 points from December), Generic Congressional vote Dems +7% (down a net of 3 points from December), and a 33/54 right track/wrong track number (unchanged since December).

Updated RCP Indicies:

Bush Job Approval: 43.6%

Congressional Job Approval: 31.6%

Generic Congressional Ballot: Dems +9.4% 

Direction of Country: Right direction 32.3%, Wrong direction 58.8%

Obama's Star Falls

How pathetic:

Sen. Barack Obama and other black Democrats are defending Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's description of the House of Representatives as a "plantation." [snip]

The Illinois senator told CNN's "American Morning" he believed that Clinton was merely expressing concern that special interests play such a large role in writing legislation that "the ordinary voter and even members of Congress who aren't in the majority party don't have much input."

"There's been a consolidation of power by the Republican Congress and this White House in which, if you are the ordinary voter, you don't have access," Obama said. "That should be a source of concern for all of us."

Here's the full transcript.  Notice that in the same interview Obama had no problem chastising a political lightweight like Ray Nagin for equally offensive remarks. Apparently, Obama's judgement on racial matters is governed by a mathematical equation: it decreases in direct proportion to his desire to be chosen as a vice presidential candidate. How truly disappointing.

Some of you might recall the brouhaha between Obama and Alan Keyes in 2004.  Keyes, in classic fasion, ignited a firestorm by calling Obama's views on abortion the "slaveholder's position." Obama responded to the outrageous remark by saying that Keyes, "should look to members of his own party to see if that's appropriate if he's going to use that kind of language." So here we are, two years later, and Hillary Clinton has said something similarly outrageous on racial matters that should, by almost any measure of decency, require repudiation by fellow Democrats - and Barack Obama is out in front defending Clinton.

Of course, then there was Obama's rousing speech at the DNC, where he warned about those "who are preparing to divide us" and "who embrace the politics of anything goes." To rapturous applause, he continued:

Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America — there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.

Blah, blah, blah.

If I seem a bit overly disappointed by Obama's naked partisanship, it's only because way back when - long before most liberals had even heard of Obama - I expressed very high hopes for his future as a new type of leader for the African-American community. It's looking more and more like those hopes were unfounded.

January 18, 2006

Will Abramoff Cost Dems a Chance at the House?

Karlyn Bowman notes in Roll Call that outside the Washington Beltway real life voters in the rest of the country are tuning out the Abramoff scandal:

So how is the lobbying scandal that’s obsessing the nation’s capital playing in Peoria? It’s barely on the radar screen.

In early January, the Pew Research Center updated its news interest index. Washington, D.C., stories weren’t generating as much interest as other stories were. Forty-seven percent said they were following very closely news stories about the deaths of miners in West Virginia, and 40 percent said so about news from Iraq.

But among Washington-based news stories, the highest attention being paid was the 32 percent who were following the wiretaps authorized by President Bush. Just 18 percent were following stories about former lobbyist Jack Abramoff bribing Members of Congress, and 14 percent said they were tracking the Judge Samuel Alito Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Digging further on the Congressional ethics scandal, 81 percent of respondents to the poll said recent reports of lobbyists bribing Members were examples of common behavior in Congress. Just 11 percent said they were isolated incidents. Perhaps the belief that this kind of behavior is common may explain why 34 percent in the news interest index question said they weren’t following the stories about Abramoff at all.

I realize that the nature of the Abramoff investigation will produce a drip, drip, drip of scandal news throughout the rest of the year that on its surface one would think would inure to the benefit of the Democrats. However, unless the temperature is significantly raised in terms of high profile congressman getting indicted or something tantalizing that catches the attention span of Joe and Jane Q. Public, I suspect that this scandal will not pack the wallop the Democrats are hoping for.

Individual members caught in the crossfire will likely get wiped out, but the Democrats’ hope that this investigation leads to an overall voter revolt at the “culture of corruption” is probably just that….. hope. Ironically, by placing so much hope in the damage Abramoff might bring, Democrats could be blowing what otherwise is a fertile opportunity to pick up enough seats to recapture the House.

But in this computer-tuned gerrymandered environment, with very few open races, the 15-seat pick up Democrats need is only really possible if they take the bull by the horns and actually propose something, ala the GOP’s 1994 "Contract With  America.” Abramoff might end up being the narcotic that lulls them into a false sense of confidence and pulls them back from making the type of aggressive move that would put them in the position for a big election day.  As of today, we’re looking at a status quo election where the Dems pick up 5-7 House seats and 2-3 Senate seats  - and Republicans get back to the business of running the country in January 2007.

 

A Difference on Iran?

Would President John Kerry have pursued a different course with Iran?  Dan Drezner says 'no':

The approach the Bush administration has pursued towards Iran -- multilateralism, private and public diplomacy, occasionally deferring to allies -- is besotted with the very tropes that liberals like to see in their American foreign policy. I'm still not sure what the end game will be with regard to Iran, but to date I can't see how a Kerry administration would have played its cards any differently than the Bush team.

I have to disagree slightly with Dan here, only because both John Kerry and John Edwards told us repeatedly in 2004 what their policy toward Iran would be: direct negotiation and the offer of a "grand bargain." It's highly likely we'd be in the same place with Iran today under a Kerry administration, of course, except we would have travelled a slightly different policy road - one a bit more besotted with liberal tropes.

What's Wrong With The GOP

The problem confronting the GOP can be found in this statement by Speaker Denny Hastert:

"We need to reform the rules so that it is clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what is ethically acceptable."

Given the complexity of House rules and regulations I'm sure this is true in a technical sense. But in a very plain sense - in other words the way in which an average American voter might hear it -  the statement is woefully deficient.  Why on Earth do Republicans need rules to tell them what is 'ethically acceptable'? Shouldn't we be able to expect them to just intrinsically know this sort of thing?

Though the GOP leadership race is "inside baseball" to most Americans, the general outline between making a real change in leadership or continuing on with the status quo isn't. John Boehner may be perfectly honest and upright, but he's also been closely associated with K Street. Roy Blunt may be honest as well, but he's a loyal DeLay guy who is married to a tobacco lobbyist.

Irrespective of whether either of these two might prove to be a more effective Majority Leader, timing and circumstance weigh heavily in the favor of Shadegg. As the Abramoff investigation proceeds there is surely more pain coming for the GOP.  The best way to minimize the damage is for House Republicans to signify a clean, unequivocal break from "the Abramoff years." That involves taking a certain amount of risk and promoting a fresh face. Given the options, John Shadegg clearly looks like the best choice.

The NY Times' Non-Disclosure

Gabriel Sherman of the NY Observer reports on the behind-the-scenes machinations of James Risen and the New York Times on the NSA story:

Ever since the appearance of Mr. Risen’s Dec. 16 piece, co-written with Eric Lichtblau, rumor and speculation have surrounded the relationship between the article and Mr. Risen’s book, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration, which was published early this month. The Drudge Report implied that the paper had timed the wiretapping scoop to promote Mr. Risen’s book; the Huffington Post fueled criticism on the left that The Times had stifled the story for a year out of deference to the Bush administration.
 
In fact, sources familiar with the Times’ Washington bureau describe a more complicated relationship than either scenario: When they decided to send the long-gestating N.S.A. piece to press in December, Times editors couldn’t confirm whether Mr. Risen’s manuscript contained the wiretapping story or not. In the end, they didn’t see the book until a week before it was in bookstores.
 
Through several months in late 2005, Mr. Risen and bureau chief Phil Taubman had clashed over whether Times editors would get a preview of the book’s closely guarded contents, sources said. It was not until Dec. 27—11 days after the wiretapping story had run—that Mr. Risen relented and allowed Mr. Taubman to see the manuscript. Mr. Risen insisted that senior editors who viewed the pre-publication copy sign nondisclosure agreements and agree not to discuss the book’s contents.

More thoughts on the NSA story in a bit.

Nelson Comes Out

Did Ben Nelson officially snuff out Dem hopes of filibustering Sam Alito once and for all by announcing support for his nomination yesterday

I have decided to vote in favor of Judge Samuel Alito to serve as the 110th Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I came to this decision after careful consideration of his impeccable judicial credentials, the American Bar Association's strong recommendation and his pledge that he would not bring a political agenda to the Court.

The chances of Alito being filibustered decreased in direct proportion to the amount of time  Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy,  Charles Schumer, et al . spent on television during the hearings last week, finally bottoming out somewhere close to zero when Mrs. Alito broke down in tears at the end of day three.

Hillary Bracing For Barrett Report

The infamous Barrett report will be released tomorrow. The New York Daily News reports it will state " in stinging terms that this Clinton coverup succeeded." More background from the NYDN:

Cisneros was forced to admit in 1999 that he had made secret payments to a mistress before serving as Clinton's secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Barrett investigated tax fraud charges stemming from those under-the-table payments.

Then-IRS Commissioner Peggy Richardson, a close friend of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), was involved in efforts to quash the probe, a source close to the case alleged.

But Richardson's role was cut from Barrett's report, which went through 26 drafts, because Democratic law firm Williams & Connolly successfully pressured Barrett to remove a section of the report naming her, a source said.

The law firm represents Cisneros, former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

A Williams & Connolly attorney declined to comment.

The report looks to be potentially embarrassing to Hillary, but whether it's damaging or not is another matter altogether. If you look at the considerable amount of baggage she's dragged around for years without any adverse electoral effects - exorbitant cattle future profits, the unseemliness of Travelgate and Filegate, the mysterious appearance of the Rose Law Firm billing records, Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers, etc - it's hard to imagine anything coming out of the Barrett report that will be explosive enough to do her real political harm.

January 17, 2006

New York State Commission Proposes Supply Side Tax Reform

Governor Pataki’s Commission on Tax Reform and Simplification released their recommendations on how to reform New York State’s tax policy with the hope to place the Empire State in a better position to compete for jobs and growth, both domestically and internationally. The seven member commission chaired by respected economist Lawrence Kudlow recommends that New York cut its top personal income tax rate to 5% from 6.85%, reduce the number of tax brackets to three from five, eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends, and reduce the corporate income tax to 5 percent. 

The report’s executive summary states:

There is a clear relationship between state tax burdens and state economic health. States with high and rising tax burdens are more likely to suffer economic decline, while those with low and falling tax burdens are more likely to enjoy strong economic growth. Numerous academic studies, as well as real world empirical experience, show clearly that low tax states consistently outperform high tax states.

Economic behavior, whether measured in terms of employment, work effort, saving, investment, risk-taking, entrepreneurship, or capital formation, is highly responsive to changes in marginal tax-rates….

Raising after-tax rewards for work, investment, and risk-taking is the surest path to long-term prosperity and competitiveness for the State of New York. It is essential that New York be more competitive in the global race for capital in the 21st century….

In the world race for capital, they go to where the return on capital is highest. In the 21st century information economy where capital is so vital in the creation of new technologies and the everyday application of these breakthroughs in the home and workplace, an expanded and well-trained workforce must be equipped with the low tax-rate benefits of easy capital access and large-scale capital inflows. For these important reasons the onerous and burdensome multiple taxation of capital in New York must be remedied and ameliorated.

Critics of supply-side economics will pooh-pooh these policy prescriptions, but the commission is correct in pointing out that the real world empirical evidence does show that low tax states do in general outperform high tax states. Out-performance over time leads to higher growth, and higher growth means more jobs, more wealth, and more tax revenue. New York politicians would do their state a huge favor if they took many of this commission’s proposals very seriously.

However, given New York politics, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on any significant tax reform.

