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Saturday, July 23, 2005

THE LONDON SHOOTING: The Brazilian victim of the police shooting had nothing to do with the attempted subway bombing — but he ran, disregarded demands to stop, continued running until cornered. And he did this with knowledge of London's heightened sense of vulnerability based on the failed bombing that took place the day before. The mistake is tragic for this man and his family. Inferring guilt was not unreasonable, given the total circumstances. Even wobbly London Mayor Ken Livingstone says:
"The police acted to do what they believed necessary to protect the lives of the public. "This tragedy has added another victim to the toll of deaths for which the terrorists bear responsibility."
We are at war with Islamist fanatics who mean to destroy the West, but we collectively aren't behaving as if we get the implications of "at war." Let's hope a massive loss of life is not required for us to really get clear about the situation.
THE ISSUE IS FAITH: Dana Pico of Common Sense Political Thought writes to say he thinks news coverage of Jane Sullivan Roberts has a lot do with religious bigotry. It's hard to disagree in light of the Senate Democrats's ugly campaign against Judge Bill Pryor. Dana notes:
The stories about Mrs. Roberts are designed to keep pushing the idea that she (and therefore he) is Catholic. Every story about Mrs. Roberts is full of the Catholic references, both directly and in her educational background: an all-girls Catholic secondary academy, Holy Cross and Georgetown. They are setting up the same complain that they had against William Pryor, another Roman Catholic, that he had too "deeply held beliefs" to be confirmed. This is how they transfer Mrs. Roberts' pro-life views to Mr. Roberts: if she has them, and she's Catholic, well he's Catholic, too, so he must be as pro-life as his wife . . . and that just can't be trusted! It's a way to say what they want to say . . . without actually saying it.
HILLARY HUFFS: The unannounced presidential candidate is busy letting various groups within the Democratic Party's learned-helplessness constituency know she's very much on their side. Declaring herself a champion of Brown v. Board of Education (as if that ruling were somehow at risk), Hillary's taken to warning that Bush's judicial nominees will overturn the civil right movement.
"What we are experiencing today is a real movement to turn the clock back on the rights of Americans."
The idea is laughable on its face. Equal opportunity for minorities and women is now the law of the land. But Hillary's strategy is to imply that equal opportunity and equal results are the same, without saying so directly. Heather Mac Donald nails the deception:
These diversity grievances follow the usual logic: Victim-group X is not proportionally represented in some field; therefore the field's gatekeepers are discriminating against X's members. The argument presumes that there are large numbers of qualified Xs out there who, absent discrimination, would be proportionally represented in the challenged field.
The contemporary Democratic Party, seemingly bereft of new ideas, has been reduced to scaring one after another of its core constituencies: seniors, women, blacks especially. It was easier to accomplish this in the days before the 24/7 news cycle, the days when the MSM could steer the national agenda left without fear of contradiction. These days there's a big complication: talk radio in general, Rush in particular. And of course the all-powerful "right-wing spin machine" over at Fox. Even so, don't sell Hillary short. A case can be made that the right Democratic candidate could be strong in 2008. I personally believe Hillary brings too much baggage to be electable, but don't forget that the voters who will be between ages 18 and 30 in 2008 were between 10 and 22 when the Clinton White House scandals were in public view. Hillary's depending on them to take her as she presents herself in 2008, without reference to her past. She's also looking at studies showing that America's rising immigration tide could turn three or four red states blue.
SO SAYS TED: The senior senator from Massachusetts says his fellow Democrats must not make Jane Sullivan Robert's views on abortion an issue in her husband's confirmation hearings.
"...Mrs. Roberts's work 'ought to be out of bounds,'" says Kennedy.
