Is something brewing on the Ashcroft front?

Maybe so. Maybe so … Check back this evening for a Talking Points update.

Okay, what do Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) and William of Ockham have in common?

You know, William of Ockham … As in Ockham’s Razor? … What? You don’t know what Ockham’s Razor is?!?! Geeeeezz!!! Okay, okay, don’t worry, Talking Points will hook you up.

William of Ockham was a fourteenth century scholastic philosopher most remembered as the originator of what came to be known as Ockham’s Razor. The Razor is a logical principle which states that “plurality should not be posited without necessity.”

And what the hell does that mean? Basically it means that when a question needs answering the simplest explanation which covers all the data is the preferable one. Albert Einstein had a more aphoristic way of stating this principle when talking about scientific hypotheses. “Everything should be as simple as possible,” he said, “but not simpler.” (Smart guy that Einstein!)

Anyway Talking Points thinks Ockham’s Razor rocks and he uses it all the time to find clarity through the muck of political obfuscation. Ockham’s Razor helped Galileo demonstrate that his simple heliocentric model of the solar system was better than the weird-ass Ptolemaic system which the Middle Ages had inherited form Antiquity. And today you yourself can use Ockham’s Razor to show that Evan Bayh is voting against John Ashcroft and Russ Feingold may vote for him because Evan Bayh wants to run for president and Russ Feingold doesn’t. (Get that last one?)

Now you are probably asking yourself: where the hell is Talking Points going with this William of Ockham crap?

Bear with me!

Let’s go back to our original question. What do Senator Zell Miller and William of Ockham have in common?

Answer? Not a damn thing. Because even with the clarifying magic of Ockham’s Razor there’s nothing that can explain why the new Georgia Senator is practically falling over himself to carry water for George W. Bush.

Last week Miller was the first Senate Democrat to officially announce he’d be voting to confirm John Ashcroft. That at least was understandable on political grounds. In a state like Georgia you get points for standing up to liberal, Washington-based interest groups. But yesterday Miller announced he was cosponsoring George W.’s megalithic tax cut with Phil Gramm.

Even a lot of Republicans are telling Bush that that just ain’t gonna happen. Most people didn’t even think Miller wanted to run for another term in the Senate. But if he does, he won’t be up again till 2004. Bush’s tax cut isn’t even all that popular in Georgia. So it’s hard to figure why Miller needs to back it to cover his right flank. And certainly he doesn’t need to cosponsor it.

So why is he doing it?

That’s what I mean: no one knows! Talking Points checked with some conservative Southern Dems today and some other folks from Georgia and even they can’t figure out what Miller’s up to. He couldn’t find anyone to defend Miller’s course. And it’s not even like Miller was all that conservative during his two terms as governor of Georgia. By Southern standards he was pretty progressive.

The only thing Talking Points could come up with was this: When Miller was appointed to serve out the term of the late Paul Coverdell, a Republican, he kept on some of Coverdell’s staff. (Miller and Coverdell were actually close friends.) In particular, he kept on Coverdell’s Senior Policy Advisor, Alex Albert. In December, after Miller had won election in his own right, he appointed Albert his Chief of Staff. Coverdell was very tight with Phil Gramm and pretty much all the rest of more partisan Republicans.

Maybe Albert’s just got Miller’s ear. But it’s hard to Zell.

When Talking Points first fired up his computer this morning he saw all the articles about the new ethical standards Bush is putting in place for his team. It’s a bit of a slap at the Clinton folks. But it’s also become something of a ritual for incoming administrations. Clinton instituted a bunch of new ethics guidelines when he came in too.

But then he looked a little closer. There don’t appear to be any new ethical guidelines. Bush just told his crew “to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct.”

Why hasn’t anyone pointed this out?

Basically Bush got the ball rolling with a gratuitous, but contentless, slap at the outgoing administration.

Imagine that.

How’s this for a description of Bush’s bipartisanship and ‘reaching out’?

For Bush, bipartisanship means something like this: Here’s our program, here’s what we want to do, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re not shunning you. We invite you to come join us.

