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.

“They say, ‘Peace, Peace,’ but there is no peace.”

That’s Jeremiah 6:14, for all you secular-humanist-non-Torah / Bible-reading TPM readers. But that verse came to Talking Points’ mind today when he was listening to a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) vainly trying to mouth some protest to the deeply wrong outcome of the November election.

Did you see Bob Filner there?

In case you’re wondering, Filner (who Talking Points sorta knows) was the white guy who spontaneously popped up in the middle of the whole thing to offer his “solidarity” to his CBC colleagues. I guess the whole sixties liberal thing just got the better of him for a moment. But God bless ’em!

As the cynical alter-ego of a Washington journalist (who is himself pretty damn cynical), Talking Points doesn’t like to get mawkish and sentimental about public events. But he has to admit he was very moved by the goings-on on the House floor today. And he also felt quietly ashamed on behalf of the fifty Senate Democrats, not one of whom could bring themselves to sign on to force a brief debate on the legitimacy of Florida’s twenty-five Bush electors.

As a political matter, not letting any debate get started was almost certainly the right thing to do. But watching the whole thing unfold made it clear that sometimes – pretty infrequently in Talking Points’ opinion – but sometimes the politically wise thing just ain’t the right thing to do.

Okay, no more mawkishness and sentimentality! Back to the snarky, cynical stuff  …   I hear Paul Wellstone was the one Senator they almost flipped. I’ll see what I can find out about this and report back soon.

P.S. As I said in this earlier post, the big loser today was obvious. It was John Ashcroft.

Did you see the surreal fireworks today in the joint session of Congress? A dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and three other reps were repeatedly ruled out of order by Al Gore when they were trying to plead Gore’s case. So who was the big loser?

Easy. John Ashcroft. It wasn’t even close.

CBC members were clearly VERY angry that not one Democratic Senator agreed to join their protests. This anger runs deep and it’s rooted in deep, latent fissures in the Democratic party. That will put even more pressure on Senators to oppose Ashcroft’s nomination. A lot more pressure.

And rightly so!

Yesterday on TV Sen. Russ Feingold went out of his way to construe Pres-elect Bush’s remarks about campaign finance reform (CFR) in the most optimistic light. Does Feingold know something the rest of us don’t? Might something be in the works?

Not likely. Talking Points has learned that there has been no communication between Sen. McCain and George W. Bush since the two spoke a few days after Thanksgiving. None. (Sources good? Very.) When they spoke back then McCain pressed the importance of making some arrangement for bringing CFR to a vote. But Bush has not been in touch.

If Bush has some strategy for making this something less than a humiliating stumble he’s keeping it pretty close to his vest.

So far George W. Bush has argued that his $1.6 trillion tax cut is desperately needed to make sure the cows come home. Of course, if they do come home then it’s even more important to pass the tax cut to keep them home. And if the cows do come home, but then stay home too long, then there’s no better way to get them to leave then to pass the tax cut, which should get them on their way.

Or something like that.

Call this Talking Points’ poetic attempt to make sense of George W. Bush’s multiple, moronic, and persistently contradictory explanations for why we need his $1.6 trillion tax cut.

So is Bush happy that the today’s new unemployment numbers (holding steady at 4%) point toward the likelihood of a soft and not a hard landing? And does this mean his tax cut is more or less necessary?

Lemme guess …

Good News for campaign finance reform!

Or at least that’s how the story is running today as Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, has agreed to become the sixtieth vote in favor of allowing a free debate and vote on McCain-Feingold. Hell, they’ve even decided to rename it McCain-Feingold-Cochran. (Really! No kidding.)

This is actually more interesting than it looks.

All politics may be local. But in congress it’s almost as often personal. And that clearly looks like what’s up here. Thad Cochran and his fellow Mississippi Senator Trent Lott have known each other for almost their whole lives. They were actually both cheerleaders at Ole Miss back in the fifties. (Nope, I kid you not) And they’ve been rivals – sometimes friendly, often quite unfriendly – for years.

At first Cochran seemed like the star of the duo. He made the jump to the Senate a decade before Lott. But since then things have changed dramatically. And they’ve most all gone Lott’s way. Lott made a name for himself in the House and then followed Cochran into the Senate in 1988. And Lott has been outpacing Cochran ever since.

