Sunday, May 29, 2005
In any event, the following is the text of the deal, study materials and annotations supplied:
MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING ON JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS
We respect the diligent, conscientious efforts, to date, rendered to the Senate by Majority Leader Frist and Democratic Leader Reid. This memorandum confirms an understanding among the signatories, based upon mutual trust and confidence, related to pending and future judicial nominations in the 109th Congress.
And we're already in trouble. Dem Leader Reid's efforts have most assuredly been diligent. But "conscientious"?
This memorandum is in two parts. Part I relates to the currently pending judicial nominees; Part II relates to subsequent individual nominations to be made by the President and to be acted upon by the Senate's Judiciary Committee.
We have agreed to the following:
Part I: Commitments on Pending Judicial Nominations
1. Votes for Certain Nominees. We will vote to invoke cloture on the following judicial nominees: Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Circuit), William Pryor (11th Circuit), and Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit).
2. Status of Other Nominees. Signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on the following judicial nominees: William Myers (9th Circuit) and Henry Saad (6th Circuit).
Hey, what do you know? The ever-reasonable Democrats agreed to pass three out of five of President Bush's judicial nominations. Swell, right? Not really. They already succeeded in using their filibuster to drive away another five of Bush's nominees. So the efforts of the moderate Republicans garnered only three out of ten.
Part II: Commitments for Future Nominations
1. Future Nominations. Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United State [sic] Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.
OK, silly me, but I thought it was already our general understanding that a filibuster was a tool that would be used only under "extraordinary circumstances." And weren't the Democrats saying this already? I mean, weren't they telling us that this filibuster was needed to keep "extremist" judges off the bench, judges who were "not in the mainstream"? So, doesn't this leave us pretty much where we already started: Democrats will consider the nomination by President Bush of a conservative to an appelate court to be an "extraordinary circumstance" and can be expected to filibuster again? Or can we take this promise as an implicit admission that they never really considered the situation so dire after all, that they were, in the end, playing politics just to get what they wanted? We might hope that Senator McCain and the other Republican "mavericks" were actually playing a Machiavellian game to get this admission out of the Democrats. But I doubt it. The point is too subtle to make a real difference in the polls, and they aren't doing any crowing about their rhetorical victory. (And of course, if it needs to be said again, this agreement hasn't kept the Democrats from filibustering the nomination of John Bolton to the position of U.N. Ambassador.)
2. Rules Changes. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress, which we understand to be any amendment to or interpretation of the Rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than unanimous consent or Rule XXII.
It's obvious why the Democrats don't want that rule changed. The attitude of the Republicans completely mystifies me. The Dems are saying over and over that this filibuster is necessary to preserve the checks and balances of our government. The Republicans are saying it's awful that the Dems are abusing the power of the filibuster in an unprecedented fashion. It's really alot simpler than either side is willing to admit: The filibuster is not part of the Constitution. The rule that makes it so easy is a Senate rule, pure and simple, and can be changed by the Senate, pure and simple. The Dems are using the power they have in virtue of the law and their numbers to keep conservative justices off of the judicial benches. And that's it. Any hand wringing about preserving separation of powers is just so much blown smoke. The Reps, for their, simply need to use the power they have by virtue of the law and their numbers to put conservative justices on the bench. Any hand wringing about how mean the Dems are is just a failure of nerve and a waste of time.
We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word "Advice" speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President's power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.
Sorry, but no. Sure, for matters of expediency or whatever, it may be best for the President, whoever he may be, to take account of what nominees are likely to actually be approved. But, what? He is required, not only to consult with the Senate on the merits of his nominees, which is what the Senate vote is all about, but to consult with them on who he is going to nominate in the first place? No! The Constitution just doesn't ever say anything like that. Again, it's that simple. If you need proof, take a look at Hamilton's Federalist Papers No. 77 and 78, in particular: "In that [Constitutional] plan, the power of nomination is unequivocally vested in the Executive." Hamilton goes on to contrast the Consitutional plan with the nomination process of the state of New York at the time, where the governor was required to consult with a committee beforehand. Needless to say, Alex liked the Consitution better. The Dems are here following their time-honored tradition of injecting whatever meaning they like into the "Living" Constitution. What the Republicans are doing is a mystery in the league of the Kantian antinomies.
Such a return to the early practices of our government may well serve to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate.
We firmly believe this agreement is consistent with the traditions of the United States Senate that we as Senators seek to uphold.
Whatever you say. This kind of Doublethink and Newspeak would make Orwell himself proud. Or terrified. Or whatever.
Why is this so important, in case the fact that we're talking about our nations judiciary isn't enough, I mean. Because everything good that has happened in American politics since Ronald Reagan took office twenty five years ago has been hanging by a thread this entire time. I court system that becomes once again firmly liberal could erase every accomplishment conservatives have made in that time in the course of a few short months. The only conservative victory that now matters is that of turning the Supreme Court conservative. It is almost certain that one Supreme Court justice will retire during Bush's term. The odds are that two will. If this little "understanding" that our Senators have cobbled together is a warm-up for the battle for the Supreme Court, then conservatives will have failed, will have failed America, for the next generation.
