Friday, May 06, 2005


DeLay = Jefferson?

Hmm...scary thought, eh?

But it's a bit hard to avoid after reading Ron Chernow's outline of how Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson banged heads over the independence of the judiciary during the earliest days of the Republic.

Chernow notes how worried Hamilton (whose magisterial biography Chernow authored last year) was about the idea of a judiciary vulnerable to attack from the other two branches:

In Federalist No. 78, he fretted that the judiciary "has no influence over
either the sword or the purse ... and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the
executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments." In No. 79, he brooded about abuses that might arise from legislative tampering with judges' salaries. "In the general course of human nature," he wrote, "a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will."

To offset these handicaps, Hamilton endorsed the constitutional
provision that federal judges should serve for life, subject to impeachment only for official misconduct, not for unpopular decisions: "The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited constitution."

The newly-elected President Jefferson became outraged that the Judiciary Act of 1801, passed by a lame-duck Congress and signed into law by Federalist John Adams, created a circuit court level dominated by Jefferson's political opposition. Jefferson attempted to scrap the Act and impeach the recently appointed judges.

Hamilton fought back:

At an emergency meeting of the New York City bar in February 1802, he prophesied: "The independence of the judges once destroyed, the Constitution is gone; it is a dead letter." In the newspaper he had recently helped found, The New-York Evening Post*, he warned of the danger posed to the separation of powers if Congress scuttled the courts it had created: "Who is so blind as not to see that the right of the legislature to abolish the judges at pleasure destroys the independence of the judicial department and swallows it up in the impetuous vortex of legislative influence?"
Within two years, Marbury vs. Madison made judicial review -- the power of the courts to rule acts of Congress unconstitutional -- the law of the land. Hamilton's vision won out over Jefferson's.

And today, similar themes are being played out over the issue of the filibuster.

No word on where Jefferson would have come down on paid trips to the Marianas Islands.

*Still in existence, so I'm told.

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Random Sports Question

So, if George Steinbrenner's Bellamy Road wins the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, does the Boss fire Joe Torre of the last-place New York Yankees and replace him with trainer Nick Zito on Sunday ? Or does he wait to see if Zito can produce a Triple Crown?

UPDATE (Saturday, 5/7/05, 7:30 P.M.): Answer to the above hypothetical would be, um, no! Bellamy Road goes "bellamy up" and not one of Zito's horses ended in the money. Meanwhile, it looked like Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, the "Moose," was the only dependable "hoss" to come through Saturday for the Boss.

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Tory Spelling

So, it's a good news/bad news day for Tony Blair. Blair goes into the history books having produced a record third consecutive general election win for Labour, but with significant losses. But do Blair/Labour losses translate to Conservative wins?

A savvy young Tory-leaning Brit political writer emails -- at around Friday morning, 5:30 A.M. (UK time), so the numbers are not final.

He's a bit more sanguine than most of the British media about what all this means:
"Blair's majority is halved, from 160 to about 75. So this is a slap on the face -- but not a very hard one. He's got 75 more MPs than every other party combined.
The share of the
vote, shows Labour losing to the left LibDems. And where does it leave our Conservatives?
Not as far as they should be. [Tory leader Michael] Howard set a target of 50 seats - he won [about] 30. He underscored by his own measure.
[H]is share of the vote was up 0.5% - not much. Howard will go -- but not until Brown replaces Blair at Labour's helm...So, no breathrough for Conservatism here. But for once, it was not abject defeat. And, for us, thats a start."

Make of it what you will.

UPDATE: Kenneth Baer, filling in for the honeymooning Josh Marshall asks the question of why do campaigns feel the need to hire consultants whose last big-name job resulted in spectacular failure. This is problematic just dealing with domestic concerns, but it seems even more so when you decide to go overseas for "good help." Kos made a similar observation about Bob Shrum. Though, to be fair, Kos should recognize that Labour still, you know, actually won.

Again, it seems to me that the biggest predictor of who wins national elections, on both sides of the Atlantic is a) which side manages to create an ongoing, understandable, narrative and b) economic stability/growth. If the opposition can't create a counter-narrative to top that of the party in power, they can do well at the margins (i.e., individual district/constituency seats), but they can't create a complete wave that will bring them to power. Compare this election, for example, with the 1994 off-year US election that brought the GOP into a majority.

UPDATE II: Buh-bye, Mr. Howard, exit stage right. As our UK political writer above observed, Howard "underscored by his own measure." Who's next. Don't know, but how about, for once, Tories, you elect an opposition leader who, has, um, hair?

UPDATE III: While everyone focused on the Liberal Democrats contributing to Labour's decline by clawing away anti-war supporters on the left, UK blogger Richard North points out the real action was on the anti-EU right, where the UK Independence Party (UKIP) drew support that would otherwise have gone to the Tories (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan. Of course, I had to link directly to Mr. North's site because I thought his blog template was way cool!)

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Thursday, May 05, 2005


The Blair Switch Projected

AKA, "What Can Brown Do For You?"

