In Tony Lewis’ New York Times column mentioned below, Lewis prods Senator Joe Biden (a member of the Judiciary Committee) to reconsider his apparent intention to vote in favor of Ashcroft’s nomination for AG.

This brings up a delicate, but important, point. And one that’s worth considering.

African-Americans are an extremely important Democratic constituency. Despite all the hot-air you’ve been hearing about Republicans reaching out to the African-American community, the percentage at which African-Americans vote for Democrats has actually been increasing in recent years. And even more important, black voter turnout has risen dramatically in the last two election cycles – particularly in a series of Southern states like Georgia and Florida.

And as important as African-Americans are for Democrats in general elections, they’re even more important in primary elections – where they make up twice as large a percentage of the electorate.

In short, support from African-Americans is extremely important to any Democrat who wants to run for president.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden.

You may not know this (I didn’t until recently) but Joe Biden is actually interested, very interested, in running for president again.

Really interested.

(Historical Note: Biden ran for president in 1988 but had to leave the race amid allegations that he had plagiarized a speech first given by then-British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock … and for what it’s worth, Talking Points actually thinks pretty highly of Joe Biden, and thinks the whole plagiarism charge was a bit overdone.)

Anyway, back to my story.

Let’s assume that Ashcroft is confirmed. If he does I suspect he’ll become a lightening rod for criticism from African-Americans and supporters of abortion-rights, somewhat along the lines of Antonin Scalia, only about twenty times more. (Ashcroft’s militantly pro-life stance hasn’t yet gotten as much attention as it should.)

So … fast forward three years and we’re in the Democratic primary and Joe Lieberman and John Kerry and Joe Biden and John Edwards are duking it out. Needless to say, the one’s who voted against Ashcroft will beat up on the ones who voted for him. And if they don’t, activists and constituency groups will do the job for them.

I’m not saying that this is still going to be a burning national issue four years from now. But primary races are funny things. How else are you going to distinguish these characters from each other?

True, if Ashcroft gets confirmed and we never hear another peep from him again, none of this will matter. But I don’t really think that’s going to happen.

So when you start watching where senators line up on the Ashcroft vote, don’t forget about 2003 and 2004. Trust me, they won’t be forgetting either.

Today Tony Lewis has a column (pointed out to me by one loyal Talking Points reader) on the Times OpEd page which focuses in on a topic that I’ve left either implicit or unmentioned in my previous discussions of the Ashcroft nomination, both here and in other publications. The point has to do with the torpedoing of the judicial nomination of Ronnie White. As we’ve discussed earlier, it seems very hard to see how race was not a major factor in Ashcroft’s decision to go against White’s nomination.

But was it the only one? Or was it really that simple? Likely not.

Lewis makes the argument – already rehearsed in a number of articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – that White was the victim of John Ashcroft’s reelection campaign against Mel Carnahan.

At the request of the Pope John Paul II, then-governor Carnahan had commuted the sentence of a death-row convict. Ashcroft wanted to make a campaign issue of this commutation, arguing that Carnahan was soft on the death penalty (and, one must assume, also soft on the Pope).

To make the point more forcefully, Ashcroft decided to fight President Clinton’s appointment of Ronnie White – whom Carnahan had earlier appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court – because he was allegedly also, like Carnahan, soft on the death penalty. (Still with me?)

By the way, Lewis also concisely details Ashcroft’s scurrilous and baseless attacks on White’s character and record as a judge.

So does this mean that Ashcroft isn’t guilty of attacking White because of his race but only guilty of shamelessly politicizing the judiciary?

No. Honestly, I think it shows he was guilty of both. Ronnie White’s race just added to the political effect Ashcroft was trying to achieve. So it may be less that Ashcroft had a gut-level problem with White’s race and more that he was trying to use it for political effect.

But think about it this way: Is it worse to have racial animus in your heart? Or just exploit racist fears and animosities to further your political career? Sort of a tough call, isn’t it?

I just received an email from the Bush/Cheney press flaks with the list of official “surrogates” (what a concept) for Don Rumsfeld.

In alphabetical order they are:

Dr. Ken Adelman
Senator Bill Bradley
Frank Carlucci
Dr. Henry Kissinger
John Robson
Dr. George Shultz

Wait a second. BILL BRADLEY. I thought he was a Democrat. A Democrat who wanted to freeze or cut defense spending.

Al Gore spent much of the primaries arguing that Bradley wasn’t a loyal party man. Geez, I guess he was right.

The only answer I can think of is that both Bradley and Rumsfeld went to Princeton, which would mean that Bill Bradley is more loyal to Princeton University than the Democratic party. (Not a big surprise) Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any beef with Princeton (honestly, I went there too, and here’s the embarrassing evidence). But couldn’t Bradley hold off on making it clear just one more time that he’s just not much of a team player, and a bit of turncoat.

P.S. And in case you’re wondering. No, Talking Points is not a big fan of Bill Bradley.

Okay, a few thoughts on the Bush cabinet. The more I look at this crew I give Bush pretty high marks. Not on substance but on strategy. Let’s assume what I hope is not the case: that every one of Bush cabinet appointments gets approved. Let’s also assume that Bush nominates James Talent (mentioned earlier in TPM) as his Labor Secretary, which is what I’m hearing.

You have what looks like a pretty moderate cabinet, which in many respects it is. But conservatives get pretty much all the choice slots they wanted. Ashcroft, needless to say, is beloved by hardcore right-wingers. He’s virulently pro-life, no friend of civil rights enforcement, has no concept of the separation of church and state, the list goes on and on.