The Bush line on race is much the same: Here’s us. These are our programs and our people. But we’re not shunning you. We invite you to join us.

Look how this works. Bush is outlining a down-the-line conservative legislative agenda – but he welcomes Democratic support. He appointed an attorney general who is anathema to most African-Americans – but he is also “reaching out” to them.

Not being shunned is certainly preferable to being shunned. But in everyday life we have another name for this kind of attitude: We call it condescension.

Want more? See the whole thing in today’s New York Post.

Say it ain’t so. But it is so. The Ashcrometer, sadly, jumps up to a perilous 82% chance of confirmation. And, truth be told, it may warrant being higher than that.

It’s not that Zell Miller of Georgia has announced he’ll vote for Ashcroft that’s such a big deal. The Dems don’t need 50 votes on this one, just forty. And a surprising number of the Senators who are inclined to vote against Ashcroft’s nomination seem just as willing to vote to sustain a filibuster. The only problem is that there don’t seem to be forty of them out there. At least not quite.

Talking Points talked to staffers in the offices of a number of centrist Dems today and quite a few are still unwilling to say what they’re going to do – even way off the record. Apparently they still want to see how these last few days sink in before sticking their neck out on Ashcroft.

Tom Daschle’s stated unwillingness to participate in a filibuster is going to be key for a lot of these wavering members. And some speculate that Daschle’s unwillingness to go to the mat on Ashcroft may have at least tacitly been a part of the very successful negotiations he carried out with Trent Lott over power-sharing in the Senate.

Having said all that, the Senate Dems whom one might expect to vote for Ashcroft are Zell Miller, John Breaux, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Tim Johnson, Evan Bayh … in the very possible category Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and Max Cleland. Obviously that doesn’t get you under forty. But, hey, that’s just what Talking Points is hearing.

People of Earth, we come in peace …

(Translation: Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.)

More news soon from the scene of the festivities.

Ya know. From the sound of it, John Ashcroft is going to be such a staunch defender and enforcer of gun-control laws, abortion rights, and civil rights, that you sorta wonder why right-wingers want him so bad.

Is Ashcroft a lib now? Or is there some disconnect here? Or is Ashcroft just completely full of crap – and Senate Dems aren’t doing a lousy job catching him out on it?

My, my. Democrats do seem to be pushing Andrew Sullivan right off the deep end. They’re pushing all his buttons. Pat Leahy’s a hypocrite. Ted Kennedy’s a hypocrite. There’s apparently no decent reason to vote against John Ashcroft at all. Sullivan has even picked up the Republican talking point comparing Janet Reno’s confirmation to John Ashcroft’s. Does anyone honestly think that Janet Reno was as ideological or extreme an appointment as John Ashcroft? Does Reno deviate from the centerpoint of American politics to the left just as much as Ashcroft does to the right?

Really. This doesn’t even pass the laugh test, does it? That doesn’t mean Ashcroft should be voted down. But let’s do keep some quality control on the analogies, okay?

(I won’t call Sullivan a friend, because I’ve only met him a couple times and corresponded with him briefly by email. But when I have met him he’s been very kind and generous. So that’s my two bits in that regard.)

For the last several weeks, on his very entertaining and insightful website, Sullivan has been pounding away at anyone and everyone who thinks something untoward happened in Florida, and even more ferociously whacking away at those who think that what happened in Florida should inform how Democrats treat Bush’s presidency.

He takes particular aim at Rick Hertzberg (writing in the New Yorker) and Michael Sandel (writing in the New York Times) both of whom argue that George W. Bush isn’t just any president and that Senate Democrats have both the right and the obligation to compel Bush to provide the moderate governance he promised during the campaign.

(Actually, I made much the same point, albeit more briefly, about six weeks ago in the New York Post. But, hey! That’s just a right-wing tab, so it doesn’t get so much attention. Anyway, back to our story …)

In passing, Sullivan notes the “unprecedented way in which Gore and his trial-lawyers tried to overturn the result of a presidential election through legal maneuvering” and generally ridicules the process of unofficial recounts going on down in Florida, especially the use of “the most liberal standards imaginable” for counting ballots – standards which, improbably, ended up giving Bush a few extra votes in Miami-Dade county this week.