Apparently, an unpopular war can produce unpleasant consequences -- in the UK at least. Everyone was expecting a Tony Blair/Labour re-election, with a reduced majority.

No one was expecting this. While any win is to be celebrated (in the same way that any crash you walk away from is considered "good"), losing nearly 100 seats in the process is hardly cause for dancing in the streets.

Evidently, the revelations of the last week -- a 2003 report advising Blair that going to war with Iraq without UN sanction might be illegal -- raised the "trust" issue with UK voters. Immigration was also an issue that may have had an impact (a point that George W. Bush might take note of).

Of course, having a strong economy and a hapless opposition (as Bill Clinton and the aforementioned George W., respectively) can cover a multitude of sins.

Thus Tony Blair remains Prime Minister -- but not for long, I'd wager.

Expect Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer to be the new Labour leader within two years -- if not sooner. He is far more "Old Labour" than Blair, and is less likely to be as chummy with George W. Bush as the current occupant of 10 Downing Street.

Check in with those two fine British Andrews, Sullivan and Stuttaford, in the coming hours for much more cogent analysis. Oh, and the esteemed Mr. Jim Geraghty of The Kerry Spot (time for a new name, Jim?) will also be chiming in.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Laura Bush: Uniter Not a Divider!!!

Liberals without a sense of humor meet conservatives without a sense of humor.

Hijinks ensue!!

(However, I admit that, owing to certain "generational" sentiments, I am more a "Simpsons Conservative" than a "South Park Conservative.")

UPDATE: NRO visitors, thanks for dropping by! Here's another fine example of a anti-Laura Bush liberal non-humor, courtesy of the American Prospect.

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Georgia On Our Mind

I'm actually sick of this story, but I have to give kudos to my colleague Andrea Peyser for the "unfair" slam at the South in her column today (free registration req'd).

Front Page

I mean, I've curtailed any inherent biases I may have against the states of the former Confederacy (I mean, let bygones be bygones). However, since the election, the whole red-state/blue-state thing has meant an outrageous beating up on the blatant immorality/amorality that allegedly exists on the Coasts and Northwest/east.

But the Jennifer Wilbanks/John Mason "runaway bride" saga should remind everyone that no region has a monopoly on familial dysfunctionality (though 600-guest/14-bridegrooms/groomsmen in a non-Trump setting is, I think a bit rarer north of the Mason-Dixon line).

Meanwhile speaking of the clash of Peach State and Big Apple values, look who's back: Yep, the one-and-only John Rocker. The former Atlanta Braves stopper is now on the comeback trail working with an independent league team on Long Island. Rocker basically blew up a promising career as a closer six years ago when he told Sports Illustrated said that he hated playing in New York because he had to go to Shea Stadium (home of the Mets) on the No. 7 train, an experience he described thusly:
Imagine having to take the (No.) 7 train to (Shea Stadium) looking like
you're (in) Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with
AIDS, right next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time, right
next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing.

The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You
can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English.
Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people
and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?

For some reason, more than a few people took offense at these words. Anyway, the typical media maelstrom kicked in. A rather savvy Braves coach predicted that Rocker probably wouldn't survive the ordeal professionally. Within a few years, between the media scrutiny and injuries, Rocker found himself traded several times and by 2002 was out of major-league baseball.

He exchanged words with a fan in Atlantic City who needled the Macon, GA native thatwas "a long way from Atlanta."

Rocker responded, in my view, in a rather New York manner: "I'm still a millionaire, [expletive]."

Good for him.

I came around to sympathizing with Rocker rather early. Were the things he said back in 1999 bigoted and narrow-minded? Yeah, probably. Does that mean he must be condemned for his entire life for sentiments he expressed (as he himself has noted recently) as a dumb 23 year-old? Of course not. His "punishment" -- in both public opinion and in the downhill trajectory of his life -- has far exceeded his "crime."

And, of course, New York is a great place for second-chances. So, if some fan of his minor-league team's opponents gives him a hard time, his response was the appropriate one. But, John, don't let it get you down that you are still a "whipping boy." Not letting the "#%&^@$s" get you down is what a) living in the New York area is all about and, b) what competing in professional sports is all about.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Judicial "Race" -- To The Bottom (or the Top)?

So exactly which party is playing the race card on judicial nominees?

The answer, of course, is "both." In the current
Weekly Standard, Stephen Calabresi argues that Democrats have taken the vow, "No More Clarence Thomases," and have thus focused their filibuster focus on black, Hispanic, Catholic and female judicial nominees:

Why are Senate Democrats so afraid of conservative judicial nominees who are African Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, and women? Because these Clarence Thomas nominees threaten to split the Democratic base by aligning conservative Republicans with conservative voices in the minority community and appealing to suburban women. The Democrats need Bush to nominate conservatives to the Supreme Court whom they can caricature and vilify, and it is much harder for them to do that if Bush nominates the judicial equivalent of a Condi Rice rather than a John Ashcroft.
That, of course, makes the argument that Democrats are obsessed with blocking these nominees because of their race, gender, religion or some combination thereof. But, in noting this, it implicitly makes the opposite argument: that the GOP might be pushing many nominees precisely because of the problems they pose to Democrats. Yes, Democrats may be -- partly -- blocking Owen, Brown, Pryor and others because of various incidents of their being, but Republicans nominate them for the exact same reason, partly, as stated before, to score "victim" points.