(An old Newsweek article by Howard Fineman, which I have in front of me, says Ashcroft literally had his head anointed with oil as prescribed in the Old Testament just prior to be being sworn in as senator – I presume religious conservatives will derive some pleasure from this too.)

But it’s more than just Ashcroft.

Don Rumsfeld is a perfectly reasonable choice for Defense Secretary. It’s pretty hard to say he’s not up to the job since he’s already done it once before. And Rumsfeld is known as basically a get-along-go-along moderate in Republican ranks. But … and this is a big ‘but’ … he’s also joe-missile-defense.

He was the head of the commission which a couple years back said that the US was much more vulnerable than commonly thought to attacks from rogue states and thus was in great need of rapid moves toward deploying a missile shield. That report had a decisive effect on the missile defense debate and played a big role in the Clinton administration’s support of a limited missile defense option.

So Rumsfeld looks like a moderate, and in many respects he is. But he’s a big missile defense man. And conservatives LOVE missile defense. So they love him.

Clever, very clever.

(Who’s doing Bush’s thinking for him? Can’t be him, can it?)

Then take Jim Talent, the possible Labor Secretary. Talent looks like an inoffensive enough fellow. But he’s about as anti-labor as they come. Hopefully Democrats will mount a strong fight against him (certainly big labor will insist on it). But unfortunately he probably gets confirmed.

So the upshot of it all is that Bush gets the image of a pretty moderate cabinet (which, as I said, is partly accurate) and yet he gave conservatives a lot – a whole lot – of the plums they wanted.

Sure, they didn’t get a complete wing-nut at HHS. But, hey, you can’t have everything, can you? And besides Tommy Thompson ain’t no Donna Shalala.

P.S. Several editors have been asking me to come up with the unifying principle that pulls together all of Bush’s nominees. I think I’ve got one: people who were just rejected by the voters of Missouri! John Ashcroft lost for Senate last month; Jim Talent lost for governor. It’s almost like a jobs program for Republican losers from the Show-Me-State. And in case you think I’m beating up on Missouri — Back Off! Talking Points was born there.

Damn! Is this a great article, or what? You’ve got to read this installment of Slate’s Chatterbox by Tim Noah. It’s about the supposed Democratic elder statesman Bob Strauss, an elder statesman and a wise man who’s not really an elder statesman or a wise man, but more like a fixer, a sly self-promoter, and a hack.

(Come to think of it, maybe we should come up with a word for this Washington breed. We could call them hack-men or wise-hacks or elder-fixers. Personally, I think it’s a close call between hackmen and wisehacks, and I probably go for the former.)

But anyway, back to my story. Do read Noah’s article. It’ll tell you more about Washington and the Democratic party and the new administration and influence-peddling than you’ll get from a whole month of the New York Times and the Washington Post combined.

P.S. Tim, no thank you note required. Just spread the word about Talking Points. That’ll do just fine.

P.P.S. Hackmen, Wisehacks, Elderfixers? Which one sounds best? Anyone else wanna take a stab at this? Should it be a contest?

Don Rumsfeld may be a decent choice for Defense Secretary.

But between you and me, his George W. Bush imitation leaves a lot to be desired.

Is Robert Torricelli running for the role of Senate-Democrat-Most-Likely- to-Stab-His-Own-Party-in- the-Back-for-No-Good-Reason? The position is open after all, what with Bob Kerrey and Pat Moynihan retiring, and Joe Lieberman adopting a more partisan, team-player tone.

Just think. Bob Torricelli … First Senate Dem to call on Al Gore not to file any lawsuits in Florida. First Senate Dem to call on Al Gore to drop out of the race. First Senate Dem to publicly say Al Gore blew it and shouldn’t run again. First Senate Dem to give John Ashcroft a thumbs up for AG.

Do I need to go on?

P.S. Next post, what did then-congressman Bob Torricelli tell Talking Points in 1990 when Talking Points interviewed him for his low-budget college radio station public affairs show?

Alright, now we’re talkin’!

It took a few days for the mainstream media to pick up my story about John Ashcroft’s interview with the Southern Partisan magazine (first published here five days ago, thank you.). But finally we’re off and running.

This article published overnight by the Associated Press covers the story in some detail. And, yes, in case you’re wondering they came out with it after my piece appeared in Slate, and gave no credit.

But enough of my pathetic whining! It’s actually a pretty solid piece. Well worth reading.

Now the fun part starts. We get to listen to the Ashcroftians spin the story and explain why the whole thing’s really not a big deal.

Attempt Number One

Bush spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss (whom Talking Points remembers as being quite helpful back when she was spokeswoman for Steve Forbes) said Ashcroft’s comments reflected that he “believes in an exact reading on history.”

He believes in an exact reading on history … And that means what exactly?

Attempt Number Two


The Bushies and the Ashcroftians told the AP:

As Missouri governor from 1985 to 1993, Ashcroft signed into law a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader; established musician Scott Joplin’s house as Missouri’s only historic site honoring a black person; created an award honoring black educator George Washington Carver; named a black woman to a state judgeship; and led a fight to save Lincoln University, which was founded by black soldiers.

You know, I also hear he once went to dinner with a black guy from Kansas City.

Okay, sorry, that was uncalled for. But really. So Ashcroft was not wacky enough to be one of the one or two governors who tried to veto an MLK holiday bill. And he appointed one black woman to be a judge. I mean, geez, no one’s saying Ashcroft is a Klansman after all. I would hope he’d named one African-American to the bench during eight years as governor of a state with a large African-American population.