Is it really irrelevant that half a million more Americans voted for Al Gore than for George Bush? Doesn’t this and the Democrats’ gains in the Senate call for and justify some added scrutiny of Bush’s decision-making from those 50 Senate Dems? Anything else is sour grapes and cheating. The Democrats, according to Sullivan, are the ones playing at the edges of a coup.

Obviously, this stuff just makes my blood boil … errr, Talking Points’ blood boil … errr, whatever. But, anyway, I’ve tried to give some thought to precisely why it does so. And now I think I’ve found out.

Sullivan’s election model seems to be symbolic procedural formalism. It really doesn’t matter how we got to Bush’s inauguration. What matters is that we’re there! If he got there with the most votes or the second-to-most votes. Or whether some people weren’t allowed to vote. Or whether some others were allowed to vote but then didn’t have their votes counted. This is all just ingredients tossed in the stew. Now let’s just eat!

And anyway, if you wanted to vote so bad, why didn’t you push the chad all the way through! Look, we had an election, everyone could vote, if %&$@# got weird, well, come on’, an election’s an election. Bush won and that’s the end of it.

But an election isn’t just symbolism. It’s not an ordeal or a trial by fire. The underlying democratic process actually matters. Everybody gets to have their say, and then you count up the says, and whoever gets the most says wins. It’s not shoddy or indulgent to actually try to find out what people said. That’s the point!

True, a ‘ballot’ doesn’t automatically become a ‘vote.’ But it should come pretty damn close.

Yes, George W. Bush gets to become president, with all the powers of the office. But this isn’t the same as popular legitimation. And doesn’t our constitutional system have enough play and flexibility in it (with things like the Senate’s “advise and consent” authority) to grapple even with odd and unprecedented situations like these?

Which got me thinking … Is this that whole difference between virtual representation, which the Brits are into, and actual representation, which the Americans like?

You know, like during the American Revolution when the colonists said you actually had to be able to vote in order to actually be represented. (A radical concept!) Maybe that’s where he gets this from.

But didn’t we fight a war over this? Isn’t this one settled? Hasn’t anyone told him?

P.S. Do you hope Sullivan will take this whole thing in good humor? I certainly hope so … And if he attacks you in print and drives gobs of people to your website? That’s the fallback … But does he even read Talking Points? Good point, probably not.

No movement on the Ashcrometer today. Still holding steady at 75% chance of confirmation.

But did you notice how Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (one of the most underrated senators, in Talking Points’ book) caught Ashcroft in a lie, and called him on it?

Sure, he didn’t put it quite so baldly. But … well, let me just get to the story.

The latest Republican angle is to frame the confirmation debate as though John Ashcroft’s critics were saying that he either has the wrong religion (he’s Pentecostal) or that he is too religious. So John Ashcroft becomes just one more potential victim in the on-going persecution of white Christian conservatives.

Here Orrin Hatch implies that some senators may be doing just that and Ashcroft responds with a self-serving, lametonian response.

HATCH: Doesn’t matter to me whether you’re Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever, or an atheist or agnostic. I’m sure that goes for–I hope that I’m sure that that goes to the rest of our fellow senators. In fact, the Constitution of the United States specifically forbids religious qualifications for office.

Now, having gone through that type of, I think, offensive criticism, which is continuing right up to today, is there anything in your religious beliefs that would impair you from faithfully and fully fulfilling your responsibilities as attorney general of the United States?

ASHCROFT: Well, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to have a test based on one’s religion for a job. I think Article V of the Constitution makes that clear.

Please!

A short time later Senator Leahy tried to clear up the libel Hatch had slipped into his remarks.

LEAHY: I just would not want to leave one of the questions from my friend from Utah to give the wrong impression to the people here and just, sort of, make it very clear. Have you heard any senator, Republican or Democrat, suggest that there should be a religious test on your confirmation?