The Threat Has Changed

In the Daily Telegraph today Con Coughlin has an interview with Henry Crumpton, head of counter-terrorism at the US State Department. Here's a taste:

"This threat has changed the way we will fight wars in the future," he [Crumpton] said.

"We are talking about micro targets such as al-Qa'eda which, when combined with WMD, have a macro impact. I rate the probability of terror groups using WMD [to attack Western targets] as very high. It is simply a question of time.

"And it is not just the nuclear threat that bothers me. I think, if anything, the biological threat is going to grow.

"As catastrophic as a nuclear attack would be, it would be self-contained. But if you look at a worst-case scenario for a biological attack, it would be difficult to determine whether or not it was a terrorist attack, and it would be far more difficult to contain."

After the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, Mr Crumpton, who was then a senior CIA officer, played a leading role in the campaign to overthrow the Taliban and destroy al-Qa'eda's operational infrastructure in Afghanistan, which relied heavily on covert operations.

After the war, allied forces found that al-Qa'eda had been working on anthrax programmes that it intended to use on western targets.

"They had hired a very experienced biologist to work on this. They were very serious about it and there is no reason to believe they have given up on their interest."

 Crumpton also says bin Laden is probably still alive, military options for Iran are on the table, and Syria continues to support terrorist organizations including the former Baathist leadership from Iraq. Read the whole thing.

Poor Ted

To paraphrase the great Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now: "I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning:"

Sen. Edward Kennedy, who criticized Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's past membership in a controversial Princeton University alumni club, severed his ties Tuesday with a former Harvard college social club that bans women members.

Just another pit stop in the steady decline of the legacy of Camelot. I touched on the topic in last week's column:

Nobody has felt, or suffered, the weight of changes in the electoral landscape and the resulting shift in the power structure in Washington, D.C. over the last twenty-five years more than Kennedy. He came to Washington in November 1962 as the brother of a sitting President and an Attorney General and as the member of a party that controlled 66 seats in the Senate and had an 83-seat majority in the House of Representatives. It was the height of both his family’s and his party’s power, and it has been more or less a downhill ride ever since.

You Wonder Why the Military Watches FOX

Yesterday Chris Matthews interviewed Tony Lagouranis, a former U.S. army interrogator in Iraq. Lagouranis has been making the rounds on all the left-wing media outlets peddling his story of the U.S. military as out of control torturers.

In the interview, Lagouranis smears the 24th Marines and its commanding officer, Colonel Ron Johnson, saying the Marines were “consistently” punching, kicking, and breaking subdued prisoners’ bones. He goes on to say he knows this to be true from talking with the prisoners and from his own observations, though he concedes “I never saw this.”

Lagouranis then goes on to outline some of the methods the Marines would use on captured insurgents:

We might take this prisoner and throw him into a shipping container with loud music and strobe lights so that he couldn‘t sleep and was disoriented.  Force him to stand, kneel, or other difficult positions.  We wouldn‘t allow him to sleep.  We wouldn‘t allow him regular meals.  We‘d feed him, but not at regular intervals so he would become more disoriented.  And we would keep him in the cold.

Throughout the interview, Matthews sympathizes with the prisoners and works with Lagouranis to paint our troops as the bad guys. In talking about a prisoner who had a dog put in front of him, Matthews says: “look at the poor guy‘s face….. he’s scared to death that dog is going to bite his nose off..."

Perhaps Chris Matthews doesn’t care about his ratings, but if he does, someone should tell him that the Cindy Sheehan moonbat crowd who think our troops are oppressors and the bad guys only out for oil represent less than 10% of the population.

The left just does not get it that we are at war. Can you imagine an interview of an ex-interrogator during WWII and the announcer saying: look at that poor Nazi’s face....he’s terrified!

None of this is to excuse conduct that is unbecoming of the U.S. military, but the media who hate this war continually misrepresent the degree to which this out of bounds behavior takes place, unfairly tarring our men and women who are fighting every day for our freedom.

It’s disgraceful, and the only good thing is if Matthews keeps up this kind of anti-military propaganda, he won’t have a program much longer. MSNBC isn’t funded by George Soros or subsidized by the government.

Hillary and Mayor Nagin on Racial Healing

First we have Senator Hillary Clinton, speaking to a mostly black audience at Al Sharpton's MLK Day celebration in New York City:

When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation and you know what I'm talking about...

What exactly is Senator Clinton saying?  Does she mean that Democratic House members are treated like slaves just like black Americans in the 1700’s and 1800’s? Or does she just mean that the GOP House leaders are really no different than the slave-owners of 200 years ago? I suspect it is the latter.

It’s a nice sentiment of racial healing for Hillary on Martin Luther King Day, and a classic example of liberal political tactics when it comes to race. Just accuse the other side of being racist and walk away secure in your own moral righteousness.

Then we have Mayor Ray Nagin - who has done such a superb job for his constituency in New Orleans over the last year - celebrating MLK Day with this line of tolerance and acceptance:

I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.

Uptown, of course, is the “white” part of New Orleans. So to translate what the good Mayor is saying: I don’t care what any white people think this city is going to be black. Then, for good measure, Nagin added, “It's the way God wants it to be.”

It’s nice to know Pat Robertson isn’t the only one who is able to divine what God is thinking.

Thirty-eight years ago when Dr. King was killed it was conservatives who stood more in the way of racial progress in America. Today, it is liberals who can’t get past identity politics and who are constantly exploiting racial antagonisms for raw political purposes.

January 16, 2006

Protecting the Little Guys

Bob Herbert (Times Select) says we need "enlightened" judges to protect the little guy:

Mr. Alito is on his way toward confirmation. He will probably vote to reverse Roe v. Wade. He will not be a champion of voting rights for minorities, or a bulwark against racial and gender discrimination. If his record is any indication, and we have very little else to go on, he will almost always side with the powerful interests, whether in government or the great corporations, against the little guy.

Sam Alito is the kind of guy who, rather than lend a helping hand, would slam the trap door on less-privileged individuals seeking opportunities similar to those he enjoyed. [snip]

The great post-World War II advances in civil rights and civil liberties, and the protection of ordinary citizens against the depredations of the rich and powerful, would never have happened without the courageous efforts of the enlightened justices who served on the Supreme Court in that era. They would surely never have happened with the likes of Alito, Thomas and Scalia making the important calls.

It will take many years to reverse this dismal tide. You might keep that in mind the next time you're considering whether to vote - or for whom to vote - in a presidential election.

This is the same shtick we got from Senator Kennedy last week and also from Senator Kohl, who suggested that judges need to "apply a more expansive, imaginative view of the Constitution" to protect the "little guy" and to right historic wrongs.

One of the many problems with this argument is that the sort of "enlightened" judicial activism Herbert praises can often lead to bad law with terrible results for the "little guy" -  as we saw recently with the Kelo decision. Indeed, the "expansive, imaginative view of the Constitution" preferred by liberals led directly to Roe v. Wade - a law that some would say denies basic protections to the littlest and most vulnerable among us.

January 13, 2006

Sharon's Legacy

If you're tired of reading glowing eulogies about Ariel Sharon (or if you just plain hate Israel), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the answer in the form of this screed on its opinion page by a Palestinian "information consultant" based in Ramallah:

Anyone who visits the Palestinian territories today must be shocked by the hardship that Palestinians endure. The Israeli occupation, oppressive enough under Sharon's predecessors, is infinitely worse now. Illegal settlements and barriers surround every town, crippling the movement of people and goods. This ghettoization has now been set in stone, by the concrete barrier wall transecting the West Bank. A fearsome structure, allegedly to prevent terrorism, in fact it is gobbling up more Palestinian land, and is designed to end all hopes of Palestinian statehood. Who can make a state out of a collection of ghettoes?

Had he continued, Sharon planned to so demoralize Palestinians that they would accept whatever he offered them. [snip]

Israelis will miss Sharon because he entrenched them in the land of others. But if he earns his place in history, it will be for his sleight of hand in making the world believe that the butcher had become a statesman.

Of course, the author has it exactly wrong - and ironically so. Sharon's legacy as a warrior turned peacemaker is secure. The same cannot be said of Yasir Arafat, who fooled the world into believing he was a statesman but will remembered by history as nothing more than a thug, a terrorist and a cheat whose four-decade rule achieved little, if any, benefit for the lives of the Palestinian people.

Is There a Hook on That Worm?

Words of sanity - and caution - on the NSA surveillance investigation from a partisan Democrat:

"It [the NSA story]could play to the image of a president who is overreaching and not succeeding -- going to war without a clear purpose or credible proof in retrospect, isolating America, wiretapping," Democratic pollster Doug Schoen said.

But he said without evidence of a broader pattern of domestic surveillance by the administration the issue was unlikely to play a big role in November's elections, when control of Congress will be at stake.

"We're a long way away from saying this is a front-burner, hot-button issue that would have an impact on the elections," Schoen said.

"If it is just about Al Qaeda and terrorism, I'm not sure it is a positive for the Democrats. If there is a degree of overreaching by Bush that goes beyond that, then we have an issue," he said.

Many Democrats foolishly assumed from the beginning - without knowing anything more than the vague outlines initially reported by the New York Times - that the NSA surveillance story was a serious negative for President Bush. It just had to be.

Despite not having a clue about the depth or the scope of the program - or any well-founded sense about how the average American would react to it - prominent Democrats like Howard Dean raced forward to say insane things like, "We haven't seen this kind of abuse of power since Richard Nixon."

One the worst (but most frequent) mistakes made in politics is to jump to unfounded conclusions and overplay your hand. Democrats have turned this into something of a high art during the Bush presidency, and we're well down the path to see it happening again.

The more prudent course for Democrats would have been to abstain from making snap judgments based on news reports, wait and see what sort of details come out at the hearings, and then decided whether to blow the issue up. But that would require patience and the ability to focus on something less immediate than trying to damage Bush in the next round of headlines - neither of which have been the Democrats' strong suit in recent years.

Silencing The Right Under the Guise of "Fairness"

This morning on RCP we’ve posted an important essay by Brian Anderson appearing in the Winter edition of City Journal (a fantastic quarterly published by the Manhattan Institute that always carries superb, thought-provoking articles) discussing attempts by the left to silence conservative media outlets.

There are a few core reasons why Republicans have become the majority party in America. David Brooks hit on an important one yesterday, outlining how the Democrats’ antipathy towards the traditional values of their 1930-1980 working-class base has driven millions of voters to the GOP.

One of the other reasons Republicans have become the majority party is they have begun to achieve a greater degree of overall media parity. The mainstream networks and newspapers are still overwhelming biased toward the liberal viewpoint (CBS, ABC, NY Times, etc….), but the rise of talk radio over the last 20 years, and the rise of the Internet and FOX News in the last ten years has significantly leveled the playing field for conservatives.

Last year, Tom and I wrote an article for The Masthead discussing how this change had a significant impact on the 2004 election:

The massive growth and reach of the Internet and FOX over the last four years, combined with a thriving network of local and syndicated talk radio programs created an alternative channel through which large portions of the country could receive news and information.  The result is that for the first time ever vital parts of the news agenda were set and opinion was framed by members of the new media.

Nothing illustrates the significance of this shift and its impact on the political landscape better than the Swift Boat Veterans story.  The group originally held a press conference on May 4, 2004 where they announced their opposition to John Kerry. At the time, the story was widely noted in the blogosphere but barely received a mention in the mainstream media.

This lack of initial coverage no doubt contributed to the Kerry campaign’s decision three months later to try and ignore the Swift Boat Veterans when they resurfaced in August with the publication of Unfit for Command.  This strategy hinged on the assumption that the 800-pound gorillas of the “big media” would ignore the story as well, keeping it relegated to the fringes of political debate and deflecting any potentially serious damage away from Mr. Kerry.