But, wait, there’s more! When Ashcroft thought of running to be the head of the RNC in 1993 he said the party should be “tolerant” and avoid being “mistakenly portrayed as petty, divisive and mean-spirited.”

That’s bold — way bold.

More on point is the fact, reported in the AP story, that George Bush, Sr. appointed Ashcroft to his commission on race and minorities in America. And Ashcroft was one of only two of the forty commission members who refused to sign the final report. Ashcroft said the report’s “generalizations about setbacks in progress are overly broad and counterproductive.”

Hmmm.

Talking Points hasn’t seen the report. But he imagines that since it was sponsored by President Bush it probably wasn’t a particularly afro-centric document, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, the point isn’t that Ashcroft’s a racist. But then that’s not the standard, is it? Given all the evidence, let’s just say that civil rights enforcement just doesn’t really seem like John Ashcroft’s cup of tea.

And since the AG is the head civil rights enforcer. Maybe he just ain’t the right guy for the job.

Today Talking Points finally got his hands on an actual copy of John Ashcroft’s interview with the Southern Partisan magazine.

If anything the quote in question is even more damning than the clipped version noted previously. (If nothing else, it’s funnier: the intro praises Ashcroft for being “a jealous defender of national sovereignty against the New World Order.”)

Speaking on the evils of historical revisionism, Ashcroft said:

“Your magazine helps set the record straight. You’ve got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I’ve got to do more. We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.”

So, in other words, if you really want the straight scoop on the nation’s past read the revisionist, crypto-racist claptrap printed in the Southern Partisan.

Man! This guy’s got civil rights written all over him, doesn’t he?

If you want Talking Points two-bits on this latest development, check out this article he wrote today in Slate.

Ya know, for the first time I’m actually starting to think Ashcroft may not make it.

P.S. I can’t name him because I didn’t ask his permission, but Talking Points would like to send out an extra special Talking Points ‘thank you’ to the reader who faxed him a copy of the Ashcroft interview.

By all means read this excellent column by USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. After rehearsing the valid and increasingly well-known reasons for rejecting John Ashcroft’s nomination for Attorney General on the merits, Chemerinsky proposes a broader, strategic rationale … considering how many judicial nominations are likely to be coming down the pike, Senate Democrats should take this opportunity to make the ground rules clear: no hardcore right-wingers on the bench or as AG, period. No ‘ifs’, ‘ands’, or ‘buts’ about it.

Chemerinsky says the Dems should even be willing to filibuster the nomination if need be (and the need probably will be.)

That makes good sense both substantively and politically.

This December 8th New York Post column (by none other than Talking Points himself!) makes the point more broadly. George W. needs to understand that there’s a price to be paid for jimmying the lock and sneaking into the Oval Office by the back door. If Bush wants smooth sailing during the cabinet confirmation process, the Dems need to tell him: only moderates and mainstream conservatives get appointments to the important posts, period. This isn’t payback; just a recognition of the reality of this election.

And finally, why hasn’t more been said about Ashcroft’s interview with the Southern Partisan magazine? I’d like to take heaps of credit for being the first to mention this story late on the evening of December 22nd. But, honestly, a few Nexis searches are all that’s required to get all the details. But a quick search on the self-same Nexis reveals that only one article (that by Tom Edsall in the Washington Post) has even mentioned the Southern Partisan interview since Ashcroft’s nomination (and even then only in passing).

Isn’t this sort of a big deal? Is it really too much to ask that nominees for Attorney General not give interviews to crypto- (or not-so-crypto) racist publications like the Southern Partisan?

I was just going to lead off with another hit on Attorney General designee John Ashcroft by telling you how he once received an honorary degree from Bob Jones University. (During this year’s Senate campaign the late Mel Carnahan challenged Ashcroft to return the degree. Ashcroft said he’d do so if Carnahan returned campaign contributions from pro-choice groups — an equation which tells you a lot about John Ashcroft.)

But then I thought: hey, maybe I’m being too hard on the guy. It’s not like he’s off giving interviews to borderline-racist, Neo-Confederate magazines after all. Right?

Well, okay, maybe he is.

Back in 1998 Ashcroft gave an interview to Southern Partisan magazine in which he said that ”traditionalists must
do more” to defend Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee. ”We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect,” Ashcroft continued, “or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.”

Talking Points thought slavery was a “perverted agenda.” But, hey, let’s not quibble.

So what is the Southern Partisan magazine? The Southern Partisan is a leading publication of the Neo-Confederate movement which extols the Confederacy, Southern culture, and at least flirts with the idea of Southern secession from the United States. It also has some rather disturbing things to say about African-Americans.

Talking Points doesn’t want to label the magazine racist; but it does publish many articles which most people would likely find deeply racially offensive.

Some examples?

A 1984 article in the Southern Partisan argued that “Negroes, Asians, and Orientals (is Japan the exception?); Hispanics, Latins, and Eastern Europeans; have no temperament for democracy, never had, and probably never will…. It may be impolite and unpolitic to bring the subject up, but can our democratic system endure unless we close up the frontiers to peoples who are not … predisposed to honor its assumptions?”

In 1990 an article called David Duke “a candidate concerned about `affirmative’ discrimination, welfare prolifigacy [sic], the taxation holocaust … a Populist spokesperson for a recapturing of the American ideal.”