ASHCROFT: No senator has said, “I will test you,” but a number of senators have said, “Will your religion keep you from being able to perform your duties in office?”

LEAHY: I’m amazed at that.

ASHCROFT: Pardon?

LEAHY: Well, I’m amazed at that …

Yeah, me too.

You’d like to nudge down the Ashcrometer in honor of Martin Luther King Day. But it’s not to be.

Today the Ashcrometer holds steady at 75% chance of confirmation.

P.S. Another update soon on the filibuster option.

Talking Points has been worried for some time about over-playing George W. Bush’s militant provincialism and penchant for verbal gaffes. (Really. No kidding, he has.)

Can’t this just be a dressed-up form of cultural or regional pretension? Liberals wasted no end of time harping on Ronald Reagan’s lack of intellectual curiosity and culture.

And what good did it do them? Not much. At best it further alienated them from their one time base of support among middling working families in the Midwest and the Northeast. And to some extent with good reason.

Still, it’s hard to ignore the signs that our new president is an imbecile.

On NBC’s Dateline, Tom Brokaw asked Bush if any White House invitation to Scalia could be construed as some sort of payback for handing him the presidency. Here’s how Reuters reported the conversation:

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I do like him. (But) I guess we’re going to have to scratch him off the invitation list now,” he replied to interviewer Tom Brokaw.

When his wife Laura Bush protested that it was perfectly normal for the president and first lady to host the Supreme Court, Bush interrupted, saying, “He just teasing…”

“He was just trying to make sure Anthony didn’t get a good meal,” Bush said, correcting himself quickly, “Antonio.”

But neither name was quite right.

The first name of the man appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986 by former President Ronald Reagan is “Antonin.”

Is this some sort of cultural jujitsu? Is he suckering us into looking like East Coast, elitist snobs?

Unfortunately, no big news today from the Sunday talk shows, so the Ashcrometer falls only a measly two points — to a clean 75% chance of confirmation.

At the same time, all the Democratic Senators who were saying nice things about Ashcroft have fallen silent. And a number that have always been silent have all but decided to oppose him.

The Conventional Wisdom in Washington still leans overwhelmingly in Ashcroft’s favor. But Ronnie White’s testimony will throw a heavy dose of volatility and unpredictability into the mix. And polls have already shown real misgivings about Ashcroft’s nomination. In other words, strong shifts in public opinion could change the calculus rapidly and dramatically.

The real question now is whether the Senate Democratic caucus is willing to kill Ashcroft’s nomination with a filibuster (i.e., with forty votes).

Talking Points three Democratic senators to watch are Joe Lieberman, Max Cleland, and Evan Bayh. They’ll tell the story.

More on why soon.

The New York Times Op-Ed page has not always been friendly territory for Bill Clinton (to put it mildly). But the editors’ obligatory final summing-up of Clinton’s tenure in office is fair-minded and insightful.

Also see the Washington Post’s analytically and morally stunted take on Clinton’s eight years in office.

So … you think Talking Points only does gimmicky things like the Ashcrometer, do you?

Well, he’s got the high-brow thing goin’ too! Here’s his verdict on Jim Lehrer and the 2000 presidential debates in the new issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Look at this! A new feature! The Ashcrometer! Until this afternoon I was going to start the Ashcrometer at 85% chance of confirmation.

But then I saw this Newsweek Poll that says, by a small margin (41% to 37%), more Americans want Ashcroft rejected than confirmed. That and the Stuart Taylor article mentioned below bumped him down a bit. So for now the Ashcrometer stands at 77%.

The further south his nomination goes the more scrunched he gets.

P.S. More Ashcroftiana coming soon, more Ashcrometer updates!

P.P.S. Return later on Sunday for a post-Sunday chat show update of the Ashcrometer.

Talking Points was ready to cut Katherine Harris some slack. She’s gotten knocked around a lot after all.

But what’s with the with Austin Powers outfit?

Is that a cravat?

The text of John Ashcroft’s speech at Bob Jones University was pretty disappointing if you were expecting any wacko fireworks.