When Bob Dole resigned from the Senate in 1996 Cochran and Lott ran against each for Majority Leader and, of course, Lott won.

Lott and Mitch McConnell have been stymieing McCain’s bill for years now and they especially don’t want it to come up now just after the inauguration in time to spoil the president’s honeyman. The whole thing has made McCain and Lott something very close to arch-enemies.

So Cochran’s decision to sign on as McCain’s sixtieth vote isn’t simply or even mainly about campaign finance. This isn’t Cochran’s campaign finance reform vote. It’s his Trent-I’ve-Always- Been-Better-Than-You -So-Go-Eat-#$&@ vote.

The Talking Points moronic overstatement of the week prize goes to none other than Chris Matthews from Wednesday night on Hardball …

First of all … the most impressive Cabinet appointment in the world right now is Colin Powell  …  Probably the most impressive Cabinet appointment since Jefferson or whatever, back in the early days of our republic.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Want some insight into what Washingtonians mean when they use words like ‘shameless’ and ‘brazen’ and ‘disgusting’?

As you know, countless reporters continue to pore over the never-ending outrages of the various gifts the Clintons took with them when they left the White House last month. Brazen, tawdry, awful, shameless, yada, yada, yada …

Now let’s look at what doesn’t count.

For two years George W. Bush campaigned on promises of restoring the American military which, he argued, had dangerously deteriorated – in terms of morale, materiel, and readiness. He portrayed the military as overextended, under-funded, in desperate need of spare parts, unable to meet pressing needs. In his nomination speech he went so far as to (falsely) claim that two divisions of the army were currently unfit for duty because president Clinton had let things get so bad. In other words, the situation was critical and help was desperately needed.

Yesterday Bush decided he’ll stick with Bill Clinton’s defense budget after all. Instead he’ll institute a ‘review’ of what additional spending might be needed. (This essentially means that any substantial changes in military spending and readiness won’t occur until the third year of his administration.)

Needless to say the military brass is really unhappy about this. On the other hand The New York Times applauded Bush’s prudence in not rushing ahead with “any major increases in military spending until his administration has a chance to review America’s real defense needs.”

Depending on your views on the military, you may or may not be happy that Bush is not rushing ahead with increases in defense spending. But let’s be honest. This is hardly a moment of fiscal austerity. Republicans are talking about cutting literally thousands of billions of dollars in tax revenue over the next decade. There’s plenty of cash to go around. And with all the hand-wringing there must have been some needs that had to be fixed even before the top-down review, right?

(In this editorial, Robert Kagan, a principled though sometimes outlandish hawk, explains why this argument about the need for a ‘review’ is ridiculous on its face.)

So what does it all mean? All that talk about Bill Clinton leaving American soldiers at risk because of supply shortages, America in danger because of a weakened military, all those ominous campaign trail warnings from Norman Schwartzkopf … that was apparently just … well, just crap. This is not only a broken campaign promise but a particularly egregious one since scare tactics and lies about imperiled soldiers and the nation at risk play on the most primal and volatile public passions. It’s high-stakes manipulation and deception. You might even call this sort of lying and hypocrisy shameless, brazen, disgusting.

But here in DC? Apparently not.

P.S. A few Talking Points readers have reported early stages of withdrawal due to the recent infrequent rate of postings. Okay, okay, I’ll keep you hooked up. Hope this does the trick!

Bob Herbert’s Thursday column in the New York Times is the best piece of writing yet to appear on the John Ashcroft nomination.

As someone who works for a liberal political magazine I’ve often caught grief for my support of the Clinton administration’s approach to monetary and fiscal policy. Today, though, those positive feelings about Bob Rubin et. al. only make me all the more worried about the wackiness that seems to be taking shape down in Austin, Texas.

For starters, Bush signaled on several fronts today that he plans to abandon Bill Clinton’s policy of not commenting on Fed policy and return to Bush, Sr.’s fairly disastrous policy of trying to jawbone the Fed into doing the administration’s bidding.

This is about more than sound bites. There’s an ethic about politics and fiscal and monetary policy which is implicit in this policy of silence.