This is revealed in a front-page New York Times article with the headline: "Anti-abortion Advocacy of Wife of Court Nominee Draws Interest." Whose interest? The Times'. The article features this pull-quote: "Questions about whether a wife's views reflect her husband's." Whose questions? Again, the Times'. The article doesn't quote anyone who dares to make Jane Sullivan Roberts "fair game" in her husband's hearings. "Fair game" of course was the choice phrase of Kerry campaign operative Mary Beth Cahill, when Kerry decided to smear Mary Cheney while pretending to honor her courage. Maybe the left learned something from that cheap shot, which may have cost Kerry the votes of key moderates who didn't like what the comment revealed about the candidate's character, or lack thereof. Jane Sullivan Roberts's feminist credentials are the real deal — feminism in the best and original sense. She's a talented, accomplished, independent woman who has made her way in a largely male dominated legal world. She asked for no preferences to compensate for being "disadvantaged" as a woman. She made up her mind about what she valued, and she aimed high. One domain she values is being a mom. If the opponents of John Roberts want to make his wife's political views an issue, they will do so only by further betraying the foundations upon which the women's movement was originally based. The feminist establishment that winked at Bill Clinton's degradation of women probably has enough political savvy not to go after Jane Sullivan Roberts — directly. Instead, they'll quietly work to advance a whispering campaign. We'll hear that "questions are being raised" and "people are wondering" and Jane Sullivan Roberts's views "draw interest." It will be interesting indeed to see how far the opponents of John Sullivan will go in playing the marriage card. But we know Ted Kennedy won't be part of that campaign, which means we'll be spared news stories revisiting the high points of the senator's respectful relationships with women. Which is probably a good thing, given that last week's 36th anniversary of Chappaquiddick passed with little media coverage. Certainly it would be in nobody's interest to have to read newspaper articles about how that anniversary is "drawing interest" or "raising new questions." Yes, Senator Kennedy — let's all focus on John Roberts, shall we?

Friday, July 22, 2005

DEAN'S DESCENT: Forget about Rove's alleged complicity in the Plame affair; I'm convinced he must somehow be responsible for Howard Dean's slow-motion political suicide. Latest development: Dean declares that Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bob Casey's Jr.'s opposition to abortion is a matter of principle. "You have to respect people's positions of conscience," said Dean. "I think Bob Casey's position is a position of conscience." So what about Rick Santorum's opposition to abortion? How is that different from Casey's stance? Dean says the difference between his party and Republicans is that "we believe a woman has a right to make up their own mind and they believe (House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay should make it up and Rick Santorum should make it up for them." Wrong. Until Santorum declares that his opposition to abortion is based on his desire to make up women's minds for them, it's only fair that both men's views about abortion be considered conscience-based or both men's views' be called anti-women. Democrats believe in "fairness," item number one on the talking points, right? In a way I admire Dean's visceral partisanship — it's one of the job requirements for a party chairman. But aren't intelligence and proportion and some sense of intellectual integrity also part of the job? Wait — the Democrats' goal is to start winning elections again, yes?
IT'S WHO WE ARE: Not what we do. Victor Davis Hanson with his characteristic clarity dissects and dismisses the fallacy that America is the cause of which terrorists are simply the effect. Ted Kennedy's favorite verb lately is "enflame." He says that's what our actions do to the Islamists fundamentalists: enflame them to kill. Hanson uses history to show how nuts that is.
Civilization has only two choices. It can continue appeasing these murderers, looking in vain for "root causes" of the mayhem.... Or the United States and its allies can deny suspect Middle Eastern males entry into the West while distancing themselves from all Middle East dictatorships, which neither punish nor even shame thousands of their citizens whose money and psychological support fuel murderers across the globe. We wait for a Western leader with the intellectual integrity and guts at last to say, "Enough is enough."
GOOD NEWS FROM IRAQ: John Hinderaker at Power Line with an encouraging report from the front lines: "The terrorists know that Iraq is the front line in the battle against terrorism; the Iraqis agree. Now if only we could convince the Democrats." And if only CNN might occasionally cover that angle as, you know, part of the (whole) story. The visuals aren't as good as truck explosions.
BORKING BLOCKED: Rich Lowry thinks Roberts is un-borkable. Not that Kennedy, Boxer and Schumer won't try, but it will probably sound something like this: "If John Roberts makes it to the Supreme Court, young girls throughout the nation will be handcuffed and taken to jail because they dared to eat a french fry in public. In John Roberts' America, girls will be forced into back rooms to exercise their right to choose to meet normal carbohydrate needs." Let the hearings begin!