Ashcroft wasn’t guilty of any racially tinged remarks. But he was guilty of bad history. Ashcroft said the American colonists routinely told emissaries from King George III, “We have no king but Jesus” when they were asked to pay taxes.

Hmmmm…  Talking Points spent the better part of his twenties studying this stuff, and his verdict is: no, not a common revolutionary battle cry.

Where’d they get this guy from?

Ever since the Ronnie White affair resurfaced in the news because of the Ashcroft nomination, there have been two schools of thought as to Ashcroft’s motivation for opposing Justice White.

The simpler of the two has it that Ashcroft was motivated by racial animus against an African-American judge. The other says that Ashcroft wasn’t racist, just a craven and vicious opportunist who smeared White in order to burnish his tough-on-crime credentials going into his 2000 reelection campaign.

(Yes, there is a third theory that Ashcroft was simply right on the merits with regards to White. But that one is reserved for boobs and miscreants and thus needn’t concern us.)

Talking Points has always thought that the truth was probably a mixture of the two.

What’s interesting, though, is that a number of Ashcroft’s supporters have used explanation #2 in Ashcroft’s defense. He’s not racist! He just smeared that guy and lied about him to ramp up his election. Come on! Cut the guy some slack!

This has always struck Talking Points as a pretty odd defense. And now Stuart Taylor, Jr of National Journal is saying the same thing. In his new column from the January 13th issue Taylor argues that Ashcroft is no racist but shouldn’t be confirmed because he’s a “character assassin.”

Normally, Talking Points would link to the article. But National Journal prides itself on being available to almost no one outside of DC. A subscription costs like $1500 a year or something. And you have to subscribe to access their site. (In other words, they’re a real piece of work).

[LATE UPDATE: Turns out, National Journal has linked this article for non-subscribers, which sort of makes all this anti-National Journal trash-talk a little irrelevant. But hey, let’s have our cake and eat it too! Enjoy the TPM content and here’s the link.]

So, with deference to the copyright laws, here are some quotations form the article ….

…no president is entitled to put a character assassin in charge of law enforcement.

…it does appear that Ashcroft was deliberately engaging in inflammatory racial politics [when he fought White’s nomination] …

Ashcroft must have known that accusing a black judge (falsely) of being “pro-criminal” and of a “tremendous bent toward criminal activity” would stir the worst instincts of those voters who stereotype criminality as black.

For Ashcroft to call [Justice White’s legal opinion in question] “pro-criminal” was obscene.

The smearing of Judge White makes the many testimonials to Ashcroft’s integrity ring a bit hollow.

Obviously Talking Points would like to show you the whole article word for word. But he thinks these quotes pretty fairly characterize Taylor’s indictment.

Now here’s the deal. This article is extremely important — less because of the quality of the argument, which is high — but because of who the author is. It’s difficult to convey how important Taylor is in shaping Conventional Wisdom in Washington, DC.

Why?

Well, that’s a bit more difficult to explain. Part of it is that Taylor is the kind of liberal (supposed liberal) who specializes in pointing out why conservatives — by golly — are actually right after all, and why libs are shameless hypocrites. People in DC love that.

(Actually, come to think of it, he kind of reminds me of a Friend of Talking Points (an FOTP) who’s also in the snarky, self-published political web site bizz … But Talking Points likes that guy a lot; Taylor, he’s not so crazy about. But enough of this self-indulgent personal digression.)

Another reason for Taylor’s popularity is that he became a big-time critic of Bill Clinton over Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and just about everything else. And people in DC love that too. Why else? I have no idea. Funny mustache? Earnest speaking style? Who knows?

But it doesn’t matter. The point is that he’s that important. I guarentee you he’ll be on the Sunday shows chatting this up. And his article will give cover to moderates — possibly in both parties — to give another, more critical look, at the nomination.

Forget what the NAACP says, Stuart Taylor says he’s a bad apple! And that’s serious!

Or something like that.

Anyway, it’s important. More important than ten press conferences by People for the American Way.