It’s really not an exaggeration to say that everyone with a serious interest in economic matters thought Clinton’s move was a move in the right direction. Not only did Bush today himself “break” this rule. But his Press Secretary said it’s not a rule he intends to follow.

That’s for starters.

Then you have the increasingly reckless talk from the president-elect. The nation is in need of an “economic recovery.” The rate cut is good because it is a “strong statement that measures must be taken to make sure our economy does not go into a tailspin.”

A recovery? For the moment at least the economy is still growing. When asked about this, Bush responded: “I say ‘recovery’ because a lot of folks in this room [i.e., his mini-economic conference] have brought some pretty bad news.”

And, a tailspin? If one were inclined to be cheeky one might remind Bush, Jr. that this isn’t Reagan’s 1982 recession or his father’s 1990 recession. But cheekiness aside, is anyone talking about a “tailspin”?

It’s not too much to say that Presidents never use this kind of language. Never. It just doesn’t happen.

Bush said he believes the Fed’s rate cut is a signal to congress that they should pass his tax cut to further stimulate the economy. Actually, every analyst says that if there’s any signal it’s the opposite.

The Clintonites have complained volubly of late that the Bushies are trying to talk down the economy. And, admittedly, up until now there’s been a lot of spinning going on on both sides of this little rhetorical battle. But there’s something more going on in Bush’s comments. Something more than kicking the economy a bit for political advantage – which would be bad enough. There’s a recklessness at work here that transcends political calculation. An unseriousness about what the economy. Something juvenile.

Is it possible that the Bushies’ intuitive understanding of supply-side tax policy and fiscal stimulus doesn’t really compute outside the context of an economic downturn? Do they need a downturn? Are they stuck in a time-warp from the mid-seventies – when most of Bush’s economic hands cut their teeth?

I’m not sure whether this is the case or not. What I am increasingly sure of, however, is that these reckless statements are not simply rooted in political calculation.

In recent years Democrats have indulged the conceit that they were now the party of fiscal responsibility, in contrast to the Republicans, who had abandoned that mantle. Honestly, though, I didn’t know it had gotten this bad.

Next up, Bush’s wacky economic summit.

Admirers of Senator John McCain (and Talking Points has to admit he’s one of ’em) will be chagrined to learn that during McCain’s primary campaign in South Carolina last winter his chief campaign strategist was none other than Richard Quinn, long-time editor of the oft-mentioned Southern Partisan magazine.

Outraged?

Well, turns out so was George W. Bush!

While Bush was fending off criticism for going to that rally at Bob Jones University his campaign lashed out at McCain for being so low as to associate with the likes of Richard Quinn and his magazine the Southern Partisan.

Take a peek at this clip from a February 18th, 2000 article in the Washington Post:

Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer called Quinn’s writings “offensive,” adding that McCain “was very critical of one of Bush’s supporters who said something he believed was out of line. Now it will be interesting to see how he reacts now that it is one of his supporters who has said something that is very out of line.”

Now here’s where the story gets interesting. It was common knowledge at the time that the Bush folks were circulating copies of the Southern Partisan and trying to get reporters interested in pillorying McCain’s outrageous behavior. (Maybe they even circulated the copy with John Ashcroft’s interview in it?).

Someone should really ask Ari if he’s had a change of heart.

My jaw almost dropped out of my mouth this morning on the subway when I looked down and saw this article about how the diabolical Katherine Harris is being considered for the post of president’s special envoy for the Americas. It looks like she’s actually gonna get her ambassadorship after all.

And guess what … This post doesn’t require Senate confirmation. So no hearings, no questioning under oath, etc.

Jesus! She gets to have her cake and eat it too!

What to say about George W. Bush’s final three cabinet picks? Norm Mineta’s a decent enough guy, certainly. And he clearly decided that six months wasn’t enough time to spend as a cabinet secretary for one lifetime (I hear that before the election he was nudging Al Gore to keep him on.)

Linda Chavez has always struck me as a bit of self-promoter and someone with very bad politics. But she’s better than Jim Talent and about what I’d expect for a Republican Labor Secretary. Not someone who cares much about any of the issues that labor cares about. But, hey, that’s the price of acquiescing in Bush’s theft of the election. So what are you going to do?