Initially, this is exactly what transpired as most members of large, mainstream media outlets deemed the Swiftees’ charges baseless, partisan, and unfit for coverage. 

Members of the new media, however, dove in and began fact-checking the accusations, leading to yet more questions and contradictions. Two weeks after the Swift Boat Veterans ran their first ad and Unfit for Command started zooming up the bestseller lists, it became clear that blogs, talk radio and FOX News had combined to generate such a high degree of public interest over the story that it simply became impossible for other major media outlets to ignore.

On August 19 John Kerry was forced to make a public statement responding to the Swift Boat Veterans’ charges. The following day The New York Times ran a front page story attacking the Swift Boat Vets and alleging a web of connections with Karl Rove and the Bush campaign.

Twenty, ten, or perhaps even five years ago the Kerry campaign strategy might have worked because traditional media outlets still held a monopoly over deciding which news stories were disseminated to the public. If big media deemed a story wasn’t worthy of coverage, then it didn’t get covered.  The 2004 election proved that those days are gone.

In his essay, Anderson notes that John Kerry bitterly acknowledged this new reality after the election as well:

“There has been a profound and negative change in the relationship of America’s media with America," John Kerry told the Boston Globe’s Thomas Oliphant after losing the 2004 presidential race. “We learned that the mainstream media, over the course of the last year, did a pretty good job of discerning,” he said, inaccurately. “But there’s a . . . sub-media that talks and keeps things going for entertainment purposes rather than for the flow of information,” he complained. “This all began, incidentally, when the Fairness Doctrine ended,” Kerry maintained. “You would have had a dramatic change in the discussion in this country had we still had a Fairness Doctrine in the course of the last campaign.”

Anderson goes on to quote Al Gore and Howard Dean, both of whom call for a need to “renew the Fairness Doctrine” - which of course is nothing more than a back-door way to silence talk radio, FOXNews, and other right-leaning media voices. Anderson warns:

If the Dems take back Congress or the White House, watch out. Nothing would please them more than to drag the country back to the good old days, when liberals didn’t have to put up with Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly and Matt Drudge and the countless other upstarts recasting our public debate.

The left is making a mistake with this attempt to silence their opponents’ political speech. First, because it reinforces a misconception on their part: namely, that if they only didn’t have to contend with the “lies” from Rush, Hannity and O’Reilly they would be winning elections. Second, it delays the real solution to their minority status which is coming up with a new set of ideas and policy prescriptions that they can take to the American people and defend in open and free debate.

January 12, 2006

FOX News Poll

New FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll out, Bush's job approval is unchanged at 42%. Updated RCP Index for Bush Job Approval = 42.5%.

By the way, here's an oddity from the FOX poll that caught my eye:

11. In general, which party, Democrats or Republicans, do you think is currently doing a better job reaching out and trying to cooperate with the other? (ROTATE)

Democrats Are = 27%
Republicans Are = 27%
Neither = 27%

How's that for an evenly divided country?

The Least Transparent Industry in America

Last Thursday Fegus Bordewich wrote a fascinating Abramoff-related piece in The Wall Street Journal about the absolute lack of oversight of Indian operated casinos:

Tribal gambling may be the least transparent large industry in the United States.  Constitutional protections reach only feebly onto Indian land, where tribal governments enjoy a degree of secrecy that would never be tolerated in any other American community.  Gigantic sums disappear from public view as soon as the leave tribal gaming tables. This money is shielded from outside regulation by the principle of tribal sovereignty, upheld by the Supreme Court, which regards tribes as autonomous "nations," enjoying self-regulation, immunity from lawsuits and independence from state laws. [snip]

Many Indians treat scrutiny of the tribal casino industry as an attack on tribal sovereignty, and racist, virtually by definition.  Tribal ideologues claim an absolute right to self-government without "interference" from state and federal governments, or any other outside institutions, such as the independent press.  This vision of sovereignty serves the self-interest of tribal officials and predators like Jack Abramoff much more than it does the welfare of rank-and-file tribal members, who are the most vulnerable victims of closed-door government and official corruption. Nor should any $19 billion industry enjoy a "sovereign" protection from regulatory laws that are mean to protect all Americans - including Native Americans.

The recurring theme with tribal gaming, lobbying in Washington, campaign finance, and good governance in general is not more regulation, but more transparency. Corruption, graft, kickbacks, payola, etc. are all vastly more difficult when everyone can easily see what you're doing - especially in the age of the Internet.

David Brooks on Losing the Alitos

David Brooks has a fantastic column in today's New York Times that pretty well sums up why the Democrats have lost 5 out of the last 7 presidential elections. It's titled "Losing the Alitos" but it might as well be titled "Why Democrats Lose National Elections:"

If he'd been born a little earlier, Sam Alito would probably have been a Democrat. In the 1950's, the middle-class and lower-middle-class whites in places like Trenton, where Alito grew up, were the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

But by the late 1960's, cultural politics replaced New Deal politics, and liberal Democrats did their best to repel Northern white ethnic voters. Big-city liberals launched crusades against police brutality, portraying working-class cops as thuggish storm troopers for the establishment. In the media, educated liberals portrayed urban ethnics as uncultured, uneducated Archie Bunkers.

The liberals were doves; the ethnics were hawks. The liberals had "Question Authority" bumper stickers; the ethnics had been taught in school to respect authority. The liberals thought an unjust society caused poverty; the ethnics believed in working their way out of poverty. [snip]

In 1971, Fred Dutton, an important Democratic strategist argued.....the New Deal coalition, including Catholics and white ethnics, was dying......and should be replaced by a "loose peace coalition" of young people, educated suburbanites, feminists and blacks.

That plan wasn't stupid, but it didn't work. The party has been in a downward spiral ever since. John Kerry lost the white working class by 23 percentage points. He lost among his fellow Catholics. He lost the election.

After every defeat, Democrats vow to reconnect with middle-class whites. But if there is one lesson of the Alito hearings, it is that the Democratic Party continues to repel those voters just as vigorously as ever.

Brooks goes on to detail how Democrats have accentuated the problem with their questioning of Alito by coming off as the party more willing to err on the side of criminals rather than cops, and seemingly more interested in fighting the NSA than fighting terrorists. Brooks concludes:

The big story of American politics, which was underlined by every hour of the Alito hearings, is that sometime between 1932 and 1968, the DNA of the Democratic Party fundamentally changed. In 1932, the Democrats had working-class DNA. Today, the Democrats have different DNA, the DNA of a minority party.

Memo to the Democratic Party: Howard Dean and Moveon.org are not the way to fix this problem.

How Many Dems Could Be Confirmed?

After watching the wife of the nominee break down into tears yesterday evening at the treatment being given to her husband by Senate Democrats, it seems fair to ask: how many Democrats sitting on the Judiciary Committee could be confirmed using their own standards? How many of them could withstand the same sort of exhaustive examination and distortion of their own careers and records that's now being given to Sam Alito's?

The answer, just off the top of my head and without resorting to extensive research or digging through trash, is not very many:

Not Ted Kennedy: for obvious reasons.

Not Joe Biden: he has a plagiarism problem.

Not Dianne Feinstein: she's had a Guatemalan houskeeper issue, was fined $190,000 in 1992 for failing to properly report $3.5 million in campaign expenditures, and her husband runs a company that scored a $600 million Iraq war contract in 2003. Imagine what the Dems would do with this last one.

Not Charles Schumer: two of the people under his employ at the DSCC are currently being investigated for illegally obtaining Michael Steele's credit report last year. In 1983, Schumer narrowly escaped indictment for misusing state funds in his 1980 Congressional race.  The U.S. Attorney in the case, Raymond J. Dearie, actually recommended that Schumer be indicted, but the Reagan Justice Department turned down the request citing "lack of jurisdiction."

Not Dick Durbin: he would never get around his pro-life past. Durbin is on the record in the 1980's saying that he "believed that Roe v. Wade was incorrectly decided" and that "the right to an abortion is not guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution."

That leaves Pat Leahy, Herb Kohl, and Russ Feingold as the only Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who - at least at first glance - might possibly be able to survive one of their own confirmation hearings. Three out of eight. That's it.

It makes what the Democrats are trying to do to Samuel Alito all that much more distasteful and highlights how partisan and out of control the whole process has become.

UPDATE:  We're down to two. I missed Pat Leahy's 1987 resignation as Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee for leaking classified information to a reporter.

RCP's John McIntyre on the Hugh Hewitt Show

I was on Hugh Hewitt's show last evening. Here is a little excerpt:

Hewitt: Today at the Volokh Conspiracy, which is a very middle of the road website, they're making comparisons to Joe McCarthy, and the Army McCarthy hearings. Appropriate?

McIntyre: Well, I don't think it rises to that degree, but the point is well taken. And Mrs. Alito's sort of breakdown at the end of the day punctuates the point, and drives home, just to the average person out there, that the Democrats, they've crossed a line. I mean, it's either...step up and say I'm voting against this guy, because he's too conservative. But don't try to turn him into a racist and a bigot and a mean-spirited, evil person, when everybody knows...I mean, they say it on live television in the hearings, and then they go back to the interviews and the cameras, and say well, well, well, we know he's not a bigot.

Hewitt: Have the Democrats sort of set 2006 politics in stone today?

McIntyre: Well, I think the Democrats are falling into a similar trap that they fell in 2004. And their whole premise in 2004 was that the country had rejected President Bush. And they just had to put up anybody, and the country was going to vote Bush out. And I think now their thinking is that between Abramoff and Iraq, and what they perceive to be as these egregious violations in the NSA wiretaps, they don't have to do anything, offer any proposals, any concrete plan of their own. They can just sit back and people are going to go out and vote against Republicans. And I think you see the president now, here in the last couple of days, he isn't going to let that happen.

Hewitt: Yup.

McIntyre: I mean, they're going to be on the attack. They're going to be aggressive. President Bush knows that a lot of his legacy depends on these elections, and what he leaves, as opposed to President Clinton, who got elected in 1992, and eight years later, the Democratic Party was a lot worse, in all statehouses, and both the House and the Senate. It's the opposite with President Bush. He gained seats in '02, gained seats in '04. And I think the Democrats, they all talk to each other, and they think everybody is enraged by what's going on in the Bush administration, and they lose track of the fact that average people in the country actually like what the Bush administration is doing in trying to protect them.

RadioBlogger has the entire transcript.

