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 â¦ he’s in a good place.
Good for him!
P.S. How close are Talking Points’ sources to the Veep?
Inches, buddy, inches â¦
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 â¦ 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.