A 1996 article claimed “slave owners … did not have a practice of breaking up slave families. If anything, they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves’ peace and happiness.”

(These quotes come courtesy of this excellent article on the Southern Partisan and its editor by Benjamin Soskis in The New Republic.)

And George W. wants this guy in charge of enforcing the country’s civil rights laws?

Let’s say a little more about John Ashcroft and Ronnie White.

(Who’s Ashcroft? Who’s White? See this post.)

A Talking Points Reader took me to task for implying that Ashcroft’s opposition to the White nomination was based on White’s race. This was a fair criticism. Had White been a black conservative, this reader argued, Ashcroft wouldn’t have had any problem with him. The problem was that White was a black liberal or, perhaps better to say, a black non-conservative.

But this sort of makes my point, doesn’t it? The question isn’t whether White would have sailed through if he were a black conservative. The question is whether White, with his judicial philosophy, would have faced any problems if he were white. The answer, I think, is almost certainly ‘no.’

So the problem does seem to have been White’s race.

Let’s mention some other details.

In the course of Ashcroft’s campaign against White, he accused the judge of being ”pro-criminal and activist,” exuding ”a serious bias against . . . the death penalty,” and even ”a tremendous bent
toward criminal activity.”

Pretty ugly charges.

Ashcroft also lobbied Missouri law enforcement associations to oppose White’s nomination. And then used their opposition as a justification for his opposition.

But here’s what really puts the lie to Ashcroft’s argument.

Ashcroft’s main charge against White was that he was too soft on the death penalty. But consider this paragraph from an article by Stuart Taylor from the National Journal in October 16th, 1999:

Judge White has voted to uphold 70 percent (41) of the 59 death sentences he has reviewed, while voting to reverse the other 18, including 10 that were unanimously reversed and three in which he was the only dissenter. That’s a bit below the 75 percent to 81 percent averages of the five current Missouri Supreme Court judges whom Ashcroft himself appointed when he was Governor, according to numbers compiled by the Missouri Democratic Party. It’s well above the 53 percent average of Elwood Thomas, the now-deceased Ashcroft appointee whom White replaced in 1995.

In other words, White was at best only marginally more ‘lenient’ than the judges Ashcroft himself had appointed while governor.

The best way to state the role race played in Ashcroft’s decision comes from one of Ashcroft’s former supporters. Gentry Trotter, a black Republican who raised funds for Ashcroft’s earlier candidacies, resigned from Ashcroft’s 2000 Senate campaign effort because of what he called Ashcroft’s “marathon public crucifixion and misinformation campaign of Judge White’s record as a competent jurist.” He said he suspected Ashcroft had used a “different yardstick” to measure White’s record (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8th, 1999). That is to say, one yardstick for whites, one for blacks.

Sounds about right.

Next up, the politics behind Ashcroft’s opposition to Ronnie White and some more trash talk about how John Ashcroft just loves Jefferson Davis.

Well, maybe I was wrong. But in this case I’m glad to be.

In the last post, I noted today’s nomination of John Ashcroft, the thoroughly odious out-going Senator from Missouri, as Attorney General.

Senators and former Senators are usually given an extremely soft ride in cabinet confirmation hearings. And on first blush I, despairingly, predicted it would be the same for Ashcroft.

But perhaps not.

Turns out Ashcroft was not so popular among his colleagues in the Senate, though he’s real chummy with Trent Lott. And key constituencies within the Democratic party are already mobilizing, heatedly, in opposition. (On this one I’m not kidding. Friday before Christmas, or no, phones and beepers and faxes are ringing off the hook for liberals all over DC.)

Item One? Ashcroft’s almost-single-handed torpedoing of the nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White to a federal judgeship.

Ashcroft argued that his opposition to White’s nomination was based on White’s insufficient commitment to the death penalty (White affirmed the death penalty in only 71% of the cases which came before him.) But Ronnie White is black and race was widely believed to have played a role in Ashcroft’s opposition. Colleagues of mine who have looked into the case (and who don’t make the charge lightly) believe that it was really more like the sole reason for Ashcroft’s opposition.

To say that Ashcroft has a lousy record on civil rights is rather generous. Add to this the fact that Ashcroft is thoroughly hostile to women’s rights, gay rights, and abortion rights and you’ll start to get a feel for why more than a few Dems may decide to vote against him.

More anti-Ashcroft muckraking to follow.

P.S. Oh yeah, almost forget to mention it. After Ashcroft’s defeat last month he went on a sort of self-congratulation tour making invidious comparisons between himself and Al Gore, arguing that he had done the right thing by not contesting his close defeat to the late Mel Carnahan. He neglected to mention that he lost to Carnahan by a bit more than 2% of the vote. In other words, Ashcroft, unlike Gore, had no business even thinking about contesting the vote. And the supposed legal claims he might have pursued were flimsy. Slate’s Tim Noah effortlessly dispatches Ashcroft’s moronic gambit here.

So it’s John Ashcroft for Attorney General.

Christian conservatives really wanted the Justice Department for themselves; and it looks like they’re going to get it. Most Republicans divide into four categories: principled moderates, principled conservatives, wackos, and hacks. Ashcroft covers categories three and four. John Ashcroft is really, really not a good guy. But he’s an out-going (as in voted-out-of-office) senator, so he’ll be confirmed in a second.

Montana Governor Marc Racicot (frequently made fun of by Talking Points) was in line for AG but – according to press accounts – pulled himself out of the running.