January 11, 2006

Kennedy and Specter Go At It In Hearings

An otherwise boring first session this morning was broken when Senator Kennedy demanded that the committee go into executive session to vote on whether to subpoena certain records relating to the organization CAP (Concerned Alumni of Princeton).This exchange between Kennedy and Specter followed:

KENNEDY: And I want to do that at an appropriate time. I’d move that the committee go into executive session for the purpose of voting on the issuancing of -- the sole purpose for issuing the subpoena of those records.
SPECTER: Well, we’ll consider that, Senator Kennedy. There are many, many requests which are coming to me and many quarters. And, quite candidly, I view the request -- if it’s really a matter of importance, you and I see each other all the time and you have never mentioned it to me.
And I do not ascribe a great deal of weight -- we actually didn’t get a letter, but...
KENNEDY: You did get a letter. Are you saying...
SPECTER: Well, now wait a minute; you don’t know what I got. I’m about to...
KENNEDY: Yes I do, Senator, since I sent it.
SPECTER: Well, the sender does not necessarily know what the recipient gets, Senator Kennedy. You are not in a position to say what I receive.
If you’ll bear with me for one minute.
KENNEDY: But I am in a position to say what I sent to you on December 22.
SPECTER: You’re in a position to tell me what you sent.
KENNEDY: I renew my request, Senator. And if I’m going to be denied, then I’d appeal the decision of the chair.
I think we are entitled to this information. It deals with the fundamental issues of equality and discrimination.
This nominee has indicated he has no objection to seeing us these issues. We’ve gone over the questions and we are entitled to get that kind of information. And if you’re going to rule it out of order, I want to have a vote on that here on our committee.
SPECTER: Well, don’t be premature, Senator Kennedy. I’m not about to make a ruling on this state of the record.
I hope you won’t mind if I consider it, and I hope you won’t mind if I give you the specifics that there was no letter which I received.
I take umbrage at your telling me what I received. I don’t mind your telling me what you mailed. But there’s a big difference between what’s mailed and what’s received. And you know that.
We’re going to move on now.
Senator Grassley...
KENNEDY: Mr. Chairman, I’d appeal the ruling of the chair on this.
SPECTER: There has been no ruling of the chair, Senator Kennedy.
KENNEDY: Well what is the -- my request is that we go into the executive session for the sole purpose of voting on a subpoena for these records that are held over at the Library of Congress -- that purpose and that purpose only.
And if I’m going to be denied that, I’d want to give notice to the chair that you’re going to hear it again and again and again and we’re going to have votes of this committee again and again and again until we have a resolution.
I think it’s...
SPECTER: Well, Senator Kennedy, I’m not concerned about your threats to have votes again, again and again. And I’m the chairman of this committee and I have heard your request and I will consider it.
And I’m not going to have you run this committee and decide when we’re going to go into executive session.
We are in the middle of a round of hearings. This is the first time you have personally called it to my attention, and this is the first time that I have focused on it. And I will consider in due course.

 

The Sago Exploitation Continues

Last week I wrote about how the left's effort to try and blame President Bush for the Sago mine tragedy is unsupported by the facts. The truth, according to statistics on mining injuries and deaths compiled by the Mining Safety and Health administration, is that mining safety under the Bush administration has improved, not deteriorated. Bizzyblog covered the same set of facts last week, and today John Merline covers them again at TCS Daily.

Yet the left's effort to exploit the tragedy continues. Dick Durbin just took an unseemly swipe at Judge Alito in the Judiciary Committee hearings this morning by invoking the Sago tragedy before suggesting that Alito had ruled "against coal miners" in one of his 3rd Circuit cases.

The grand prize, however, goes to Joe Conason in today's New York Observer. If you want a textbook example of deceitful partisan hackery, read this column. Conason spends 447 words blaming the Bush administration for all sorts of transgressions with regard to mine safety, implying not only a responsibility for the deaths at Sago but also for a deterioration of mine safety in general, before brushing aside the facts with this:

The number of mine fatalities has remained relatively low during the past few years, but if enforcement continues to decline, then the disaster at Sago may be only the beginning of an ominous trend.

That's a rather dishonest way of characterizing the steady decline in mining injuries and fatalities under the Bush administration during the last five years to the lowest levels ever recorded in the industry, wouldn't you say? Then again, Conason isn't well known for letting facts get in the way of a good hatchet job.

Best Line of the Morning

Michael Goodwin in the New York Daily News has a hard hitting column this morning on the Alito hearings. His analysis isn't too different from the news analysis in the New York Times, essentially saying the Dems are striking out so far on the hearings.

The whole column is worth reading, but he has a great line at the end aimed squarely at Sen. Ted Kennedy that is priceless:

Still, that didn't stop Kennedy from putting on another shameless performance. He huffed and puffed about how Alito had not initially recused himself from a case involving a mutual fund company where he owned shares, as though an innocent young woman drowned.

Ouch.

Russell Tice: Whistleblower or Criminal?

Brian Ross of ABC News reports that Russell Tice was one of the people who leaked the NSA spying program to the New York Times. My question is why is a guy who divulges highly classified information to people who aren’t cleared to have that information necessarily a whistleblower? How does ABC News know that Mr. Tice is a whistleblower and not a criminal?

The lead to Ross’s column on ABC News.com goes:

Russell Tice, a longtime insider at the National Security Agency, is now a whistleblower the agency would like to keep quiet.

Did it ever occur to ABC News that maybe the NSA wants to keep Tice quiet because they take seriously the sensitive nature of what they do every day to protect the nation against terrorist attacks?

The whole tone of the ABC report is this guy Tice is the good guy, the “whistleblower” courageously stepping forward to take on the unlawful NSA and Bush White House who are egregiously violating Americans' civil liberties.

What if ABC and Brian Ross are wrong and it is not Bush and the NSA who are breaking the law, but rather Mr. Tice?

Are Dems Saving the Filibuster for Stevens?

A reader emails:

The Dems are in a quandary. Their base wants a filibuster of course, but there is no way it's going to fly with Alito. I believe they can't risk getting nuked, because then if something were to happen to JPS or RBG they'd be up a creek. I believe they have to bluster as much as possible, but at the end of the day they need to save the filibuster in case one of the court's liberals ends up getting replaced by Bush. It might not work even then (at least I sure hope not), but that's how I feel they are going to hedge their bets.

JPS and RBG are John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the most liberal members of the court and also the next two most likely vacancies. The email makes a good point, and maybe the Democrats are thinking ahead to what may happen if the Stevens or Ginsberg seats would open up.

But I suspect Gonzalez is a heavy favorite for Bush's next pick, if he gets one, and I don't know that a Gonzalez for Stevens or Ginsberg swap is an easier filibuster than Alito for O'Connor. The bottom line is any filibuster for a Supreme Court nominee on ideological grounds is almost impossible with the nuclear option lurking in the background and only 45 seats. The Democrats' best bet to hedge against a Stevens or Ginsberg vacancy pre-2009 is to pick up some Senate seats in '06.

Are Senate Democrats Giving Alito a Pass?

I admit to being a little perplexed by the Democrats performance after two days of hearings. Fred Barnes on FOX News made the observation that on the Democratic side it looks like only Chuck Schumer came to play. If the political game, put in the most basic terms, is that Republicans want to see Alito get confirmed and Democrats want to see him blocked or defeated, after two days the Democrats are losing......badly. Liberal activists hoping that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee were going to score some points on Alito have to be profoundly disappointed going into day 3 of the hearings. Adam Liptak and Adam Nagourney’s news analysis for the New York Times paints the picture pretty well:

If Senate Democrats had set out to portray Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. as extreme on issues ranging from abortion to government surveillance of citizens, they ran up against an elusive target on Tuesday: Samuel A. Alito Jr. For nearly eight hours, Judge Alito was placid, monochromatic and, it seemed, mostly untouchable.

Unlike the testimony of John G. Roberts Jr., who had often declined to answer questions on various grounds, among them that certain issues might come before him as chief justice or that his older writings did not necessarily reflect his current views, Judge Alito's default impulse frequently seemed to be to try to give a direct response to the senators' often rambling questions.

Failing that, he offered what he presented as clarifications of earlier statements or writing, sanded of any rough edges, or said he simply could not recall details about some past chapter of his life that had raised concern among senators. Only in one exchange did he appear rattled, refusing to give a direct answer when Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York asked him if he still held a view, expressed in 1985, that there was no constitutional right to abortion.

For the most part, his handling of questions from Democrats had the effect of leaving his questioner shuffling through papers in search of the next question.

Barring a change of tactics that would have to come soon, it looks like Democrats are giving Alito a pass. I still wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a filibuster, but one would think that if the Democrats' plan was to filibuster, they would be making a more aggressive attempt to paint Alito as out of the mainstream with the hope of peeling away a few moderate Republicans and stiffening the spines of conservative Democrats.

What is interesting is when you look at the liberal blogs and what they are talking about, the energy is clearly not on Alito, and that should tell you a lot. I think the left-wing blogosphere is coalescing around the idea Bush and the Republicans are toast based on Abramoff, Iraq and the President’s spying on the American people. They correctly have determined that Alito is a losing battle for them and they are moving on. And I wonder if that is what we are seeing with Senate Democrats as well.

January 10, 2006

Poll Break

UPDATE: WaPo/ABC News out now as well. Presidential and Congressional job indicies revised.  

Two new polls out yesterday: CNN/USA Today/Gallup and CBS News.  New RCP indicies are as follows:

Bush Job Approval:  Approve 42.8% 43.0%,  Disapprove 54.0% 54.2% 

Congress Job Approval: Approve 32.6% 34.0%, Disapprove 57.1% 58.3%

Generic Congressional Vote:  Republican 38.2%, Democrat 48.0%

Direction of Country:  32.8% Right Direction, 60.5% Wrong Direction

Notes From Inside The Hearing Room

Earlier today I had occasion to speak with Ronald Cass, president of Cass & Associates and former Dean of the Boston University Law School. He's been observing the Alito hearings from inside the hearing room, so here are a couple of observations worth passing along:

Cass said there is a noticeable difference in the tone of the Alito hearings vs. the Roberts hearings just a few months ago.  With Roberts there was a sense of excitement - the Hilll hadn't seen a Supreme Court nomination hearing in some eleven years before taking up the Roberts nomination last year - and also more of a legitimately open minded atmosphere before the committee.

Cass said the Alito hearings, on other hand, are total "trench warfare." Votes for both sides were already "in the can" before the gavel came down and there is a distinctly strategic feel to both yesterday's opening statements and today's initial round of questioning. This is about positioning and point scoring, with Republicans working to protect Alito and Democrats spending much of their time characterizing (or, more accurately, mischaracterizing) Alito's record rather than questioning him about specifics or about his judicial philosophy.

As to what lies ahead, Cass thinks the issue of Vanguard was effectively neutralized by Senator Hatch and will probably go away, as will the subject of CAP (Concerned Alumni of Princeton) which he described as a "non-issue." Cass says the focus of the hearings will remain on executive power and abortion and that Alito has done a good job of handling both - so far.

Why Alito Is Less Vulnerable Than Bork or Thomas

Reader John J. Vecchione emails to explain:

Another reason Alito isn't as vulnerable as Bork and Thomas were many years ago, besides the make-up of the Senate, is the education of the public that has gone on in every Presidential campaign since 1988 on the judge issue, and recently even in Senate battles. Win or lose the Republicans have clearly stated 1) a philosophy of judging (originalism or textualism) that preserves democracy; 2) repeated the message that many decisions the public dislikes were not required by the Constitution, but only by an out-of-touch judicial elite and 3) that the judiciary has become out of control.  The Democrats have countered only by saying the Republicans want "separate but equal" which nobody believes.  Even Clinton did not formulate a judicial philosophy understood by the public.

In the old days a large majority of Americans believed the courts when they said the Constitution, by its terms or history, required no prayer in school, abortion on demand or the flag burning license.  They might not like these things but the inclination was to defer to the law.  That deference is gone and part of the reason is the education of the public by Republican presidential and Senate campaigns, the Federalist Society, talk radio and yes, cable t.v.  Levin's 'Men in Black' was a best seller.  That would have been inconceivable in 1980.  Finally, the Republicans have put Scalia and Thomas on the bench and the world did not end.  This makes the frothing of the left seem silly.

Democrats lose on the issue of judicial control of society.  They have not effectively countered originalism/textualism which is intuitively attractive to Americans who wouldn't want the contracts they enter interpreted the way liberals interpret the Constitution.  If the Constitution requires odd things Americans don't understand, like the electoral college, they will shrug and accept it as part of our legal patrimony.  If, however, it does not require things they don't understand, like the elimination of God from the public square, and yet Courts impose them, the side of the debate trying to explain why that should be so, suffers.  That has occurred over the 20 years since Bork which is why Alito fights from higher, firmer ground than did Bork, the Goldwater of the judiciary!