BULLIES BE BAD: Dick Durbin is just plain tickled to learn that right-wing judicial tool John Roberts "hates bullies and he believes that the rule of law gives even the powerless their day in court and their chance." As opposed to Roberts really liking bullies and arresting powerless people without cause and tossing them into dungeons under they can be rendered into pet food. (All kidding aside, I had no idea that we allowed "powerless" people to have access to our system of justice. When did this start happening? Next thing, we'll be letting women vote. Say what? They do? Susan B. Who?) At first hearing, Durbin's comment strikes the casual listener as the utterance of a simpleton. Now of all the criticisms one might lodge against Sen. Durbin, "stupid" isn't at the top of most lists. But here's a guy — number two Democrat in the Senate, Georgetown University School of Law — who appears more than a little surprised that Roberts subscribes to the core premise of our legal system: equal justice for all, and yes that includes "the bullied." Yes, Senator. Even the powerless generally qualify for public defenders. Especially the powerless — that's kind of the whole point. Think maybe you might be able to come to rehearsals now and then?
"I want to go into this hearing with an open mind," Durbin, told reporters. "I want to give him the chance" to answer questions on a variety of topics. Durbin said they discussed a number of topics during the 40-minute meeting, aimed largely at getting an overall measure of the nominee. "It was a positive measure," Durbin said.
Maybe it's not a question of intelligence. Perhaps Durbin actually believed the left's rhetoric that any Bush nominee could only be a throwback to the pre-Magna Carta era. Hence, he's glad to find Roberts more evolved than expected. Or, maybe Durbin's simply realized there's no real way to beat Roberts, so Durbin has decided to keep his powder dry for another battle. In which case, why not act pleased to meet the guy, possibly hoping some of Robert's charisma might rub off as they stand together for photo ops. Then again, maybe my opening assumption nailed it. It's just possible that Dick Durbin is as much of a dolt as he sounds. As a Zen master once said: First response, best response.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

IF ROE GOES: Interesting perspective: The writer says the GOP will pay a big political price if Roberts helps overturn Roe v. Wade. I get the point, but I disagree. Overturning Roe would return abortion to the political domain, where it has always belonged. Not all pro-choice voters are absolutist in their views; there's enough ambivalence in the culture at large on abortion to make me think not every Republican state legislator who votes to restrict or even outlaw abortion will necessarily pay the ultimate price of election defeat. In any case, I doubt that the (soon-to-be?) Scalia Court would overturn Roe, even if the votes to do so are there. The high court doesn't like to overrule itself (especially more than three decades later) especially when the same goal — reduced incidence of abortion — can be achieved by upholding various state legislative restrictions. Like: Minor kids needing to get parental approval before an abortion, just as minors now need to get mom or dad to sign off on a tooth extraction.
GIDDY AT G'ITMO: I find Limbaugh's creation hilarious. Andrew Sullivan disagrees.
DIONNE UNHINGED: Even the normally temperate E.J. Dionne sounds like he might be adjusting his own medication when he cites conservative praise of Roberts as reason for Democrats to ... play the Florida card:
Like the chief justice, Roberts has been a loyal Republican Party operative. He was reportedly involved in the Bush legal effort in 2000 to block further recounts in Florida. We always knew that the Supreme Court conservatives who helped put this president in office were paving the way for an even more conservative court. Roberts's nomination is the fruit of that effort. Surely he should be questioned closely about one of the most outrageous decisions in the court's history and his role in the Florida fiasco.
As if Bill Clinton's two Supreme Court appointments weren't liberal activists prior to their nominations? The problem is: They still are. Hey, E.J.: Really sure the American people want to hear Dick Durbin bringing up six-year-old hanging chads? I can only imagine Republicans would love it. The goofiest part of Dionne's argument comes when he huffs and puffs that Dems mustn't be misled by GOP efforts to "create a nice-guy stampede to Roberts among moderate Democrats and Republicans." (Oh. So the "Gang of 14" are really just sheep?) Dionne insists Dems must make every effort to find out "where Roberts stands," which of course is a fallacy no matter how many times Roberts' opponents bring it up. It is the job of a justice to approach each case with an open mind, full apprised of the law and facts. Only then can a justice possibly know which if any prior judicial precedents should be applied to the case before him. Roberts will not be obliged to answer what Orrin Hatch once called Chuck Schumer's "dumbass" questions about how Roberts (then an appellate court nominee) would have decided specific cases. Dionne actually knows all this. He also already knows Roberts is a judicial conservative, and that there's fun hay to be made by adding to the growing mythos that Roberts is a "stealth" nominee:
There will be no excuse for discovering too late that Roberts is every bit as conservative as his supporters think he is.