This is a good example of one of the flaws of contemporary journalism. Racicot didn’t pull himself out. He got negged by Bush (even after working hard for the job by abasing himself shamelessly in Florida last month) because of pressure from conservatives. But the Bushies say he pulled himself out. And Racicot says the same. So no one reports the obvious: that he got negged by Bush.

We can now get ready for the really odious appointees to get tapped by Bush for Interior, Labor, Defense, Justice, etc.

But before we go on. Let’s give credit where credit is due. Tommy Thompson for HHS and Christie Whitman for EPA are rock-solid appointees. Would I have appointed them? Of course, not. But that’s not the standard to expect. Both are mainstream conservatives who actually have real concern and knowledge about the areas of public policy they’ll be working on. So credit where credit is due.

Next, return to the usual nastiness.

Last month when Jeb Bush recused himself from sitting on the state Elections Canvassing Commission, he tapped Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, a Democrat, to take his place.

At the time, Talking Points was a little surprised that this pick didn’t draw a touch more critical attention. Why? Crawford had supported Jeb’s gubernatorial candidacy in 1998 and he supported W. for president this year. In my neck of the woods we have a name for Southern Democrats who supported George W. Bush. We call them Republicans.

Now comes word that Crawford is in line for a promotion. He’s going to head the Department of Citrus (presumably a job that exists only in Florida.) A commission dominated by Jeb’s appointees has tapped Crawford for the job, which pays $237,270 a year. That’s about twice what Crawford and all the rest of the state’s highest elected officials, including Jeb, currently makes.

State Dems are saying it’s payback. Frankly, to Talking Points, that charge doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.

In the none-too-subtle words of the St. Petersburg Times:

Crawford’s move toward the Citrus Department job was swift: He applied Monday, and the state’s Citrus Commission voted Tuesday to offer him the position. The official salary range for the post is $90,000 to $290,000. In a statement Tuesday, Crawford said he was “honored” to be offered the job, and looked forward to discussing it further.

Job well done, Bob!

Why isn’t this story getting picked up elsewhere?

Turns out Al Gore isn’t all that bummed after all. Yes, he’s disappointed. Profoundly so. He’s coming into his office a few hours a day, writing thank you notes, making calls, and so forth. But he’s okay. He’s in a good place.

Why? Because he thinks he won. He knows he won.

Yes, he accepts the verdict of the Supremes and all that.

But he got half a million votes more than George W. nationwide. And if those votes would have gotten counted in Florida, he thinks he would have won there too. He knows he would have.

So … he’s in a good place.

Good for him!

P.S. How close are Talking Points’ sources to the Veep?

Inches, buddy, inches …

If you’re a Democrat, be happy.

Be very happy.

Yes, yes, I know that election thing didn’t pan out so well. But the post-election — actually the post-post-election — is going very well indeed – at least in partisan terms.

Let’s be frank: if Bush were smart, he’d be playing toward the middle. (I don’t mean he should tack toward the center because ‘that’s where the people are.’ I just mean that makes strategic sense.) But he’s not doing that. His moves point toward a base-centric, ideological path of governance.

Yes, I know conservatives will be heartened by this. And they’d be furious if he took a different path. But what really worries Democrats is a canny path of cooptation. And for the moment they shouldn’t be worrying at all.

This plays to all Bush’s weaknesses.

(Ron Brownstein gets at some, but not all, of this in this article in today’s LA Times.)

Like I said, if you’re a Dem, be happy, be very happy.

P.S. Next up, Talking Points unveils the Democrats’ grand strategy for the next two years.

You simply must read this article by David Broder in today’s WashingtonPost. The headline reads “On 1st Look, [Bush’s] Approach Earns Praise.”

That’s funny, though. Because just about every word in the piece reads more like “On 1st Look, Bush’s approach makes people think he’s an arrogant a$#h@le.”

How did Bush open his first ever meeting with Senator Minority Leader Tom Daschle? “I came here to ask for one thing: I hope you never lie to me.”

That’s a good start.

Is he for real with this stuff? I wish Daschle would have slapped him around a bit for that one. But Daschle, wisely, is probably content to let Bush fall on his face.


The theme of the article is that Bush comes in with little sense that his questionable victory has any implications for how he should begin his presidency. He seems intent on swaggering it out, or, as his dad once said in a different context, ‘kicking a lil’ ass.”

“His determination to press for the agenda on which he campaigned was clear,” says Broder, “his readiness to adapt to the power-sharing implicit in the near-parity of party strength in Congress was less visible.”

Here’s some more:

Yet in his meetings Monday on Capitol Hill, Bush hardly behaved like someone who was sneaking into the White House by the back door. One Republican, watching him for the first time, was struck by the “Texas macho.”

“There’s some swagger to him,” he said. “He swore a couple times just for emphasis.”

“His body language was good — very good eye contact,” said one Democrat with whom he met. “He certainly doesn’t lack for self-confidence.”

A senior Bush aide who sat in on some of the sessions said he thought it “important that they heard from the man himself how seriously he takes the issues he campaigned on.” And that message came through, according to auditors.

(Is Broder telling us to read between the lines? Or did he himself fail to do so?)

Thus far the wise buzz on Bush’s seeming intransigence on the $1.3 trillion tax cut has been that he’s just setting forth a good negotiating position – from which he knows he’ll have to fall back. But this article makes it sound a bit more like he thinks he can get most of what he wants if he just sticks to his guns, kicks a little butt, and tells a few dopey stories about how he handled business in Texas.