Alito Hearings: A Wink and A Smile

A great finish to Brian McGuire's story today in the NY Sun on yesterday's hearings:

Some people who have been briefed on Judge Alito's mock hearing sessions have expressed concerns about his tendency to grow defensive.

But yesterday, he showed little sign of that. And at one point, when Mr. Kennedy described his record as "disturbing," Judge Alito's wife, Martha-Ann, winked at a friend nearby and smiled.

Can Alito Be Derailed?

Today will give a much better sense than yesterday of the impending answer to that question.  Democrats will be ready to take their best shot at Alito right from the start of the hearings this morning, and they will press him aggressively all day long.

Right now the conventional wisdom is that this is Alito's vote to lose.  Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times this morning that, "Republicans and some Democrats expressed little doubt that Judge Alito would survive even a withering interrogation and be confirmed."

In the Washington Post, Dan Balz tries to explain why the Alito nomination hasn't lived up to the expectations of activists - at least so far:

But on this nomination, as with Roberts's, there has been a clear disconnect between the zeal of activists and the detachment of the general public. Tim Hibbits, an Oregon-based pollster, said the Alito nomination falls low on the public's list of priorities. "With the exception of highly energized base voters, it's not something that's engaged people," he said. [snip]

Because of the implications of President Bush's clear desire to move the court in a more conservative direction, many activists have predicted a clash this year akin to those that occurred over the nominations of Robert H. Bork and Clarence Thomas -- Bork's heavily freighted in ideology and Thomas's overwhelmed by accusations of sexual harassment.

It has not happened. One reason may be because the public considers these nominees differently than do the ideologues or both sides, looking at experience and demeanor more than at ideology. Or it may be because Alito's nomination has been overshadowed by more compelling issues, such as Iraq, the cost of home heating oil and natural gas or lobbyist Jack Abramoff's plea bargain. Whatever the reason, the public has been slow to engage.

Balz goes on to cite the recent Washington Post poll results showing 76% of Republicans, 40% of Democrats and 47% of Independents currently supporting Alito's confirmation (53% support overall).

These numbers don't preclude Democrats launching a filibuster, but they certainly make it more difficult to justify to the public. Blocking a nominee with less than majority support would be much easier and carry much less risk, which is why the Democrats' main goal over the next couple of days is to try and drive Alito's negative ratings through the roof. (This isn't going to be accomplished by a discussion of obscure Constitutional issues but by personal attacks, hence the totally fabricated smear by Ted Kennedy yesterday about Alito being a racist.)

The odds of a filibuster will rise or fall based on the success Democrats have in tarnishing Alito today, and that, in turn, will depend to a large degree on how Alito handles himself. As Andrew Kohut said in the Balz article, " "You're going to have to really get some significant news out of these hearings to move the needle in a negative way."

Democrats are well aware of this, which is why today's session will be crucial to determining whether a filibuster is in the offing. Most think it is unlikely Democrats will get enough of what they need from these hearings to justify the unprecedented step of blocking a Supreme Court nominee with majority support. Then again, as John suggested yesterday, Democrats may be inclined to move ahead anyway and force the GOP to try and invoke the nuclear option or risk demoralizing their left-wing base at the beginning of an important election year.

January 09, 2006

Alito Hearings: Lesson 2, Day 1

Here's a helpful comparison of basic judicial philosophies. First, consider this comment today by Senator Kennedy:

In an era when too many Americans are losing their jobs or working for less, trying to make ends meet, in close cases Judge Alito has ruled the vast majority of the time against the claims of the individual citizens. He has acted instead in favor of government, large corporations and other powerful interests.... To put it plainly, average Americans have had a hard time getting a fair shake in his courtroom.

Now this from Judge Alito's opening remarks:

And there is nothing that is more important for our republic than the rule of law. No person in this country, no matter how high or powerful, is above the law, and no person in this country is beneath the law.

Fifteen years ago, when I was sworn in as a judge of the court of appeals, I took an oath. I put my hand on the Bible and I swore that I would administer justice without respect to persons, that I would do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I would carry out my duties under the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Notice the difference? Kennedy makes no mention of the rule of law. In his opening remarks, Kennedy repeatedly referenced the phrase "equal justice," but clearly in Kennedy's liberal worldview the concept of "equal justice" has less to do with impartially following the letter of the law than with "getting a fair shake." Kennedy is not concerned with the quality or the soundness of Alito's legal rulings, only the outcomes. That's the textbook definition of judicial activism.

Video Links From Alito Hearings

Video links from the first day of Judiciary Committee Hearings:

Alito  | Specter | Leahy | Sessions | Kennedy | Kyl | Schumer | Graham | Feinstein | Cornyn | Biden | Brownback | Durbin

Alito Hearings: Lesson 1, Day 1

It's a peculiarity of the modern day confirmation hearing process that Senators start by awarding themselves each 10 minutes worth of utterly meaningless bloviation. I could only stand it for just over two hours.  It's almost as hard to sit through the banal praise for Alito by Republican committee members as it is to listen to Democrat after Democrat prattle on sanctimoniously about their "deep," "grave," and "profound" concerns regarding constitutional rights sure to be eroded by the potential confirmation of a knuckle-dragger like Alito.

Next time can't we just skip ahead to Phase Two, where the Senatorial bloviating is occasionally interrupted by a question or two designed to elicit some response from the nominee? Better yet, if we wanted to streamline the process as effectively as possible there's an easier solution: pull the plug on the tv cameras. I'm not sure Charles Schumer goes anywhere these days unless there is a television camera present.

Poll: Alito Has Twice As Many Backers as Detractors

Survey USA has a brand new poll out on the Alito nomination.

On the day confirmation hearings begin for Samuel Alito to Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Alito has twice as many backers as detractors, according to a poll of 1,200 adults nationwide conducted by SurveyUSA for its media clients around the country. 30% of USA adults go into the hearings certain that Alito is qualified to serve on the High Court. 14% of adults go into the hearings certain that Alito is not qualified to serve on the High Court. 36% of Americans, the largest group, are waiting to hear from Alito this week before making up their minds.

50% of Americans predict Alito will be confirmed on a full vote of the U.S. Senate (compare with 33% to 47% who said the same about Harriett Miers in 26 consecutive days of SurveyUSA tracking polling. Miers tracking data here). 15% of Americans today say Alito will make it to a full vote before the Senate, but will then be rejected by the full Senate (compare with 20% to 28% who said the same about Miers). 9% today say Alito will not make it to a full vote before the Senate (compare with 12% to 19% who said the same about Miers).

Further in the poll, only 11% report to have heard about the "Concerned Alumni of Princeton." In light of the Drudge Report's exclusive this weekend alluding to a planned Democratic attack that will focus on Alito's membership in this group it will be interesting to see how much that number changes in the next two weeks.

Russert Nails Schumer

Yesterday on Meet the Press Tim Russert nailed the major weakness for the Democrats when it comes to defeating Alito:

MR. RUSSERT: But here’s the situation, as many people see it. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was put forward by Bill Clinton, she had been general counsel for the ACLU. Steven Breyer has worked for Ted Kennedy, and yet they were overwhelmingly confirmed because they had competence and temperament, as you say. And even though they had a more liberal, judicial philosophy than many members of the Senate, it was a Democratic president who had the right to make that nomination. If, in fact, Republicans supported Ginsburg and Breyer, why shouldn’t Democrats support Alito, who has been rated well qualified, the gold standard of the ABA, and whose philosophy may be conservative, but is no more conservative than Ginsburg and Breyer were liberal?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, that’s the $64,000 question. If Alito is within the judicial mainstream, as everyone conceded that Breyer and Ginsburg were—most people didn’t think Breyer was much of a liberal. They thought he was a moderate. If he is within the mainstream, even if he’s a conservative, he will be approved. Some people may vote against him, because they say “He’s not my philosophy,” but there will be no attempt to block him.

For Schumer and the Democrats to not come off as complete hypocrites they have to make a credible argument that Alito is considerably further out of the mainstream than former ACLU general counsel Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That may fly with Schumer, the NY Times and many in the elite media but it won’t wash with the country at large.

If I had to debate who is closer to the ideological center of the country, Alito or Ginsburg, I’d rather be arguing for Alito than Ginsberg. But that is at least a debatable point where reasonable people can disagree. The proposition that Samuel Alito is a raving extremist and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a moderate, centrist is laughable. Objective and fair-minded people should be able to acknowledge what is implicit in Russert’s question – Alito is a qualified conservative and Ginsburg is a qualified liberal.

Even after the Bork and Thomas drummings Republicans still had respect for the 200 years of  constitutional precedent that Presidents have the right to appoint qualified people of their choosing. As Russert stated, both of President Clinton’s nominees were overwhelming confirmed. But we are in a different time and we have a different minority party and there is no way Sam Alito is going to be treated as well.

Because in the minds of many of the Democratic Senators, Alito is truly an extremist who must be opposed at all costs, even though it's much closer to the truth that Schumer and many of his colleagues are the ones who are more ideologically out of the mainstream.

Hear Schumer Speak!

Here's the text of the opening remarks to be given today at the Alito hearings by Senator Charles Schumer (all emphasis in the original):

Judge Alito, welcome to you, Mrs. Alito and your two children.  I join my colleagues in congratulating you on your nomination to the position of Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

If confirmed, you will be one of nine people who collectively hold power over everyone who lives in this country.  You will define our freedom; you will affect our security; you will shape our law.

You will determine, on some days, where we pray and how we vote; you will define, on other days, when life begins and what our schools may teach; and you will decide, from time to time, who shall live and who shall die.

 The decisions are final, and appeals impossible.

That is the awesome responsibility and power of a Supreme Court Justice.  It is, therefore, only appropriate that everyone who aspires to that office bear a heavy burden when they come before the Senate and the American people to prove that they are worthy.

But while every Supreme Court nominee has a great burden, yours, Judge Alito, is triply high.

First, because you have been named to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the pivotal swing vote on a divided Court; second, because you have been picked to placate the extreme right wing after the hasty withdrawal of Harriet Miers; and, finally, because your record of opinions and statements on a number of critical Constitutional questions seems quite extreme.

 

So, first, as this Committee takes up your nomination, we cannot forget recent history, because that history increases your burden and explains why the American people want us to examine every portion of your record with great care.

Harriet Miers’s nomination was blocked by a cadre of conservative critics who undermined her at every turn.  She did not get to explain her judicial philosophy; she did not get to testify at a hearing; and she did not get the up-or-down vote on the Senate Floor that her critics are now demanding that you receive.

Why?  For the simple reason that those critics could not be sure that her judicial philosophy squared with their extreme political agenda.  They seem to be very sure with you.

The same critics who called the President on the carpet for naming Harriet Miers have rolled out the red carpet for you, Judge Alito.  We would be remiss if we did not explore why.

And there is an additional significance to the Miers precedent, which is this: Everyone now seems to agree that nominees should explain their judicial philosophy and ideology.

After so many of my friends across the aisle spoke so loudly about the obligation of nominees to testify candidly about their legal views and their judicial philosophy when the nominee was Harriet Miers, I hope we will not see a flip-flop now that the nominee is Sam Alito.

The second reason your burden is higher, of course, is that you are filling the shoes of Sandra Day O’Connor.  Those are big shoes, to be sure.

But hers are also special shoes – she was the first woman Justice in the history of the High Court, is the only sitting Justice with experience as a legislator, and has been the most frequent swing vote in a quarter century of service on the Court.