No one wants to see the Ashcroft nomination go down more than Talking Points. But the interest groups opposing Ashcroft need to wise up a bit. This battle may require more of the shiv than the sledgehammer. If the Bushies can spin this as a gaggle of “liberal special interest groups” beating up on John Ashcroft then he almost certainly pulls through. On the other hand, if senators are carrying the water, then maybe he doesn’t.

Unfortunately, what I am hearing is that the interest groups spearheading the fight have not opened up good lines of communication with the middle-of-the-road and moderate Democratic senators they’re going to need to pull this thing off.

Am I saying they should back off? Of course not. Just that they need to handle it with a bit more finesse.

P.S. I had assumed that the Democrats would not be willing to win this with a filibuster, i.e. with 40 votes instead of 50. But now I’m hearing that that option may not be off the table after all.

P.P.S. Let’s keep an eye on where freshman Senator Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island comes down on Ashcroft — more on this later.

P.P.P.S. Which Democratic Senator (not widely identified with the interest groups opposing the Ashcroft nomination) is going to step forward and take point on the nomination?

P.P.P.P.S. One well-known moderate Dem may be getting ready to get out in front on the Gale Norton nominaton.

Phew! All Done.

And now for something totally different. You simply must read this article in today’s New York Times about the widespread practice of adopting Western names among Chinese youth. The article manages to be anthropologically fascinating, profoundly human, and almost transcendently hilarious – without being in the least condescending. And it gives a hint of the unruly spice of globalism.

A snippet?

Atypical Western names among Chinese students also reflect different attitudes that the cultures have toward naming. “Chinese names are often chosen for their meaning, but English names are often chosen for their sounds,” observed Ye Chongguang, 20, a junior at Beijing University who chose the name Magic Johnson, after the basketball star, whom he says he worships.

Most of the time, he tells people to call him Johnson. “Only in formal situations, like signing documents, do I use my full name, Magic Johnson Ye,” he explained.

As I said, it’s a must read.

As you know Talking Points was pretty taken with the protests/objections raised by the members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) on January 6th during the formal counting of the Electoral College vote. And also chagrined that no Senator would agree to sign on with one of their objections, and thus force a brief debate on the merits of the Florida electors.

But I was talking to some folks in the Senate today. And maybe there’s a little more to say about this. I talked to a source close to one of the Senators you’d really expect would have been high on the list of senators to go to. And apparently no member of House spoke to this senator and asked him to join the objection.

None. Not one.

Now there were apparently some contacts between staffers, informal discussions, and so forth. But not the sort of request directly from a member of House that would signal that they’re serious. Is this source trying to cover for the Senator in question? Yeah, sure, there’s some of that. But you’d think one of the CBC members would have tried to up the ante by making a direct request.

(In fairness, I didn’t get the sense this Senator would have agreed anyway. But the point is they say he wasn’t really asked.)

Frankly, I not sure quite what to make of this. I’ve no doubt the members of the CBC were angry. And I think they had a right to be angry. But maybe their lobbying wasn’t quite as intense as they implied.

P.S. Any of Talking Points’ congressional readers want to add some more info to the mix here? Send a message. Your absolute confidence will be assured just the way it would be when he’s doing his day job as Washington Editor of the American Prospect.

I guess it’d be too much to ask to find out that Interior Secretary nominee Gale Norton also made warm-n-fuzzy remarks about the Confederacy, right?

Well, hey, it’s your lucky day!

Turns out in a 1996 speech Norton said “”We lost too much” when the South lost the Civil War.

Now, in fairness, Norton did explicitly say she was not referring to slavery but rather states-rights — something that didn’t occur to John Ashcroft to say. Norton referred to that whole slavery thing as ” bad facts” which clouded the merits of states-rights.

Give her credit for at least making this clear. Sure it’s a clumsy and foolish way to make the point. But it’s different from what Ashcroft said. (Can’t Bush find cabinet secretaries who aren’t clumsy and foolish. Come on! How’s Bush gonna apply a standard like that!?) But let’s make some other points clear as well.

Slavery was the chief evil of the Confederacy, not the only one.