Can you say … smack-down?

Let’s turn now to the increasingly notorious Hillary Clinton book deal. My understanding was always that Newt Gingrich got in trouble for his book deal because he basically cut the deal with Rupert Murdoch’s lobbyist. It wasn’t an open bid. It was a sweetheart deal.

Hillary’s book deal was the product of an open bid. So what exactly is the problem?

Yes, she should probably recuse herself from legislation directly affecting Viacom. But can’t she write a book? Shouldn’t she be able to make money from it? (Trust me: I know some folks at the Clinton Legal Expense Trust. They really need the money.) Does anyone doubt that a book in which Hillary discusses her marriage will sell about a gazillion copies? Does anyone doubt that it will sell more copies than Newt Gingrich’s tome about third-wave, information age, opportunity-society claptrap and how it relates to dinosaurs?

No, I didn’t think so.

Maybe there’s something wrong with the book deal. Maybe she shouldn’t have accepted an advance. But Newt’s book deal just doesn’t seem like an apt comparison.

I’m ready to give George W. his due when he makes a good call. I don’t expect this to happen very often. But picking Colin Powell was a very solid decision.

But let’s get something straight. Great Guy, Lousy Doctrine. The Powell Doctrine essentially says: if you only fight fights you can win easily, then you’ll win every fight. That’s not a doctrine, it’s a tautology, a truism. It gives you no guidance for ascertaining or protecting national interests.

Like well-designed scientific experiments, good doctrines must be capable – in their nature – of failing. And Powell’s isn’t. Because you don’t know what you should have done, but didn’t.

Still with me?

Anyway, it’s a doctrine that might work for a Secretary of Defense, but not a Secretary of State. Approve Powell, not his doctrine.

Also, if there’s anyone Talking Points loves more than Al Gore, it’s Bill Clinton. But I must say it’s pretty disappointing to hear he’s considering a pardon for Indian-rights-activist- cum-convicted-murderer Leonard Peltier. I mean, isn’t this sort of like finding out that Clinton’s favorite musician is Kenny G.? Anyone who’s really hip knows that Peltier really did ice those two FBI agents back in the seventies. For God’s sake, they teach that in the second week of freshman orientation. Peltier’s the Mumia of the Me-generation. Who doesn’t know that?

If I find out that my man Bill has the cultural literacy and political acumen of a granola-fied sixteen year old, I’m gonna cry.

Here are a few thoughts on the Gore in Four question.

(First, take into account that Talking Points is something of a Gore booster. So keep that in mind when evaluating his credibility on this question.)

1. On the question of the quality of Gore’s campaign. Most of my friends say Gore ran a crummy campaign. More important, the one person whose political opinions I respect more than anyone else (I’ll him Mr. X) says Gore ran a crummy campaign. However, consider this question: How many losing candidates do you know who ran good campaigns? How many losing candidates do you know of, of whom it was said: “Man! He lost big. But damn did he run a great campaign!” Right. None.

This doesn’t mean Gore didn’t run a crummy campaign. Just that it’s very hard to evaluate a campaign through the prism of it’s own defeat. (Of course, I too often thought that Gore ran a crummy campaign and said so here and here among other places. So who knows.)

2. When you’re reading an article about whether Dems will support Gore for another run in 2004 don’t forget to use the Talking Points de-knife-in- the-back-spin formula. (Formula: count number of quotations from politicians who themselves want to run in 2004. Double this number. Now divide the number of paragraphs in the article by this doubled number. If the answer is less than one throw away the article; between one and two, take it with a grain of salt; over two, take it seriously.)

2b. Quotes by shameless stab-in-the-back self-promoters like Bob Torricelli who may be in denial and think they can run in 2004 count for THREE under the Talking Points de-knife-in -the-back formula.

3. It’s just too early to tell. Go back to what people were saying about Dick Nixon in early 1961. No one had any idea what 1964 would be like or 1968 would be like. All speculation right now makes no sense.

4. Dukakis is not a realistic analogy for Gore. Dukakis was utterly untested politically outside the provincial environs of Massachusetts. Gore’s been in national politics for a quarter century. Plus, Dukakis completely sucked as a candidate and Gore only kinda sucked. Not comparable.

5. Pundits are ignoring the real angle for a possible Gore comeback. With deft management (okay, not that likely) Gore could turn his primary disability this year into an advantage. That disability was that he had connections with almost every wing of the party but he wasn’t quite identified with or beloved by any of them. However, without the centripetal force of Clintonism Dems may well become more polarized between their labor-left and New Dem wings. Gore could turn out to be one of the only people to run with support in both these groups, who can bridge that gap. Gore has developed quite good relations with the labor wing of the party. And the folks at the DLC, once they get through shamelessly stabbing him in the back, will realize he’s still at heart basically one of them. (In some respects this bridging is what Nixon was able to do in 1968. Yes, back to Nixon.)

P.S. Email to my friends with gorenet.com email addresses is starting to get bounced back with “fatal errors.” Ouch! Okay, I’ve got to deal. This really must be over.

P.P.S. Al, don’t fret. Some of these points above must be true. Don’t fret. You want Talking Points to come work for you and play Boswell to your Dr. Johnson? Just say the word!

P.P.P.S. Alright, I’ve really got to get over this.

Talking Points is announcing a new contest!

Who can come up with the most brazen and dishonest (and/or moronic) Republican use of the ‘Hey, it wasn’t a 5-4 decision, it was a 7-2 decision’ line about the Supreme Court decision?