But Spence Abraham … Now you’re talkin’. I’ve gotta give Spence a big thumbs up. Sure he’s a lousy pick to run the Energy Department (a department he voted to abolish). He’s got terrible politics. And he’s a complete oaf. But you’ve got to think of this one in terms of comedic potential.

Before the voters of Michigan tossed him out on his ear two months back, I always used to think of Spencer Abraham as the ‘Mikey’ of the Senate. You know, like ‘Mikey’ from those Life Cereal commercials from back in the 1970s.

I could just imagine it …

Trent Lott:  Who’s gonna carry water/eat $&%# for irredeemable corporate interest X?

Mitch McConnell:  I’m not gonna eat it (slides the bowl over to Trent)

Trent Lott:  Well I’m not gonna eat it (slides the bowl back over to Mitch)

Mitch McConnell:  Hey, I know, let’s get Mikey!

Trent Lott:  Yeah! He’ll eat anything.

And that pretty much tells you what Spence Abraham’s career in the senate was all about. He was the dorky little mascot for the most craven money-conservatives in the senate – the eager bumbler who the cool kids always kept around, if for nothing else than to give him noogies and have him man the keg at their parties.

Enough metaphors? Okay, I’ll stop. But you get the idea.

Abraham was always carrying someone else’s water, most often some corporate types who couldn’t find a first-tier senator to do their bidding. Which sort of tells you why Bush and Cheney put him at Energy.

I’m not saying that Abraham’s such a bad guy, or really any worse than anyone else Bush might have nominated. He’s really just a party man who happened his way into the senate when the Republicans destroyed the Dems back in 1994 and lost the seat in 2000 after the fever had passed.

My colleague Nick Confessore wrote an excellent piece on Abraham which is well worth a read. Okay, sure. Nick said Abraham was gonna win. But, hey, give the kid a break. He’s young. He can’t get ’em all right. And besides Nick was the only one to tell the comical tale of how Abraham’s senate buddies tried to pull out all the stops (and thankfully failed) to bring their bud over the finish line.

P.S. Extra laughs on the Abraham subject can be found in Tuesday’s article on him in the Washington Post. The article explains pretty nicely why, for Spencer Abraham, the phrase ‘pathetic hack’ isn’t so much derogation as painfully precise description.

The prospect of life outside government did not appeal to Abraham, some Senate sources say. His selection as energy secretary has baffled many environmentalists, political observers and even some of his closest colleagues. “I really think the answer is that once the cards were shuffled, that was the only one [Cabinet position] left,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst and editor of the Rothenberg Report, an independent newsletter. “It was one of the slots they had open, and this is a multicultural Cabinet if they ever had one.”

Remember, comedic potential.

I just got done with a radio interview (the Bob Grant show in NY City) in which I debated the merits of the Ashcroft nomination with another guest. Apparently the Republican line on the would-be-AG is that he’s a man of integrity, spotless record, no one questions his honor, and so forth.

Do we really know that John Ashcroft is a man of integrity?

Who knows? In absence of evidence to the contrary (and I don’t know of any) I’m happy to believe that he’s personally honest and all that.

(I leave to another post the question of whether mercilessly slandering and defaming another honorable man of integrity, i.e., Ronnie White, diminishes one’s own integrity.)

But I’m happy to believe that John Ashcroft is a man of integrity.

But who cares?

That’s much better than not being a man of integrity. But it’s not a sufficient qualification for the job.

And who agrees with me? Well, who else? John Ashcroft.

Ashcroft has been a key figure in torpedoing numerous Clinton-appointees to the Justice Department and he’s often said his opposition had nothing to do with their character or integrity. No one ever said Bill Lan Lee lacked integrity; Republicans just said he had the wrong position on affirmative action.

Or listen to this from Mike Grunwald’s recent article in the Washington Post:

[Ashcroft] personally held up the nomination of California attorney Margaret Morrow, who had broad bipartisan support, and voted against her purely on philosophical grounds — even though he praised her integrity and intellect.

Maybe GOPers can defend Ashcroft on other grounds. But this one doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

Yesterday’s Michael Grunwald article in the Washington Post does the best job so far at setting forth the ‘campaign politics’ explanation (as opposed to the ‘racial bias’ explanation) for John Ashcroft’s decision to oppose the judicial nomination of Ronnie White.