Earth calling E.J.: Almost certainly you're going to learn nothing in the hearings that will confirm or deny your worst fears about specific policy issues. Roberts will refuse to go there for the same reasons (good, solid, judicially sound ones) that Ginzberg refused to in her own confirmation. But if you manage to pay attention during the hearings, you might just come away with the impression that John Roberts is committed to faithfully applying the Constitution in the service of the Framers' promise of equal justice under the law. That impression would be accurate.
THE LONG BLIP: The Dems' depression probably goes deeper than Roberts. The American left insists that the seeming conservative ascendency in American politics is little more than a temporary blip on the radar screen. Let's do some quick math. A quarter century has passed since Ronald Reagan got elected in 1980. Twenty-five years prior to that takes us to 1955. Eisenhower was a first-term president and the radical 60s weren't even a possibility. So if what began with Ronald Reagan was a blip, it's been hanging around for a while. Let's be clear. The left believes itself entitled to govern this country's institutions. The preening narcissism of the cultural left is too deeply entrenched to allow for the possibility that the Reagan Revolution represented a realignment as fundamental as FDR's. So the left must continue to believe all of the following:
Reagan won in 1980 only because Carter was a poor candidate faced with a lousy economy and a bad break in Iran.
Reagan got re-elected only because Mondale was a hideous candidate.
Bush got elected in 1988 only because Dukakis made Mondale seem appealing by comparison.
Clinton's elections in 1992 and 1996 represented America's reaffirmation of liberalism. (False: Bush would have gotten re-elected if Perot hadn't run in 1992. Clinton got re-elected because he governed as a centrist, taking pages from the GOP's play book on balanced budgets and welfare reform. Plus, Dole was a weak candidate.)
George W. Bush won in 2000 because "the Supreme Court stole the election."
Bush's re-election was bogus because Kerry really won Ohio (those machines did him in).
So you see, the so-called conservative triumph is just a blip — a too-long, unfortunate mistake. The social revolution that began in the 1960s will succeed, the hard left insists. The apparent ascendency of conservatism is about to come to an end. And when it does, the left will again call the shots — this is what they deeply believe. For now, they intend to continue to try to frustrate the president and GOP congressional leaders at every turn. Because they are the rightful leaders of this country and this culture. You idiot conservatives will pay, and soon. They'll do whatever damage they feel they need to do to advance their mission. The hard left will go all out against Jones, against Rove, against American success in Iraq, against Social Security and tax reform, against — everything. The best evidence is the four-letter tone of their scorched earth campaign. Rage. They're angriest at the American people as a whole, though most of the time they succeed in hiding this. But sometimes the curtain gets pulled back and we manage to hear their unpolished truth:
"The Dumbest People on the Face of the Earth" —Michael Moore
DEFLATION ON THE LEFT: There's something manic about the opposition to John Roberts, as if the Court-as-legislature activists are doing their best not to come to terms with evidence that they're not going to be successful in defining the terms of the confirmation battle. People for the American Way have tacked in the direction of demonizing Roberts' supporters:
The Radical Right is overjoyed by the nomination of John Roberts...That ought to sound alarm bells for everyone who believes that the Supreme Court must protect the basic rights and legal protections that the far-right is eager to dismantle.
Signs of this strategy are all over the place. Yesterday C-SPAN covered a press conference at which the leaders of NOW made clear they intended to "activate their base" to defeat the right-win friends of the Roberts nomination — as if the influence of hardcore feminists somehow extends beyond the offices of the most liberal senators.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

AMERICA'S CULTURAL I.Q.: Just went up. Madonna's moving to England. Maybe Sean Penn can pick up the slack.
THUS SPAKE KERRY: Last year I subscribed to the Kerry campaign's email updates, which continue to arrive in my in-box because John Kerry still wants to be president. I want to win the $100 million lottery, so I completely understand the appeal of big dreams. I guess the main difference between John Kerry and me is this: He thinks he stands a reasonable chance of someday living in the White House, whereas in order for me to seriously think I might win the lottery, I would probably need to start, oh, buying lottery tickets. But I digress. I started this post not to talk about Kerry per se, but instead to let you know he really doesn't like the John Roberts nomination, because it shows that
"this White House remains bent on opening old wounds and dividing America."