It’s one thing to march around in Confederate uniforms before heading back to the barn for a couple dozen bottles of Michelob. But to praise the Confederacy’s ideology is deeply suspect.

The doctrines of Nullification, Interposition, States-Rights, and Secession were fundamentally anti-Democratic and they were heretical perversions of the nation’s constitutional order. And in case you’re really into this stuff, no, they can’t be justified with reference to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798-99! (What is he talking about? Fugghedaboutit! More history grad school stuff.)

The leaders of the Confederacy were, of course, also traitors.

The point here isn’t history, though. The fact that Norton has an antediluvian and perverted states-rights understanding of the constitutional order isn’t offensive, or obscene. But it’s extremely significant in judging whether she’s fit to serve as the custodian of the national domain.

P.S. The ironically named Independent Institute was the venue where Norton gave her speech. And they got in a bit trouble back in Fall of 1999. In the summer of ’99 the Institute purchased full page ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post signed by 240 academics arguing in support of Microsoft against the government anti-trust suit. Well, turned out Microsoft had used the Independence Institute as a front and Microsoft had purchased the ads. Ouch! Not clever. Not clever at all.

P.P.S. Next up, Talking Points explains why Bill Bennet is an irredeemable, pretentious blowhard. What does this have to do with Gale Norton? Nothing. It’s just time to say it.

Now Republicans are organizing “grassroots” groups to support the Bush cabinet nominees. And, hey, they’re coming to Talking Points for support!

Well kinda.

About a year ago, Talking Points and the guy who worked with him in his office at the time dropped by the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. He loved it. Missile defense and cocktails. Grover Norquist talking about his plan to cut the size of government by 2/3 in twenty-five years, or something like that. And a lot of T-shirts with Clinton with Pinnochio noses. Great stuff.

Anyway, on the way out he stopped by the Citizens for a Sound Economy table and in exchange for giving his name and email address got a Trial Lawyers are Sharks T-shirt and a small plastic Citizens for Sound Economy football (he goes in for this sort of stuff) that he threw at people in the office for several months.

Well, now they’re getting into the nomination game.

They sent along this email …
And who is Citizens for a Sound Economy? Standard wacked-out Washington pressure group pushing for no taxes and no regulation. They’re run by C. Boyden Grey, longtime Bush associate, Bush Sr’s White House Counsel, and also heir to some sort of tobacco fortune.

Aren’t some pictures just too good for words?

And how would you characterize Bill Cohen’s expression?

Just when I think I’m out, they PULL ME BACK IN!

Will Talking Points’ work exposing the multiple villainies of John Ashcroft and his imbecile minions never be done?

Apparently not.

Talking Points thought he liked Ashleigh Banfield, the Starbucksian-looking reporter on MSNBC. But does she have to repeat the Ashcroftians’ …well, talking points word for word?

Banfield led this evening with a stunning new controversy embroiling freshman Senator Jean Carnahan. During her late husband’s campaign against then-Senator Ashcroft, the Carnahan campaign did opposition research on Ashcroft. And now Carnahan’s campaign consultant Marc Farinella has made that opposition research available to those preparing the opposition to Ashcroft. (Actually, he said he’d make it available to whomever wanted it.)

This is shocking!

Except it’s not shocking.

So what? Every campaign does “oppo” research. In fact it was well-known that Ashcroft and Carnahan both did a lot of it.

Banfield also noted that Carnahan’s decision was particularly unexpected after the gentlemanly way Ashcroft chose not to contest her election.

Do we really need to rehash this canard one more time? (Need a refresher? See Tim Noah’s concise dispatching of this moronic argument.)

Ashcroft lost the race by two percentage points. He lost. He had no case with a recount or a court case, period. He made the best of the situation and made a gracious concession. (Of course, saying how gracious it was and using it as a cudgel sort of makes it a little less gracious, right?) Handing over the opposition materials was “troubling, given the class and dignity that was shown by Sen. Ashcroft in conceding the election,” said David Israelite, political director of the RNC. And because of this Carnahan needs to carry water for him?

Please.