But he also gives Ashcroft a pretty unequivocal, and largely unwarranted, clean bill of health on the racial bias front.

Grunwald writes:

In reality, a review of White’s nomination — the first defeated on the Senate floor since Robert H. Bork’s — provides no evidence of racism by the man who would be America’s top law enforcement officer, but strong evidence of bare-knuckled opportunism.

And then later in the same article:

But no one has produced evidence that racial animus had anything to do with his efforts to stop White. And in the heat of a close election, there was a much more obvious explanation.

Grunwald allows Ashcroft to be guilty merely of opportunistic character assassination and political manipulation of the judiciary rather than racial bias. Now I’ll admit that Grunwald’s discussion of Ashcroft’s political motives provides important context. But doesn’t he let Ashcroft off a little easy? Does it really have to be either/or?

Sure, Ashcroft torpedoed the White nomination in part as a campaign ploy. But doesn’t it seem like one of the things that made White such a juicy political target was the fact that he was black?

Also consider Grunwald’s description of the Southern Partisan interview issue:

Ashcroft is taking heat for some seemingly pro-Confederate comments he made in the magazine Southern Partisan …

Does that really cover the issues at hand?

I really don’t mean to be overly critical of Grunwald, who’s an excellent writer and reporter, but how much special pleading does someone like John Ashcroft deserve?

P.S. If you’re interested in Talking Points’ case for opposing the Ashcroft nomination, it’s in today’s New York Post.

Hmmmm. Now we’re talking. Today on Meet the Press Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (reported here by Reuters and Agence-France Presse) made it clear that John Ashcroft faces a very tough nomination hearing, and that his confirmation is anything but assured. This flies in the face of what seems like an utterly wrong-headed prediction in today’s Washington Post that “barring a startling revelation, Ashcroft should win swift confirmation.”

“I think it’s very difficult for us as people who try to govern from the center to accept that kind of a nominee,” says Daschle.

You gotta love Tom Daschle, a steel fist in a velvet glove.

Still more recount news dribbling out of Florida. And, not surprisingly, Al Gore picks up still more votes. This time 120 from undervotes in the largely Republican county of Hillsborough. Gore got 999 and Bush got 879 votes from 5,533 undervoted ballots that hadn’t yet been counted.

And the obligatory Republican whining?

“We carried the county by 11,000 votes, so let Gore have his few votes. Who really cares?” said Margie Kincaid, Hillsborough’s GOP chairwoman. “I think the media spent their money for nothing. It’s all pretty silly and it’s not going to change anything. It’s just going to confuse a lot of people. It’s just an exercise in futility.”

So confusing, so confusing.

LATE CHAD UPDATE: In response to overwhelming pressure from Talking Points readers (okay, okay, actually in response to pressure from the editor of Kausfiles) I need to update this post. A chart which the Tampa Tribune included in its print version but not online shows the breakdown of the vote by chad standard – hanging chad, dimpled chad, two-point hanging, three-point hanging, etc.

The upshot is that it was only with dimpled chad and pinpricks that Gore comes out on top. If you exclude those, Bush picked up ten net. Here’s the actual breakdown:

Overall 879/999

Dimpled 660/757
Pinprick 91/119
1-corner 11/16
2 corner 3/4
3 corner 67/61
“punched clearly” 47/42

So the question now becomes, should dimpled chad be counted. Or to put the question more finely: do dimpled chad actually show voter intent or are they just random dents on ballots, as Republicans argued?

Kausfiles (original author of the famed “Sloppy Dem” theory) says this new info casts doubt on the Sloppy Dem theory. He’s currently put it under review.

But Talking Points doesn’t quite understand this. The new data seems only to confirm the Sloppy Dem theory. Here’s why: If dimples really didn’t signify anything, if they were just random dents on ballots, they should be evenly distributed between the candidates — the law of statistical averages being what it is. But in Hillsborough and in every other county they seem always to favor Gore.

How can that mean anything else but that Gore’s voters much more often tried but failed to perforate their ballots for their candidate? The very fact that dimples so consistently favor Gore is prima facie evidence that they are not random dents but rather do show the intent of the voter.

So the new info out of Hillsborough not only strengthens the Sloppy Dem theory, it also strengthens the case for including dimpled chad.

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?