(Just so we’re all on the same page. Seven justices – all but Stevens and Ginsburg – said there were, or might be, equal protection problems raised by the Florida recount. But two of those (Breyer and Souter) raised real questions about whether this was actually the case – and, far more importantly, thought the problem could be resolved with a directed remand to the Florida court. Alright, do we understand each other? Send submissions here.)

I’ll start the ball rolling with George Will today on This Week. I’ll post the actual quote when I get a hold of the transcript.

P.S. Know what the new “L” word is? “Legitimacy,” of course. On Meet the Press today Dick Gephardt wouldn’t use it about George W. Bush. That’s brass-knuckles.

Just finished reading Jeffrey Rosen’s indictment of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore in the new New Republic — a trenchant and devastating analysis of the court’s decision. I almost don’t recommend reading it. Because it’s hard to do so and not get even more outraged about what the Court conservatives did.

Rosen stops short of accusing the conservatives of purely political intent in deciding the case in the way that they did. He implies that they believed they were stepping in to end a galloping legitimacy crisis which was about to spin out of control. They were acting, he surmises, on a sort of subtextual ‘this has gone on long enough’ reasoning. So they abused their oath, but to serve what they believed to be a higher purpose.

I wonder if this is what Rosen really believes or whether he, perhaps rightly, stopped short of accusing them of narrowly political motives because of the impossibility of proving such an allegation, and the explosive nature of the charge. In any case, it’s a very good piece.

There is an interesting thread, or instance of crosstalk, running through the opinions which I haven’t seen noted elsewhere. In Rehnquist’s concurrence on page 4, in the course of justifying the Court’s obligation and power to overrule a state high court’s interpretation of state law, Rehnquist relies on two Civil Rights-era cases wherein the Court stepped in to shut down legal funny business perpetrated by segregationist state courts. Considering how many African-American voters had their votes thrown out in Florida and the … well, less than civil rights-friendly jurisprudence of Thomas, Scalia and Rehnquist, this is more than a cruel irony. It’s more like sick humor. (See this article on Rehnquist’s early work as a Republican political operative assigned to harass African-American voters.)

And it’s a vicious irony not lost on Justice Ginsburg, who seems to have taken particular offense. “[T]his case involves nothing close to the kind of recalcitrance by a state high court that warrants extraordinary action by this Court,” Ginsburg writes on page 6 of her dissent. “The Florida Supreme Court … surely should not be bracketed with state high courts of the Jim Crow South.”

Too true.

I wonder if this was behind her sharp “I dissent” which she used to conclude her opinion instead of the standard “I respectfully dissent.”

She might also have noted another ironic inversion: In the cases cited in the Rehnquist concurrence, a civil rights US Supreme Court was stepping in to block the plainly injudicial acts of rogue Southern state high courts. In this case a rogue US Supreme Court was committing an injudicial act to block the efforts of a civil rights Southern state high court.

Now that’s progress!

P.S. I guess pointing this out would be too much even for Ginsburg. After all, dropping a “respectfully” is already pretty much their way of saying “Hey, You Wanna Piece a me?!”

Three excellent articles Talking Points recommends for your reading.

This article by Jack Beatty in Atlantic Unbound gives an impassioned, angry, and absolutely first-rate run-down of all that went wrong in Florida. You’ll probably know the basic facts but he puts it all together in a way that only a first-rate writer really can. Read it and you’ll be glad you did.

A nice Salonish article in (you guessed it) Salon about why Bush’s speech to the Democratic Texas House of Reps was a bit of a sham. A lot of Dems weren’t allowed to come. Basically the one’s who got invites were pretty much those who either supported Bush’s candidacy or as much as did so. A nice metaphor for the reality behind Bush’s bipartisanship. Good piece by Jake Tapper. Not sure any of the prestige press caught this.

Finally, this article in Saturday’s New York Times is about the prison employees who administer executions in Texas. No Bush-bashing here. Just a very affecting and powerful description of an anguished job and the conflicted men who do it. Not light reading, but really good.

Wow, wow, wow!
I’ll say it again. Wow!

According to this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer Al Gore’s lead in the popular vote now stands at 540,435. Think of that. More than a half a million votes.

I don’t want to make too big a deal of this. But I think that at half a million votes Gore’s margin pushes past a certain psychological threshold. In the national vote this really wasn’t a ‘virtual tie.’ Bush lost. Narrowly, yes. But he lost (Historical perspective: Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford by 678,000 votes in 1976).

Make a note of it and have it on hand for future discussions about Bush’s mandate.

P.S. A special TPM shout-out to the Pointster who passed this info along.

Last week I wrote a column in the New York Post, which set out some ground-rules for George W. Bush’s appointments (yes, I knew it was all over even then).

The basic gist of it was this: the Democrats would resist the temptation to indulge in a lot of confirmation funny business if Bush would come to grips with the dubious nature of his election and appoint a moderate cabinet. One passage read:

He is simply not in a position to appoint more than a few token conservatives to his cabinet. Certainly none to the marquee positions at State, Justice, Defense and Treasury. And none to Cabinet positions dear to the hearts of his Democratic opposition, i.e., no paycheck-protection activists for Labor Secretary, and no supporters of regulatory rollback at the EPA.

Well apparently W. didn’t heed my advice. According to several published reports Bush is considering James M. Talent as a possible Labor Secretary. (Talent retired from congress to run for governor of Missouri this year, and lost.) Democrats should and I believe will see this as an insult, a slap in the face. Dems really care about what the Labor Department does, for obvious reasons. For them it’s not just a place to fob off ideologues and hacks who are out of a job.