I find myself thinking, as I often do when I encounter that line of reasoning: What exactly is wrong with political choices that "divide America"? The Framers, in their remarkable genius, took pains to build in "division" into the very structure of our government. Surely Kerry has heard about the separation of powers — and the federalist doctrine of national, state, and local government. Believing in limited government, the Framers clearly looked with favor on the idea that the executive and legislative branches might tend to cancel each other out, now and then. The word "veto" comes to mind. It would be nice if that word would come to President Bush's mind, next time he finds himself looking at a Medicare drug program. Memo to the GOP: There have got to be better ways of winning senior votes than saddling their grandchildren with the cost of another big-dollar entitlement program. And what's a little polarization among friends? Madison took that view that competition among "particularized interests" would support American liberty rather than threaten it. Specifically concerning religion, Madison was convinced that "multiplicity of sects" was our best bet for religious liberty. The common good would thrive with the clash of interests. In short, Madison celebrated "diversity." Real diversity, not John Kerry diversity that works to gather people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds who all share a common left-liberal mindset. Madison didn't flich at the idea of people showing up at the public square with very different opinions, views, commitments, worldviews, and so forth. Which is pretty amazing, for a dead white male who spent most of his life in the state of Virginia, and never heard of windsurfing. So buck up, John Kerry. Bring your concerns about John Roberts to the Senate floor, and debate the man's record and his view of the proper role of the judiciary. Above all, quit whining. You're rich and your teeth are very bright. Count your blessings.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

HATCH V. SCHUMER: Yes, it could get ugly. This exchange took place at John Roberts' 2003 appellate confirmation hearings, where Sen. Hatch listened to Sen. Schumer for as long as he could.
"Some [of his questions] I totally disagree with," Hatch of Utah said. "Some I think are dumbass questions, between you and me. I am not kidding you. I mean, as much as I love and respect you, I just think that's true." A stunned Schumer asked if he heard the chairman correctly, to which Hatch said yes. Again, Schumer asked Hatch if he would like to "revise and extend his remark," congressional speak for change his mind. A former trial attorney, Hatch replied: "No, I am going to keep it exactly the way it is. I mean, I hate to say it. I mean, I feel badly saying it between you and me. But I do know dumbass questions when I see dumbass questions."
ROBERTS HIMSELF: Here's how Bush's Supreme Court pick responded to a question by Sen. Darth Schumer at Roberts' D.C. appellate nomination hearing:
My own judicial philosophy begins with an appreciation of the limited role of a judge in our system of divided powers. Judges are not to legislate and are not to execute the laws. . . . My judicial philosophy accordingly insists upon some rigor in ensuring that judges properly confine themselves to the adjudication of the case before them, and seek neither to legislate broadly not to administer the law generally in deciding that case.
Deciding the case . . . . requires an essential humility grounded in the properly limited role of an undemocratic judiciary in a democratic republic, a humility reflected in doctrines of deference to legislative policy judgments and embodied in the often misunderstood term “judicial restraint.” That restraint does not mean that judges should not act against the popular will. . . .[T]he framers expected them to be discerning the law, not shaping policy. That means the judges should not look to their own personal views or preferences in deciding the cases before them. Their commission is no license to impose those preferences from the bench."
This guy's going to be very hard to beat. The arguments mustered by Schumer, Kennedy, and Durbin will be instructive — and probably entertaining.
MORE ON ROBERTS: Naturally, there's the fear that Roberts could be Son of Souter. Never fear, says John Hinderaker of the notoriously sensible Power Line Blog:
Pop the champagne corks, conservatives. Roberts is a fantastic choice, a brilliant and bulletproof conservative. And it was fun to see Pat Leahy and Chuck Schumer on television tonight; they looked just awful. After President Bush's terrific, upbeat presentation of Roberts, and Roberts' graceful, brief talk, Leahy and Schumer sounded like they had just dropped in from another planet. They were dour, hateful, and came across as sad and pathetic minions who have been sent on a hopeless mission by their bosses at "People for the American Way." It's a great day for conservatives and for America. Thanks to President Bush for nominating the best person for the job--or, certainly, one of the best people, along with McConnell, Luttig and one or two others--rather than taking the easy, politically correct way out. The only thing inhibiting my own champagne consumption is that I have to go on the radio in an hour or so. UPDATE: I met Roberts a month and a half ago at the graduation party of a high school student we both know. In addition to the qualities mentioned above, he has another one that should help him significantly in the next few months -- a fine sense of humor.