It's nothing new: As George Will said some fourteen years ago, "George Bush began the Thomas saga by saying two things he and everyone else knows are untrue - that Thomas is the person best qualified for the Supreme Court, and that his race was irrelevant to his selection." Thomas was picked because he happened to be an intelligent, but conveniently black and combatively conservative individual. Of course, race was a major element in the mix.

When the Thomas selection was announced, I happened to be in the office of a Republican operative who casually observed, "Thank God he chose the black guy." This person didn't make this observation out of some overwhelming sense of egalitarianism. It was a recognition of pure politics. (For good measure, this person added, noting Thomas' complexion, "And he's really black.") Five years later, I found myself at the Republican Convention and two attendees, wistfully discussed how the '96 GOP ticket was "supposed" to be Dan Quayle and -- drum roll -- Clarence Thomas! Now, why on earth would Republicans openly speculate about a Supreme Court justice giving up his lifetime appointment just to run for vice-president?

Calebresi may well be accurate in saying that putting "Clarence Thomases" on the bench could shatter the Democratic base, except for one thing: That theory was hardly proven true based on the experience of the man who now sits on the high court. One hardly saw a black stampede toward the GOP and away from Democrats because Thomas ended up on the Supreme Court a decade and a half ago (there may be some nominal movement now, for reasons having more to do with -- gasp! -- issues rather than symbolic appointments).

Similar racial gamesmanship is being played by Republicans this time around as occurred during the Thomas (pre-Anita Hill) debate.

Note this statement from Orrin Hatch calling for the quick approval of nominees Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown:

The American Bar Association unanimously gave Justice Owen its highest rating of well qualified. This means she has outstanding legal ability and breadth of experience, the highest reputation for integrity, and such qualities as compassion, open-mindedness, freedom from bias, and commitment to equal justice under law. Yet, some of the very Democrats who once said the ABA rating was the gold standard for evaluating judicial nominees now call Justice Owen an extremist.

Another nominee branded an extremist is California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She is the daughter of Alabama sharecroppers who attended segregated schools before receiving her law degree from the University of California at Los Angeles. She has spent a quarter-century in public service, serving in all three branches of state government.
Hatch uses the ABA ranking to make the case for Owen and talks up her "outstanding legal ability" and "breadth of experience." Yet, for Judge Brown, the focus has to be on her racial biography. Indeed, it's quite obvious that Republicans are happily working off the same set of talking points. Two Sundays ago, Sen. Jon Kyl was on "This Week with George Stephanopolous." The conversation on judges had barely gone by a minute before Kyl was reminiding viewers that Brown was a "sharecropper's daughter from Alabama."

An end-the-filibuster ad by the Progress for America 527 states right at the beginning, "Janice Brown is the daughter of sharecroppers." Ah, it's not as if anyone would care that she has non-biographical attributes that qualify her for the circuit court, right? To be fair, her actual qualifications are eventually discussed, but Republicans have this obsession about leading with the "sharecropper" line. It's as if people don't learn that she's not the "daughter of sharecroppers," there's no way that the public will learn that she's black.

This tactic, of course, recall's Hatch's own words hours after Clarence Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court: "Anybody who takes him on in the area of civil rights is taking on the grandson of a sharecropper."

(By the way, is it written in stone that daughters and grandsons of sharecroppers can't grow up to be radicals or extremists? I'm not saying that Thomas and Brown are, but it's not as if we're looking at mutually exclusive terms here. Goodness knows that there are lots of black folks on the left who come from slavery/sharecropper heritage who have become extremists on the other end of the ideological chain.)

Ah, the fun racial hypocrisies of Washington. Democrats want minorities to succeed and grow up to be anything except conservative. Republicans want minorities to be conservative but are most content to highlight their up-from-sharecropping experiences (if they've got actual, non-racial/non-class attributes, well, that's okay too)!

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Monday, May 02, 2005


Correspondents Dinner Hangover Questions

Question Number One: Now that the First Lady has managed to articulate just about every possible joke about George W. Bush -- early bedtime, pronunciation of the word "nuclear," his ranch-handling "skills," ), etc. -- exactly what is there left for professional comics to zero in on!? She's taken just about everything off the table (once you've talked about the president of the United States "milking" a male horse, what else is there?*).

Whichever White House aide came up with this one should get an instant raise.

*Of course, I would have liked Mrs. Bush to have gone just a bit further. For example, after the milking joke, I think a line about "not having the heart to tell Prince Abdullah, while he was visiting Crawford last week, that he was holding George's milking hand," could have sent the audience into the stratosphere. But, that's just me.

Question Number Two: Exactly what could Pat Robertson, Donald Rumsfeld and American Idol contestant Nadia Turner be talking about?

In fact, please write a caption for the above!

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