Why is Talent such an objectionable candidate? Well, he’s just very, very anti-labor. Consider his congressional ratings from the National Federation of Independent Business (a conservative business lobby) and AFSCME (the big public employees’ union). In 1998 NFIB gave Talent a 100% rating; AFSCME, a 0% rating. That doesn’t mean Talent’s a bad guy (well, okay … actually it does mean that.) But it does mean that he’s about as hostile to unions as you can get.

Senate Democrats should simply say, Jim Talent may be a decent guy. But he’s unacceptable for Labor Secretary, period. If Bush wants to go to war, fine. Go ahead. But they should try to make an example of Talent he if does.

The electoral college determines who is president (of course, even here Bush needed ‘help’.) But the popular vote determines who gets a mandate. And Bush’s 300,000-plus loss in the popular vote is so much less than a mandate that it’s not even funny.

So Senate Democrats should say to Bush: Listen, it’s cool you’re president and all. Someone’s got to be president. The Supreme Court says you’re president. So you’re president. But, between us, we don’t really even think you got elected legitimately. So appoint your dads buds. Put in some solid Republicans at State and Defense and Treasury. For Transportation, Commerce, Energy, have at it. Appoint whatever wackos you want. But try to push through someone like Jim Talent for Labor Secretary and we’ll eat you alive.

P.S. And in case you’re wondering. Yes, Tom Daschle reads Talking Points religiously.

I just came across this article by Deroy Murdock in National Review Online. It’s not an article exactly. More like a catalogue of all the major highlights of infantile, conservative self-pity. It even has bullet points! … We’re too nice. The Left is on the warpath. We’ve gotta learn to fight. Yada, yada, yada.

Headline:   The Right’s Too Nice

Deck:   Battle Stations!

Trust me, you’ll get a real kick out of it. I give it the Talking Points seal of approval!

Just about every major paper in the country ran an article this morning about Louisiana Democratic Senator John Breaux’s meeting today with George W. Bush. And the possibility that he’ll offer Breaux a cabinet post. This, of course, is part of the reconciliation-bipartisanship -be-nice-to-me-please agenda which Bush is now pursuing.

But why isn’t anyone pointing this out? There is probably nothing that Bush could do right now that would piss Democrats off more than appointing Breaux, and thus reducing their margin in the Senate to 51-49.

Breaux, of course, would be dead to Senate Dems for such an act of betrayal.

I guarantee you, if Breaux accepted an appointment, the day he walked out of the Senate, Tom Daschle would grab him and plant a big, hard kiss right on his forehead (obligatory Godfather reference).

But what about Bush? To Dems on the Hill this wouldn’t be reaching out. It would be war.

Is this intentional? Do they want to screw with the Dems? Or is this just a misunderstanding of how Washington politics differs from politics in Texas?

In a weird way I suspect it’s both.

P.S. If Talking Points is just brimming over with all these choice insights, you’re probably asking yourself, why doesn’t he write a column for some major metropolitan daily?

Good question!

Talking Points spent some time last night at a conclave of Democrats (well, mostly Democrats). And the consensus seemed to be … Bad News: our beloved candidate just lost to a hapless dork who may be less qualified to be president than any candidate in the last century. Good News: our opponent for the next four years is a hapless dork who may be less qualified to be president than any candidate in the last century.

Alright … alright … I can live with that. That works for me.

Speaking of being in the opposition, Democrats now seem intent on making one of the first priorities of the 107th congress.

Isn’t this just great politics?

As we’ve seen, this is a very important issue. Whether or not Palm Beach county threw out upwards of 20,000 ballots in 1996 as well as 2000, it’s just an unacceptably high number. So the issue is good on substance.

But think of the politics.

Bush can’t run away from the issue, obviously. And yet what is the subtext of the whole debate? We need to reform our election machinery so that the loser in the race doesn’t slip through as the winner because a bunch of voting machines don’t work right. Isn’t that it? Even the Bush-friendly sub-text would be, we have to reform our election machinery so that the ‘winner’ isn’t hobbled and made illegitimate by faulty voting machines.

It’s win-win politics for the Democrats.

Finally, now that all the distraction is over, we can get down to the real business of the post-election period: bashing that lousy stab-in-the-back wretch Ralph Nader.

Watch for future posts.

If you’re interested in Talking Points’ take on Al Gore’s wonderful and heart-breaking concession speech you’ll have to hop on over to Feed Magazine where it was just published late this morning.

But your visit to Talking Points this morning isn’t totally in vain. Let’s go to the pictures.

Remember all that talk about the ‘rule of law’ from those election-grabbing conservative Justices on the Supreme Court?

Rule of law? Rule of law my #%$#!

Above you’ll see (in this picture from today’s New York Times) a seat-belted Justice Breyer and a seat-belted Justice Souter riding off into the evening in the gentle and protective embrace of the state.

And Scalia?

No seatbelt!

Now this raises an interesting question. Justice Scalia certainly has libertarian impulses which might give him anti-seat-beltist politics. But what happened to strict-construction? What about the rule of law? Doesn’t the law apply to everyone?

My read here is that Scalia is just putting his politics above his respect for the law.

But then we already knew that about him, didn’t we?

P.S. Talking Points would like to give a special TPM shout-out to the two eagle-eyed Pointsters who clued him in to the political import of this pic.