MSNBC WEIGHS IN: Against John Roberts. Tuesday evening during Joe Scarborough's show, this phrase kept appearing during the discussion of the Robert nomination: "John Roberts: Overturn Roe v. Wade." This falsely implies Roberts spoke against Roe as an appellate judge. In fact, Roberts took that position during his tenure as a lawyer in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. He did so as a government attorney representing the executive branch's view that Roe was mistakenly decided on legal grounds. (Pressed during his 2003 confirmation hearing for the appeals court for his own views on the matter, Roberts said: "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. ... There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent.") Obviously, the intent of running "Overturn" was to incite pro-choice MSNBC viewers against the Roberts nomination. This is not to accuse Joe Scarborough of anti-Roberts bias; I doubt he even saw the headline during his live show. Joe may want to find out who was on duty in the headline-writing department during his program the night before. Perhaps that headline writer is asking for a break from working in TV news.
THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS: People for the American Way hit the ground running with talking points obviously prepared in advance for use against any Bush Supreme Court nominee not endorsed by Ted Kennedy. Here's the left's core message: "Bush has chosen to gratify his extreme right-wing base rather than to protect the basic rights of all Americans. Bush has guaranteed that the confirmation process will be controversial because Judge Roberts is a controversial nominee..." That's effective propaganda. The campaign to win Roberts' nomination needs to run with an effective message of its own, a message geared to educate Americans about the proper role of the judiciary in the process of waging an effective battle:
"The Framers ensured that our most basic rights are ones that the Framers enumerated in the Constitution. They are rights guaranteed to all Americans rather than to specific interest groups. We have seen too many examples of judges who forget that their role is to interpret the Constitution, not to act as unelected legislators. The Framers of the Constitution designed the courts and the congress to serve different functions. John Roberts understands that difference and will uphold it as a Supreme Court justice..."
That's too wordy; I'm not a speechwriter. I just hope the president's team is ready to play offense with strong, effective, focused, simple, powerful arguments. This is a great chance further educate America about how the Framers envisioned the judiciary and to persuade America that Roberts is the right man at the right time. The left will attempt to turn the confirmation hearings into the equivalent of a presidential campaign debate focused on specific issues. Team Roberts must make it clear why that's the wrong standard. Let the battle begin.
JOHN ROBERTS: Jeff Toobin just told NBC's Brian Williams that only three Democrats (Kennedy, Schumer, Durbin) opposed John Roberts' elevation to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals less than two years ago. Nominees for the D.C. appellate court invariably get extra scrutiny because of that court's special status. If Roberts was qualified for that post 20 months ago, could any of the Senate Democrats who voted for him turn around and vote against him for the Supreme Court? Not with anything remotely approaching intellectual integrity. But...
O'CONNOR'S CORONATION: "The president should nominate a consensus justice in the mold of moderate Sanra Day O'Connor." For over a month, this has been the main talking point of the forces committed to moving Bush's Supreme Court selection process to the left, which the left is pleased to call the "mainstream." O'Connor hasn't always pleased conservatives — especially on affirmative action and abortion — but she has clearly been with the conservative block on most issues. The left's willingness to cite O'Connor as the perfect judicial model is more evidence that the American mainstream has moved decidedly right (or more accurately, away from the cultural left) in recent years.