While Sandra Day O’Connor has been at the fulcrum of the Court, you appear poised to add weight to one side.  That alone is not necessarily cause for alarm or surprise, but it is certainly a reason for pause.

Balance is an important feature on the Court, and your nomination must be viewed in the context of the seat you are seeking, in this case one occupied for 25 years by a pragmatic and mainstream Justice – conservative to be sure, but within the broad conservative mainstream.

Are you in Justice O’Connor’s mold?  Or, as the President has vowed, are you in the mold of Justices Scalia and Thomas?

Most importantly, though, your burden is high because of your record. 

Although I have not made up my mind, I have serious concerns about that record.  There are reasons to be troubled.  You are the most prolific dissenter in the Third Circuit.

In case after case after case, you give the impression of applying careful legal reasoning, but too many times you happen to reach most conservative result.

You give the impression of being a meticulous legal navigator, but, in the end, you always seem to chart a rightward course.

Some wrongly suggest that we are being results-oriented when we question the results you have reached.  But just the opposite is true.  We are trying to make sure that you are capable of being fair no matter the identity of the party before you.

Sometimes you give the Government a free pass, but refuse to give plaintiffs a fair shake.

We need to know that Presidents and paupers will receive equal justice in your courtroom.

We need to know that you will not bypass precedent when it is convenient.  Or that you will apply strict rules of construction in some cases, but not in others because of the issues or parties involved.

If the record showed that an umpire repeatedly called 95 percent of pitches strikes when one team’s players were up and repeatedly called 95 percent of pitches balls when the other team’s players were up, one would naturally ask whether the umpire was really being impartial and fair.

In many areas, we will expect clear and straightforward answers because you have a record on these issues – for example, executive power, Congressional power, and personal autonomy, just to name a few.

The President is not a king – free to take any action he chooses, without limitation by law; the Court is not a legislature – free to substitute its own judgment for that of the elected bodies; and the people are not subjects – powerless to control their own most intimate decisions.

Will your judicial philosophy preserve these principles?  Or erode them?

In each of these areas, there is cause for concern.  In the area of executive power, Judge Alito, you have embraced and endorsed the theory of the “unitary executive.”

You have thus endorsed, in writing, a truly vast power for the President.  Under this view of separation of powers, the Independent Counsel Act was unconstitutional, and the FTC, the SEC, and all of the regulatory agencies are unconstitutional.  Even the 9/11 Commission may have been an unconstitutional encroachment upon the “unitary executive.”

Your deferential and absolutist view of separation of powers raises other questions.  Under your view, the President would, for instance, also seem to have inherent authority to wiretap American citizens without a warrant, to ignore Congressional acts at will, or to take any other action he saw fit under his inherent powers.

We need to know:  When a President goes too far, will you be a check on his power, or will you issue him a blank check to exercise whatever power he alone thinks appropriate?  Right now, that is an open question given your stated views.

Similarly, on the issue of federalism, you seem to have taken an extreme view, substituting your own judgment for that of the legislature.  Certainly, in one important case, you wrote in U.S. v. Rybar that Congress had exceeded its power by prohibiting the possession of fully automatic machine guns.

The other judges on your court all disagreed with you.  And all five other circuits that had considered the issue up to that point also disagreed with you.

Do you still hold these cramped views of Congressional power?  Will you engage in judicial activism to find ways to strike down laws that the American people want their elected representatives to pass and that the Constitution authorizes?  Because of your stated views, right now, these are also open questions.

And, of course, you have made strident statements expressing your view that the “Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”  In fact you said in 1985, that you “personally believe very strongly” this is true.

You also spoke, while in the Justice Department, of the “opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade.”

It should not be surprising that these statements will bring a searching inquiry – as many of my colleagues have already suggested.

So we will ask you:  Do you still “personally believe very strongly. . . that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion”?

We will ask: Do you view elevation to the Supreme Court – where you will no longer be bound by High Court precedent – as the long-sought “opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade,” as you stated in 1985?

And there are other areas that we will have to explore.  From the neutral application of the civil rights laws to the wisdom of the one-man-one-vote rule, your record has given us reason to ask questions.

I sincerely hope that you will answer our questions, Judge Alito.  Most of the familiar arguments for ducking direct questions no longer apply and certainly do not apply in your case.

For example, the logic of the mantra – repeated by John Roberts at his hearing – that one could not speak on a subject because the issue was likely to come before him quickly vanishes when the nominee has a written record, as you do on so many subjects.

Even under the so-called “Ginsburg precedent” – which was endorsed by Judge Roberts, Republican Senators, and the White House – you have an obligation to answer questions on topics that you have written about.

On the issue of choice, for example, because you have already made blanket statements about your view of the Constitution and your support for the overruling of Roe, you have already given the appearance of bias; you have already given the suggestion of pre-judgment on a question that will likely come before the Supreme Court.  So, I respectfully submit, you cannot use that as a basis for not answering.

So, I hope, Judge Alito, that when we ask you about prior statements you have made about the law – some strong, some even strident – you will not simply answer, “No comment”; that you will not dismiss prior expressions of decidedly legal opinions as merely “personal beliefs.”

That will enhance neither your credibility nor your reputation for careful legal reasoning.

In the end, Judge, it is more important that you answer than what you answer.  We can have a respectful disagreement on the law, after an open and honest discussion, but we will serve neither the American people nor the democratic process if we learn little about those views.

I look forward to a full and fair hearing.  And I look forward to learning a good deal more about you, Judge Alito.

Democrats Should Filibuster

In my column today I suggest that it might make sense for the Democrats to filibuster Alito even though Republicans probably would detonate the so-called nuclear option and change the Senate rules paving the way for Alito to be confirmed.

January 06, 2006

Nukes For Everyone!

No need to go to al-Jazeera for muddle-headed moral equivalence when you can get it once a week from Mansour El-Kikhia in the San Antonio Express News:

Why should the Middle East be hostage to an Israeli nuclear blackmail and not an Iranian one?

Indeed, if humanity can't get rid of these awful weapons, then the more the better.

The only "blackmail" Israel is doing with nuclear weapons in the Middle East is making sure radical Muslims don't turn Jerusalem and Tel Aviv into piles of burning rubble. Where I come from that's called deterrence or self defense, but I can see how those who might not be so concerned about the survival of the Jewish state (or those who don't recognize its right to exist at all) may see things a bit differently.

As to El-Kikhia's other point, before we go handing out nukes to Syria, Libya, and the Palestinians under the grotesquely naive proposition that what the world really needs is more nuclear parity between East and West or between the first world and the third world, it's probably best to consider that there is only one group of people currently on the planet who've proven not to be rational actors.  Only one group of people have strapped bombs to themselves and flown planes into skyscrapers. Only one group of people who've shown they value taking innocent life more than taking their own.

As far as I'm concerned, any state or regime that condones, supports, or sympathizes with such individuals and who may possibly provide them with them means to kill millions of innocent people should never be allowed anywhere near a nuclear weapon. That is surely a pipedream, since Pakistan has a bomb and Iran is on the way, but so is the idea that responsible nuclear nations unilaterally disarm. In the meantime, the civilized world has to fight with everything it has to keep nukes out of the hands of those most likely to use them.

Sharon, Pat Robertson and the President of Iran

The blogosphere is focused on the condition of Ariel Sharon and on what it means for the future of Israel and the Middle East.  While Austin Bay wonders whether we’ve seen the death of Israel’s “New Center,” Arianna Huffington gives a glowing profile of Sharon’s acting replacement, Ehud Olmert.  Huffington recounts her June meeting with Olmert and concludes he is “fearless, pragmatic, willing to risk his and his party's political future to do the right thing for his country.”  Jim Geraghty examines the fallout at TKS.

Evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran have also weighed in on Sharon, and not surprisingly their comments have created quite a stir.  Jeff Jarvis says both men give God a bad name and asks, “When is media going to learn that just because somebody calls himself religious, or even a religious leader, that doesn’t mean he speaks for or leads all the other people who call themselves religious?”

The Alito nomination has made its way back into the news, with reports that Senate Democrats plan on delaying the Judiciary Committee’s vote for at least a week.  Ed Morissey expects the “circus” to intensify over the weekend, but in the meantime he takes on Senators Schumer and Kennedy for their latest remarks on the nomination.

Cathy Young points to a Knight Ridder report on Katrina’s death toll.  “Everything you knew about Katrina was wrong.”

And over in California Arnold can’t catch a break from either side.  The right is fed up with him (Carol Platt Liebau, Neal Boortz, Hugh Hewitt all have posts) and at DailyKos he gets called a hypocrite.

There's more on the RealClearPolitics Blog Coverage page.

The Abramoff Fallout

Washington is abuzz pondering the consequences of the Abramoff guilty pleas and what the fallout may be as this investigation plows ahead. First, this probably ends any chance of Tom DeLay reclaiming his leadership post. Whether fair or unfair, guilty or not guilty - just from a public relations standpoint it would be politically stupid for the Republicans to reinsert DeLay as majority leader. However, beyond specific lawmakers brought into the net by Abramoff I question just how much of an effect this will really have on the ’06 elections.

Obviously the Democrats are pushing the line that this “culture of corruption” will drive voters in November to demand wholesale change, but I’m skeptical. I think Dick Meyer has it about right:

Washington scandals can change history. They have in modern times. But it's hard to predict what has legs and what doesn't.

Watergate, of course, brought down a Republican president and installed a Democrat, but only for one term. It also brought a new generation of Democrats into Congress and they continued Democratic control of the House for another generation. When the Democrats finally lost the House in 1994, scandal played a big role. But it was a long series of scandals, years of it, which did the damage: Jim Wright, Tony Coelho, Dan Rostenkowski, and the House Post Office. The Republican's spiritual leader of those years, Newt Gingrich, was an insistent, relentless scandalmonger. (Ironically, a scandal forced Gingrich from office. Ironically, Gingrich is leading the current call for Republicans to dump DeLay and clean house.)

Other scandals, even big ones, have not had big effects on elections or even careers. Senator Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick provide one rather striking example. Iran-Contra provides another; it was a huge, year-of-headlines story and yet the Republicans held the White House and soon captured Congress.

Are Congressional Republicans now in a cycle of corruption, as the Democrats hope and pray? So far we have Tom DeLay's troubles, Duke Cunningham's fall, the Abramoff case and stories about Bill Frist, which frankly strikes me as without merit thus far. I'm not in the prediction business, but nothing leads me to think this series of Washington stories matters much to voters in a time of war, of a new kind of domestic security fear, of massive technological change and of economic insecurity.

It is not like Tom DeLay has received glowing press coverage for the last 10 years, in reality all this does is throw a little more wood on the fire that DeLay is a guy that has pushed the envelope and associated with some pretty unsavory characters. Voters are not so naïve to believe that if you put the Dems in charge of the House and Senate suddenly all this unseemly lobbying is going to stop. Most voters understand intuitively that a certain amount of lobbying is just how the sausage gets made.

The problem for Republicans is that it is all an amount of degree, and this guy Abramoff looks like he was in a galaxy far, far away when it comes to lobbyists and politicians skating the legal/illegal line. For the politicians who were close to Abramoff, you wonder where their common sense and judgment went, and the answer is it looks like it went right out the window.

It’s easy to make DeLay out to be the bad guy and to demonize the “K Street” project, but this was a big part of congressional Republicans changing the mentality of their minority status for the previous 40 years. For Republicans who wanted to push through their conservative agenda this was an important part of making it clear to the permanent government in Washington that there were new leaders in charge. However, what might have been politically necessary 10 years ago has obviously gone too far in the last 2-4 years. Congressional Republicans would be wise to read David Brooks’ most recent column and take much of his advice.