This non-story story is a good example of a common reportorial phenomena. Press flaks dress up an utterly known set of facts as a discovery, and lazy or foolish reporters report it as though it were news. Even when it’s clearly not news.

Did you hear the one about how Rick Lazio ran television ads designed to suppress turnout among Hillary Clinton supporters? Or how George W. Bush assisted pro-Bush voters to the polls and systematically avoided providing the same service to Gore suppporters?

You get the idea.

As nearly as I can tell, if one is not a complete moron this is a pretty obvious effort to shift the focus onto Carnahan’s widow. In fact according to the AP “GOP operatives asserted late Tuesday the loan reflects poorly on the governor’s widow, Sen. Jean Carnahan, who was appointed to replace her dead husband.”

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh …. That’s class and dignity for you.

Wait! Wait! Wait! I just got done doing all these Nexis searches, coming up with great illegal-immigrant-bashing quotes from Linda Chavez’s past! It’s not fair. Couldn’t she hold on just a bit longer? I had some great Talking Points material in the pipeline. Now all gone to naught!

(Don’t worry. Years from now you may be able to pick up this unreleased TPM material as a bootleg.)

Anyway, on a more serious note. I’m actually not too crazy about how this all happened. I don’t have much sympathy, or time, for Linda Chavez. But as I’ve already said a bunch of times, which is more important, that she had this illegal immigrant crypto-maid, or that she is opposed to just about everything the Labor Department stands for?

This whole Marta Mercado affair does at the least seem pretty hypocritical. So I’m not trying to cut Chavez any slack. It would just be much better, as a general matter, if these nominees were grilled for their egregious political views, and not their semi-irrelevant personal mistakes.

P.S. The big worry now is whether this takes steam out of the push against Ashcroft. One very shrewd former Senate staffer (whom Talking Points knows) thinks the answer is yes.

Last month Talking Points wrote a very high-minded column in the New York Post suggesting that Democrats turn over a new leaf in the increasingly acrimonious process of cabinet nomination hearings.

Why not ignore personal irrelevancies in a nominee’s past and delve more deeply into the substance of their policy positions? This makes particular sense for George W. Bush’s nominees since Bush has no real mandate to pursue a strong ideological agenda, and certainly no business doing so.

But Talking Points’ admonitions have apparently been ignored. In the dingbat rules that govern official Washington, the fact that Linda Chavez had an illegal immigrant maid says more about her qualifications to be Labor Secretary than the fact that SHE DOESN’T BELIEVE IN THE MINIMUM WAGE – something which should on its face disqualify her.

But, hey, just because Talking Points is so high-minded doesn’t mean he can’t have some fun at Chavez’s expense. So let’s have at it  …

When Chavez claimed that what looked like wages paid to her illegal immigrant maid were actually “individual acts of compassion” Talking Points was all ready to say that this gave a whole new meaning to that Bush bromide ‘compassionate conservatism’.

Ahhhh… So that’s what it means!

But, wait … could there be something more sinister afoot here? Let’s take Chavez at her word. She had an illegal immigrant who lived in her home and performed menial chores for Chavez’s family. Yet the woman was not an employee and was paid no money for performing these tasks. Don’t we have a word for this sort of arrangement? Forget the IRS or the INS. This sounds more like a violation of the 13th Amendment!

Does Linda Chavez have any ties to the Southern Partisan?

Who says Talking Points is afraid to give himself a well-deserved pat on the back?

Last week Talking Points predicted that Senate Democrats with visions of White Houses in their future might start giving second thoughts to giving an easy ride to Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft.

And boy was he right!

Last week Joe Biden said he was inclined to vote for Ashcroft; yesterday he said he may oppose him. Biden also questioned why Ashcroft gave interviews to “white supremacist” magazines. “I don’t say he subscribes to what they have to say, but he gives interviews to those magazines,” Biden said on Meet the Press. “It makes a difference, the perception someone is going to project.”

And John Kerry got into the act too. “It is a divisive, not a unifying nomination, and [Bush] has specifically said he is a uniter, not a divider.”

Now let’s hear from John Edwards and Joe Lieberman.