HARRY REID'S CONTROL ISSUES: Sen. Harry Reid is in the grip of powerful forces beyond his control. Depending on what he reads in the newspaper tomorrow morning, Reid may go berserk. This is serious, because the future of the Supreme Court is at stake. Let’s take it from the top. Sen. Reid says he was delighted to be asked to advise the president in selecting a replacement for Justice O'Connor. But that was only a first step. President Bush must run the names of potential high court nominees past the Democrats. Otherwise, we’re talking serious political problems for the White House. Last week Reid left the White House with a warning: "I don't want to wake up in the morning and see a name in the paper." Clear implication: If he wakes up to find the wrong name in the paper, the senator wouldn’t be responsible for his actions. If Bush's problems are political, Reid's appear to be clinical. The man's very autonomy is now contingent upon what he reads in the paper. Cause-effect. Or more accurately: stimulus-response. Yes, it’s true — behaviorism is back. You may recall from Psychology 101 the chief premise of the behaviorist school of human nature: Humans are biologically "wired" so that a certain stimulus will produce a specific response. Not satisfied to say humans are merely influenced by their environments, hardcore behaviorists claimed that we’re nothing but stimulus-response machines. Over time, the explanatory power of this theory fell out of favor as it became clear that behaviorist models pay too little heed to the mind's capacity to learn. For instance, a rat can shift its behavior to respond to changes in the layout of a maze it had previously mastered through reinforcements. This fact suggests there may be hope for Sen. Reid, whose capacity for freely-chosen action is obviously at peril. Hear his thinly-veiled cry for help: "As to whether or not there's a knockdown, drag-out fight on this is up to the president.” The stakes are high indeed — but what can be done? I believe we must look to the rats. Based on early experiments with rats and other animals, behaviorists have shown great success in reconditioning troubled patients through a therapeutic method called “systematic desensitization.” This treatment helps patients overcome anxieties by learning to relax in the presence of stimuli that once made them intolerably nervous and afraid. As patients learn to relax in the presence of these stimuli, stronger anxiety-arousing stimuli are added until patients no longer experience anxiety in the presence of the original objects that caused them to seek help. I’m sure you can see where I’m headed. Let the therapy begin before the presses roll. Here’s my prescription. Let Reid be invited to sit comfortably and focus on his breathing. The therapist will invite Reid to simply consider — on a purely hypothetical basis — certain ideas that Reid might find threatening if asked to believe on a literal basis. Here’s one such idea: “The framers of the Constitution weren’t kidding when they granted the president exclusive power to nominate and the Senate sole power to confirm.” Reid won’t be asked to actually sign on to this apparently deranged notion. The skilled therapist will simply invite the senator to ponder the idea for, say, ten seconds (as Reid’s heart and breathing rates are closely monitored). Let the practice period be extended by ten-second increments, until Reid can abide the speculative thesis for longer periods without hyperventilating. It must be acknowledged that systematic desensitization can be a challenging regime. For instance, during the course of treatment Reid may experience despair when he hits bottom with the inevitable recognition that any decision to launch a "knock-down, drag-out fight" against the president's constitutional prerogatives would be his own decision. Even so, chances are better than even that Harry Reid will find himself able to read his Wednesday newspaper free of catastrophic retaliatory fantasies. After all, Reid has already admitted his problems with self-control — a crucial first step toward recovery. And if the therapy goes really well, who knows? By the opening gavel of the Senate’s confirmation hearings, Reid might even find himself an enthusiastic exponent of Stanley Fish’s idea that “the only coherent answer to the question ‘What does the Constitution mean?’ is that the Constitution means what its authors intended it to mean.” Key word: might— as in “not certain.” We simply can’t say for sure whether Reid will rise to that level of functioning. It's always dicey to extrapolate across species, comparing cunning rodents to Senate obstructionists. But if there’s anything to the evolutionary idea of descent from common ancestors, Harry Reid has solid grounds for hope.
FISHING: Law prof Stanley Fish offers wise reflections on the Supreme Court distinction that matters most: between judges who would interpret the Constitution and those who would rewrite it. Fish is obviously not the first to make this distinction, but he brings much-needed clarity to the discussion when he argues that
the only coherent answer to the question "What does the Constitution mean?" is that the Constitution means what its authors intended it to mean.
All of the alternatives to that, says Fish, come down to rewriting the Constitution.
Rewriting is what is being done by those who talk about the "living Constitution" and ask, "Why should we be constrained by the dead hand of the past?" This makes no more sense than asking, "Why should we be constrained by wills and contracts?"
Brilliant analogy. When a will or contract is ambiguous, courts routinely look to determine the (deceased) intentions. Courts do not ask, "Given how life has changed since the document was drafted, we can assume the deceased might today hold different views." If there is no valid reason to doubt that Dad meant to leave Junior out of the will, the court must not say, "But Dad's decision was unkind, and he probably would have changed his mind by now, so in the name of fairness we rule that Junior must be given a cut of Dad's estate." Fish also makes the good point that even the best Supreme Court bets have a way of falling short of Gibraltar: "You can hope the performance you see today predicts the performances of years to come. But don't bet on it."