First, they need to hold new leadership elections….

Second, the Republicans need to get a grip on earmarks.

Earmarks are the provisions that single members can stick into gigantic bills to steer spending toward favored projects. They're an invitation to corruption. If individual members of Congress can control $100 million federal contracts or billion-dollar pork barrel projects, then of course companies are going to find ways to funnel graft to those members.

To prove they're serious about special-interest spending, Republicans could declare a one-year earmark moratorium until they get a handle on this problem. Or they could promote legislation mandating that earmarks eat up only 1 percent of any spending bill's total cost.

Third, Republicans need to steal David Obey and Barney Frank's lobbying-reform ideas. For some insane reason, having to do with their own special interests, Democrats have been slow to trumpet the ideas coming from their own party. Republicans have a chance to hijack them before the country notices.

Specifically, there should be a ban on lobbyist-paid travel. (Members should be allowed to take spouses on publicly financed travel because it is important that members get out and see the world.) Former members should not be allowed to lobby on the House floor. All lobbyist contacts with government officials should be posted on the Internet…..

Fourth, enforce House rules. There's bound to be corruption when spending provisions can be slipped into legislation in the dead of night, outside the normal oversight procedures. There's bound to be corruption when members are forced to vote on sprawling bills nobody has a chance to inspect. Instead, all legislation should be posted online for 72 hours before the vote, so the staff and bloggers can nitpick and expose.

Fifth, rebuild the ethics committees….

Sixth, readopt the pay-as-you-go budget rules. As long as a $2.6 trillion a year government is expanding into more areas of national life, businesses will have an incentive to invest in lobbyists. The 1990 pay-as-you-go rules, which forced Congress to offset new expenditures with spending restraint, not only imposed fiscal discipline but also forced pork projects to compete for limited resources.

Finally, today - before noon - fire Bob Ney as chairman of the House Administration Committee. For God's sake, Republicans, show a little moral revulsion.

If Republicans can step up and follow through on a third of these ideas this scandal will have no effect on the ’06 elections except for the politicians specifically fingered by Abramoff. If they slap a little PR band aid on this mess, then they are going to be rolling the dice going into November and maybe the voters should throw them out of power to teach them a little lesson.

January 05, 2006

Bush Reaches Out, Gets Lessons From Albright

The AP reports on Bush's Iraq pow-wow at the White House today:

President Bush brought foreign policy heavyweights from yesteryear to the White House on Thursday, including Democrats who have opposed his Iraq strategy. He got support for the mission — along with a few concerns — and a right to claim he was reaching out.

Now to my favorite part, couretesy of the always entertaining Madeleine Albright:

Albright also said the administration's approach toward the nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea was off the mark.

Yes, of course. Because this approach was so spectacularly successful:

 

And that St. Patrick's day apology to Iran in 2000 also worked out well - as you can see from the response: "Iranian Leader Rejects U.S. Overture for Better Ties."

No doubt Ms. Albright also disapproves of Mr. Bush's top secret policy of keeping Osama bin Laden held captive in some undisclosed location

You know the saying, "I tease because I care." Actually, I've always rather liked Albright even though I haven't necessarily agreed with her politics.  From the looks of the AP report, she was gracious and sensible today. We could use much more of that from Democrats these days.

Blaming Bush For The Sago Mine Tragedy

The reflexive desire on the left to find some way of blaming President Bush for every God forsaken accident or tragedy on the planet reached a new low this week.  Scott Shields leapt to the task on Tuesday morning (the fate of the miners wasn't determined until more than 12 hours later and the cause of the accident remains unknown) by saying that Bush "didn't do anything to prevent it [the accident]. In fact, if anything, the actions of his administration made the situation worse." Shields went on to quote approvingly from a New York Times article critical of Bush administration policy before concluding, "Bush's indefensible fealty to corporate power undercuts the health and safety of workers at every level of the economy."

Surprisingly, Kevin Drum picked up a similar theme yesterday with a post saying, "What's the story behind the story of the tragedy at the Sago Mine? At least part of it is predictable: after George Bush took office in 2001 the Mine Safety and Health Administration was stocked with coal mining executives who were distinctly less interested in mine safety than they should have been."

Drum's post was quickly highlighted by Andrew Sullivan who postulated a potential "budding connection" between Jack Abramoff and Sago: "What happens when coal executives spend lots of money on Republican politicians? A looser regulatory and safety regime?"

Let me stipulate right now that I'm no more of an expert on the subject than anyone else, including Scott, Kevin, and Andrew.  What's more, it is clear that the Sago mine had been cited for a number of violations and looks to have been much more dangerous than average.

However. The claim that the Bush administration's fealty to coal executives has resulted in a deterioration in miner saftey is a provable proposition, no? There are only three options: under the Bush administration there have either been more mining injuries and deaths, less mining injuries and deaths, or roughly the same number of mining injuries and deaths than in previous years.  Logic dictates that if what Scott, Kevin and Andrew suggest is true, we should see an increase in mining injuries and deaths since the Bush administration took office. Except according to these figures from the Mining Saftey & Health Administration, it hasn't happened:

 

 

David Dye, Acting Assistant Labor Secretary for Mine Safety and Health, put the numbers in an even broader context in testimony before Congress last April:

In 1977, when the Mine Safety and Health Act was passed, 272 miners died on the job. A decade ago, 100 miners lost their lives extracting the raw materials that fuel our economy, contribute to our national security, and provide the underpinning of the American dream.

Today, I am proud to be here to tell you that for the fourth straight year, the United States mining industry set its best safety record since statistics were first compiled in 1910, in both fatal and non-fatal injury incidents. Since calendar year 2000, the annual number of fatal injuries has decreased by 30 – from 85 to 55 in 2004, a 35 percent reduction. A few short years ago, those numbers would have been laughed at as impossible goals.

Clearly, mining safety has continued to improve throughout the years thanks to technology and regardless of the party affiliation of the occupant of the Oval Office. If the Bush administration has in fact undermined (no pun intended) the safety of miners in America over the last five years, it's not showing up in the numbers. And in this case, for those interested in facts and not ax-grinding partisanship, the number of injuries and fatalities is the bottom line measure. 

Yet this is the first time we've seen an effort to try and blame a President for contributing to deaths related to a tragic mining accident. It certainly didn't happen under Clinton, nor for that matter do I recall it happening with the Quecreek mining accident in 2002 - perhaps because there was a happy ending to that story. It just goes to show how distorted and dishonest the level of discourse has become in the country recently because of the left's insatiable hatred for President Bush.

January 04, 2006

Sharon's Stroke a Blow to Mideast Progress

The news tonight appears to be grim concerning the fate of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Reports indicate that the 77 year old leader suffered a "significant" cerebral hemorrhage and is undergoing surgery to stop internal bleeding in his brain. Analysis from the Jerusalem Post:

Until ten o'clock Wednesday night, the next Knesset elections seemed tied up in a bag. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had already weathered a minor stroke, his son's conviction of fraud, and what seemed at first like new allegations of bribery against himself. But he continued to roar ahead in the polls. Energetic new leaders in Labor and the Likud proved powerless to stop his new virtual party, Kadima, which only Wednesday gained its highest-yet result in the polls: 42 members in the next Knesset.

That's all over for now. Even if Sharon fully recovers from his major stroke, there is no way that he will be able to act as prime minister during the next couple of months, and full-time election campaigning is definitely out of the question. The question that remains is not what will happen with Sharon - we all wish him good health - but he is out of the picture at least for the coming elections that will have to be held on time.

The question is whether Kadima has a future without Sharon. A significant number of politicians and public figures have joined the party, following Sharon. With him gone, internecine squabbling over the leadership could well break out. The prime minister's responsibilities have been handed over to Finance Minister Ehud Olmert according to law, but few Kadima members will want one of the most unpopular politicians in the country to lead them into the elections.

Over a third of the electorate were willing to vote for Kadima for one reason only. They relied on Ariel Sharon as the country's leader. What is left for them now?

Sharon was the one leader who had the stature and credibility to pull off the unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the planned disengagement from parts of the West Bank. Ehud Olmert, the new Prime Minister, will undoubtedly get a huge boost of support in the short term, but I question his long-term ability to withstand the challenge that will come from Netanyahu on the right.

Charles Krauthammer called this one of "the greatest catastrophes in Israel's history" and unfortunately I fear that may not be an overstatement.

Congress Gets The Hives

Abramoff is now two for two. What a way to earn frequent flier miles. Meanwhile, Birnbaum and Balz report on the fallout in Washington from Abramoff's plea deal yesterday:

At a minimum, yesterday's developments put both sides of the lawmaker-lobbyist relationship on notice that some of the wilder customs of recent years -- lubricated with money, entertainment and access -- carry higher risks. In the post-Abramoff era, what once was accepted as business as usual may be seen as questionable or worse.

"In the short run, members of Congress will get allergic to lobbyists," said former representative Vin Weber (R-Minn.), now a lobbyist for Clark & Weinstock. "They'll be nervous about taking calls and holding meetings, to say nothing of lavish trips to Scotland. Those will be out. For a period of time now, members of Congress will be concerned about even legitimate contact with the lobbying world."

Good. Members of Congress should be wary of dealing with lobbyists - and not just because the hammer is finally dropping on the behavior of one who, from the looks of things, went well beyond the bounds of the law.

There's a simple lesson here: if you don't change the culture in Washington, eventually the culture in Washington is going to change you.  That's why the K Street project was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. Republicans had an opportunity to change the culture in Washington starting back in 1994, and for a while they did use the momentum from that election to make some important alterations in the way things worked inside the beltway. But as time went by and some Republicans became more entrenched and more comfortable with their hands on the levers of power in Washington, they let the nature of business as usual in Washington change them, instead of the other way around.

Andrew Sullivan, National Unity and the War

I am a great admirer of Andrew Sullivan’s writing. Immediately following 9/11 there was probably not a better voice articulating the war civilized society would face in the new post-9/11 world against Islamic Radicalism. And though it is not exactly news that Sullivan has undergone a transformation these last 18 months, his recent attacks on the Bush administration and their prosecution of the war increasingly sound like the tired demagoguery of the left.

Sullivan’s column in the Sunday Times, for example, could just as easily have been written by Jonathan Alter or Maureen Dowd. It is one thing for baby-boomer liberals pining for the good old days of anti-Vietnam protests and Watergate to spin stories about how Bush is the reincarnation of Nixon. But I expect this type of hyperventilating from Alterman, Down, Herbert and Rich -- not Sullivan.

NRO’s Mark Levin, who has battled with Sullivan over the torture issue, comments:

I think Andrew Sullivan can now be dismissed as just another shrill voice. Fresh from regurgitating the leftist spin about American forces torturing detainees (and misusing report after report which he clearly had not read), he's now doing the same with NSA intercepts of al-Qaeda communications. Has he read the Constitution? Has he read any of the relevant cases? Has he examined U.S. war-time history and the conduct of past presidents? Does it matter? I guess not.

 

In his Sunday Times article Sullivan starts by flatly stating that:

We now know the president was not telling the truth. It turns out the president has authorized thousands of wiretaps of American citizens’ phones without any court order for the past four years, clearly violating a 1978 law that set up a special court to monitor and approve such taps.

The problem is that it is NOT clear that the President broke the law. Sullivan should have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that reasonable, decent, intelligent people disagree on whether the President overstepped his legal authority. Instead he descends into the demagoguery of the left where the President is simply a liar and a systemic violator of civil liberties, ala Richard Nixon.

The bigger issue here is not Andrew Sullivan, but the relentless and unprecedented assault on the Bush administration while it is trying to lead the country in a war. Our enemies know their path to victory is not on the battlefield against our troops, but rather in the minds of the American public. Their goal is to demoralize the American people via a naïve and misguided press which in turn will erode public support and force a retreat before we can achieve victory. It is on this battlefield where the war will be won or lost.

Tony Blankley spells it out:

As we enter another year of extreme international danger, the one threat that solely is within America's power to reduce or eliminate is our lack of national unity.

There may be no more agonizing weakness for a nation than major internal division during a time of war, because, unlike the conduct of foreign nations or forces, a lack of internal unity is exclusively our own collective fault…..

If we had national unity, government employees and the major media would not think it their patriotic duty to leak or publish classified war secrets. (Only traitors or the careless would be releasing such information, as opposed to today's perhaps subjectively well-intentioned, if objectively misguided releasers of such information.)

Most damaging of all, America's loud, nasty and publicly displayed disunity heartens our enemies around the world -- as well it should. Whether the enemy is a terrorist operative in Fallujah, Frankfurt or Falls Church, Va., he knows that defeating our will is the supreme strategic goal. Once we are more concerned with defeating our domestic opponents than our foreign enemies, the downside potential for America is almost unlimited. The enemy now lives in justifiable hope -- as we slip into increasingly justifiable despair.

Blankley’s point and, mine as well, is not meant to be an argument against dissent. Dissent is the fundamental right of every American and can often be a constructive part of getting to the correct strategies and/or tactics that will lead to victory.  The key, however, is that everyone has to be on the same team. The problem we have is there is a huge block on the left who hate Bush and hate this war. Their attitude is that Bush got us into this mess, it’s his problem, and - let’s be honest - many of these people are pulling for a Vietnam type quagmire. (Just to be clear, I'm not lumping Sullivan in this group.)

Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Lieberman have all been critical of the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war. Despite their dissent, however, no one can question their commitment to win. Unfortunately, that is not true of large factions in the Democratic Party, including its Chairman.

President Bush is going to be Commander in Chief for the next three years. Relentless demagoguery, comparisons to Nixon and talk of impeachment do a disservice to our fight against Islamic Radicalism. The country needs to find a way to honestly debate legitimate security vs. civil liberty issues, as well as other tactics in this war while making it clear to our enemies that though we may have disagreements in approach, there is total unity when it comes to their ultimate defeat.

January 03, 2006

Murtha's Tiny Minority

How ironic. This morning's Reuters story on Jack Murtha:

"Would you join (the military) today?," he was asked in an interview taped on Friday.

"No," replied Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees defense spending and one of his party's leading spokesmen on military issues.

"And I think you're saying the average guy out there who's considering recruitment is justified in saying 'I don't want to serve'," the interviewer continued.

"Exactly right," said Murtha

Also published this morning, from the internals of the Military Times poll of 1,215 active-duty servicemen:

Would you recommend a military career to others?
Yes 82%, No 13%

If you had to decide today would you re-enlist or - if an officer - extend your commitment?
Yes 70%, No 19% 

Conclusion: Murtha may feel for our men and women in uniform but he certainly doesn't think like most of them.

Foer & The MSB

Via Sullivan, Frank Foer castigates liberal blogs (which he calls the "mainstream blogosphere" or "MSB") for "heaping disdain" on the NY Times over the NSA story:

These attacks should be meaningless, except they're not. The administration has now launched an investigation into the leak that produced the Times story. This is a dangerous case that could seriously threaten the ability of reporters to do their jobs. And liberals should be apoplectic about the threat it represents. But instead of apoplexy, many in the MSB are sitting on their hands. The Bush administration has opened a new front in its war on the press, and the press has no defenders. Thanks to the MSB's sweeping, reckless criticisms, the Times has lost much of the credibility and authority that it needs to mount a robust defense. For this, the bloggers deserve some credit. Well done, guys.

Foer is a talented guy, but this is rather weak. First, the DoJ investigation into the NSA story isn't a "new front in [the Bush administration's] war on the press."  If anything, it's a declaration of war on leakers inside the administration, but even that is probably a stretch - as we've seen, it's standard procedure to open an investigation when classified information is leaked to the public.

Second, any vulnerability the Times suffers is largely of its own making after demanding an investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame's name. Most of the media and the left were gung ho for probing leaks until Patrick Fitzgerald doggedly went to work doing his job questioning reporters. But Fitzgerald hardly "declared war" on the press.

Finally, at least in the case of the leak of the NSA surveillance program there is clear, indisputable evidence that a crime was committed to justify an investigation. Half of the Washington press corps knew Valerie Plame's name before it was printed and there was considerable uncertainty about her status at the CIA (which is why Fitzgerald couldn't indict under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act), but even some of the most senior people in the White House didn't have a clue about the NSA story until it hit the pages of the New York Times last month.

Even if Foer considers the Plame leak a dirty trick and the NSA leak an act of heroism, that doesn't support the claim that investigating the latter is a declaration of war on the press but investigating the former wasn't. In fact, that sort of thinking is at least part of the reason for the New York Times' credibility problem.

'06 Will Be a Barroom Brawl

If you don't like bare-knuckle politics, or you think the country is too partisan or there's too much bickering in Washington, I suggest you plug your ears for the next year. Better yet, take a 12-month vacation.  Because all indications are that 2006 is going to be one of the roughest, most vicious, most rancorous political years we've seen in some time.

It's all going to start next week with the Judiciary Committee hearings for Sam Alito. Millions of dollars are being pumped into ad campaigns for and against Alito as we speak. Though it's still unclear whether Dems will pull the trigger on a filibuster, they've promised to give Alito a good roughing up. And, contrary to the infinite patience and congeniality displayed by John Roberts last year, Alito is apparently ready to give as good as he gets in the hearing room.

Shortly thereafter we'll get the promised hearings on the NSA surveillance program, an event guaranteed to generate partisan grandstanding and histrionics on a level not seen since the 9/11 Commission. We'll also see Congress revisit the debate over the Patriot Act in early February when the law's five-week extension runs out.

Democrats have promised to wrap all these things together into a neat little package, put a bow on top and serve it to the American people as proof the Republicans are running roughshod over the Bill of Rights, trampling civil liberties and invading people's privacy. Before leaving D.C. for the holidays Dick Durbin told reporters, "We will initiate at the beginning of this year one of the most serious debates and discussions on Capitol Hill in our history about individual rights and liberties."

Democrats have made some poor political judgements in the past few years, but this could potentially turn out to be one of the worst.  Republicans see an opportunity to make this a redux of Homeland Security in 2002 and they're clearly relishing the prospect of using it against the Dems:

One Republican aide said he looks forward to posting pictures of Mr. Cleland around the Capitol during the Patriot Act debate as a warning to Democrats that they will face a similar political demise. 

For his part, President Bush seems ready to rumble as well. Bush learned two valuable lessons in the last few weeks of 2005: 1) take Dick Cheney's advice and stay focused on the basics of Iraq and the economy and 2) stay in permanent campaign mode, aggressively promoting and defending your policies. As a result, after taking off the first nine months of last year the White House is going to start 2006 by taking off the gloves:

When attacked in 2006, "we'll aggressively set the record straight," says White House counselor Dan Bartlett. GOP strategist Terry Holt says, "If we learned anything this year, it's 'hit back, hit back hard and fast.' "

Amidst the inevitable mudslinging between the White House and Congressional Democrats we'll also have the ongoing investigation of Jack Abramoff and the trial of Tom DeLay in Texas, all leading to a climax in November with the midterm elections.

Democrats believe they have a chance of recapturing either the House or the Senate if they can sufficiently nationalize the '06 elections around the theme of Republican corruption - and now perhaps Republican big brotherism as well. But as Jay Cost explained recently, the current electoral landscape makes it extremely unlikely the Democrats will find success retaking either chamber. The result will probably be a year full of brass knuckle brawling from start to finish, with neither side having much to show for it in the end.

January 02, 2006

Herbert's Stiff Medicine

Bob Herbert wrote a suprisingly candid column last week titled "Blowing the Whistle on Gangsta Culture." (Full text of the article accessible via the Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Herbert uses the death of E.J. Duncan and three friends - all of whom were aspiring rappers (of various ethnic backgrounds) gunned down in the basement of Duncan's parents' house the week before last for no apparent reason - to highlight the "profoundly self-destructive cultural influences that have spread like a cancer through much of the black community and beyond." He continues:

I keep wondering when leaders of eminence will step forward and declare, unambiguously, that enough is enough, as they did in the heyday of the civil rights movement, when the enemy was white racism.

It is time to blow the whistle on the nitwits who have so successfully promoted a values system that embraces murder, drug-dealing, gang membership, misogyny, child abandonment and a sense of self so diseased that it teaches children to view the men in their orbit as niggaz and the women as hoes.

However this madness developed, it's time to bring it to an end.

I noticed that Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, Snoop Dogg and other "leaders" and celebrities turned out in South Central Los Angeles on Tuesday for the funeral of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the convicted killer and co-founder of the Crips street gang who was executed in California last week.

I remember talking over the years to parents in Los Angeles and elsewhere who were petrified that their children would be killed in cold blood - summarily executed, without any possibility of a defense or an appeal - by the Crips or some other gang because they just happened to be wearing the wrong color cap or jacket or whatever.

The enthusiastic turnout at Tookie Williams's funeral tells you much of what you need to know about the current state of black leadership in the U.S.

That is some stiff, righteous stuff - all the more impressive coming from the source. If Herbert is disgusted with the current state of black leadership in America then we may indeed have reached a tipping point.

RELATED: Two and a half years ago Herbert wrote a similarly tough column about anti-intellectualism in the African-American community. You can read my comments on it here.

Cheney Is Always Right - Part II

More evidence for the theory that Cheney is always right:

''When I find a time when I disagree with Dick Cheney, I say to myself, 'Why am I wrong?' '' - Scooter Libby from an interview in 2001 (Times Select)

Happy New Presidential Race

What better way to start 2006 than by ruminating on 2008? As Jay said last week, it's difficult to make any interesting arguments about '08 this far out, but that hasn't ever stopped me before. There's just too much good fodder out there to resist.

Like this quote from Ronald Kaufman, former White House political director for Bush 41, taken from the AP story today reporting that John Kerry is keeping his options open for 2008: " "I go to bed every night praying Kerry is the nominee again," Kaufman said. Apparently, Kerry still hasn't gotten the memo he's finished as a presidential nominee.

In a great bit over at bloggingheads.tv, Al Gore (played by Mickey Kaus) says he's running in 2008 but doesn't even know it yet. This made me think back to a quote from one of the delegates at the annual meeting of the Florida Democratic party last month:

"The most interesting ideas right now? They all belong to Al Gore," said Mitchell Berger, a top Democratic fundraiser from Fort Lauderdale who is holding out hope Gore might join the race.

If Russ Feingold - referred to yesterday by Jon Meacham as "a sane Howard Dean" - doesn't catch fire with the base, Al Gore may be irresistably drawn to taking up the mantle of the hard left as the sweaty, podium-pounding alternative to Hillary Clinton or Mark Warner.

In related news, Bill Clinton told 60 Minutes his "gut" tells him the country is ready for a woman president:

My gut is, yes, that if a woman came across as strong and seasoned and well prepared, if you said the right things in the right way and you had a good record to back it up, my gut is, yes. But the hard truth is we won’t know until it happens,"

In other words, Hillary will be electable in 2008 if the base of the party would just allow her to triangulate properly.

Finally, Robert Novak writes about a recent move by Mitt Romney that may help him in '08, while the Boston Globe reports on one which might hurt him.