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ROVE: Iraq — specifically WMD. Opponents of the Iraq mission are bound and determined to use Rove as a way to second-guess the decision to remove Saddam. Of course, they signed on to that policy, which became American policy under Clinton. We know Saddam once possessed WMD because he used them on his own people. Was the U.S. wrong about whether Iraq still possessed WMD? Yes, along with: Britain, Germany, France, Russia, the United Nations... Oh, silly me. Those are facts. Let's get back to Rove: Horowitz offers worthy reflections here and Hitchens here.

Monday, July 18, 2005

GOLDBERG'S HUNDRED: I heartily recommend Bernard Goldberg's new book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America: (and Al Franken Is #37). Read it over the weekend and found it smart, funny, fierce, and completely unpretentious. That's not easy with a book like this, because author who writes a series of profiles about people he finds morally bereft runs the risk of sounding very full of himself. Not Goldberg: he's refreshingly free from preaching, yet disarmingly candid about why he believes each of the hundred belongs on the list. Check out this short National Review Q & A with the author, who of course took on the mainsteam media with his previous books Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News and Arrogance: Rescuing America From the Media Elite. Like me, Goldberg once considered himself a liberal, when liberalism wasn't synonymous with blaming America for everything that goes wrong in the world, and abandoning moral discourse to rampant moral relativism. I'm rooting for his book to be a big success, largely so one of our keenest media observers will find himself with a larger stage — but also to frustrate mainstream media hosts (Aaron Brown at CNN, for one) who have cancelled Goldberg appearances or who will refuse to book him at all. Then again, it's starting to be clear that a new generation of non-left authors no longer needs the MSM for access to people who read books and hold strong thoughts about the future of the culture.
NO LICENSE? NO PROBLEM: True, a new federal law blocks driver licenses for illegal immigrants, but let's not get huffy and deny them the right to buy or register cars in California. Simple solution: Require car dealers to require buyers to show both license and insurance. Non-simple execution: Don't expect this to happen any time soon in the Golden Sate, where multicultural activists stand ever ready to accuse responsible legislators of "playing the race card." Stories like this sometimes make me think we don't have enough multimillionaire patriots in public office. Imagine a legislature populated by individuals willing to deal with the border problem head on, without need of campaign contributions and therefore prepared to uphold the Constitution. (I can dream, can't I?)
YO, EBONICS: Aiming to give students a more well-rounded curriculum, the San Bernadino Unified Public School District has added Ebonics:
Incorporating Ebonics into a new school policy that targets black students, the lowest-achieving group in the San Bernardino City Unified School District, may provide students a more well-rounded curriculum, said a local sociologist.... ...Ratibu Jacocks, a member of the Westside Action Group, a coalition of black activists, said they are working with the district to ensure the policy is implemented appropriately. "This isn't a feel-good policy. This is the real thing," Jacocks said. Jacocks said he didn't believe the new policy would create animosity. He said he welcomed the idea of other ethnic groups pushing for their own programs. "When you are doing what's right, others will follow," Jacocks said. "We have led the way before the civil-rights movement opened the door for women's rights and other movements."
Calling Bill Cosby...
DERANGED DISCOURSE: However the Rove matter turns out re the core facts currently in dispute, hopefully history will remember this phase of the affair as a way not to go about public discussion of complex matters. Here's the rub: Key facts have not yet been made public, hence all speculations are based on assumptions as to what those facts might be. Speaking of unfounded guesswork, Andrew Sullivan took a page from the playbook of the Rove controversy today when he "outed" former British prime minister Edward Heath. Sullivan doesn't know for sure that Heath was gay; he just starts with that assumption and runs with it. Being dead, Heath can neither confirm nor deny. If Heath had publicly condemned homosexualitywhile secretly living as a gay man, the issue of hypocrisy would be relevant. He didn't — so it isn't. As it is, my objection has nothing to do with Heath's sexuality; I couldn't care less if he was straight or gay, or even what used to be called a "confirmed bachelor." It's just lousy journalism to transform unsubstantiated rumors into public facts. But I'll admit it makes for useful politics, if you've got an axe to grind. In that sense, the Rove and Heath stories serve a common purpose for partisans. Still, there's a difference. It actually matters whether Rove did what he's accused of. Sullivan's rifling of Heath's closet is here. As for get-Rove-at-all-costs stories, try not to find at least one today.