I have to hand it to the Dems, they know what this fight is about, and that's why they are willing to go to the mattresses and abuse the filibuster and who knows what other privileges the law gives them. If the Republicans were in the minority, I frankly would expect them to do all the same things. If our moderate Republicans don't wake up to the reality of the situation, they will lose the battle of the judiciary for us. Maybe in years to come, when looking at the mess a liberal judiciary makes of this country, they will be able to console themselves for their failure by remembering that at least they preserved the "comity" of the Senate. But that would be pretty cold comfort to me.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Ranting for Terri
You folks fighting for the right to die: Wake up. Terri is already more awake than most of you. Put down your placards and stop yelling through your bull horns long enough to forget Terri Schiavo, conscripted poster girl for the right to die, and look at Terri Schiavo, human being who very much seems to want to live. A good place to start is at Blogs for Terri.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Ellis's His Excellency George Washington: A Great Close-Up, but No Context
To write His Excellency, Joseph Ellis first sat down for two years and made himself the first historian to read through the thousands of Washington papers recently catalouged at The University of Virginia. The result of his labors is a biography that moves far beyond the George Washington we were given in grade school history. You know the one: as inaccessible and impenetrable as any of his marble images that grace the walls and halls of our civic spaces. But, thank goodness, the dead white male slaveholder Washington that the various postmoderns and deconstructionists would foist upon us is nowhere to be found in His Excellency either. I doubt that Ellis would claim complete objectivity with regard to his chosen subject. Indeed, it is clear that Washington is a hero to him, if not a perfect one. But Ellis's pen is not merely a surrogate for a grinding axe. Clearly, the desire to learn drove his research and the desire to inform drove his writing. Could we meet the Father of our Country in the flesh, I would not be surprised to find that he was very similar to the man Ellis shows us.
Ultimately, though, His Excellency disappoints. If we view His Excellency purely as the end result of an academic (in the best sense) effort to distil the essence of the recently catalogued Washington Papers at The University of Viriginia, we have to admit that Ellis has given the historian and the student of history a great gift. But His Excellency does not ultimately satisfy as a book for the educated general reader. Ellis concentrates too much on the Papers, as important as they are. He ignores other important sources that provide necessary context for truly appreciating what he wants to convey to us from the Papers themselves. And he gives short shrift to the story, both in the events of Washington's time and in Washington's own actions, that made Washington important to us in the first place.
The central question he wanted to answer was why did the other Founding Fathers, men as gifted and talented as Adams, Hamilton, and Jefferson, all consider Washington their superior? Unfortunately, Ellis fails to deliver the answer. He fails, not because his picture of Washington is unconvincing or incomplete, but for, in a sense, the exact opposite reason: His entire book is such a close up on Washington that there is no room left for us to get a glimpse of what sort of men his peers were, or what they accomplished. For example, Ellis informs us that Hamilton was a brilliant strategist in the Revolutionary War, but he gives us not one line of narrative telling what Hamilton actually did in battle. For another example, he shows Washington presiding over the Constitutional Convention, but Adams gets the barest mention. His role in actually drafting the document goes completely unmentioned.
This recurring lack of context makes His Excellency frustrating in other ways as well. For example, Ellis gives a good deal of detail regarding Washington's poor judgement in involving himself during his retirement with Hamilton's scheme of forming a standing army. He tells us that this scheme eventually killed the Federalist party. But Ellis never gives us even the barest outline of the fascinating death of the party.
The reader looking for an engaging narrative like David McCullogh's John Adams from a few years ago will be disappointed at the paucity of detail in His Excellency. We are told, for instance, that James Madison had high expectations when he took on Washington in his Congressional crusade against the Jay Treaty with England. But as the time for the vote approached, the votes he was counting on evaporated. Ellis tells us, "Madison experienced firsthand the humiliation of that befell anyone who went up against Washington in a battle he was determined to win." The concrete actions Washington took to in fact accomplish this most important of policy victories promise fascinating reading, but this one sentence is all Ellis gives us of the whole story. This lack of narrative, bordering on absence, is most frustating in Ellis's accounts of the Revolutionary War. We get only the barest details of the battles and of Washington's strategy. The reader will get a pretty accurate picture, insofar as I can judge, of Washington's state of mind throughout the ordeal, but will probably be left wondering, "Well, OK, but what exactly happened?"
So, in a roundabout way, Ellis unintentionally comes back around to another sort of George Washington statuary: a Washington who is present to us and fully three-dimensional, but who never really does anything.
In short, His Excellency will be a valuable addition to the library of the scholar or the history lover who "already knows the story" and wants to know more. But for the uninitiated, it just cannot stand alone as a biography of George Washington.
Blog Note: I get a comment or a traceback every blue moon or so, so I thought it might be worthwhile to mention that I won't be answering any comments for a couple of weeks. Following the recent news story about the folks that went without the internet for two weeks in a Yahoo! study, I have decided to take the Yahoo! test on my own and go cold turkey on the internet, except for job-related activities. Maybe this will be the subject of my next post! Thanks for your visit.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
There Was Johnny
By the time I was old enough for late night TV, Letterman was already making a name for himself and the Entertainment Tonight types were already wondering what would happen to The Tonight Show if Carson retired and the End of Civilization did not immediately follow. Letterman always made me laugh more than Carson, to tell the truth. And yet, I have to admit that Dave has always been the root beer among the comedy sodas: You either love or him or hate him, depending on whether your comedic tastebuds are configured in the necessarily twisted fashion. Leno has sort of the opposite problem. His act is strictly lowest common denominator material with very little imagination. The funniest parts of his show come from other people like stupid criminals and the morons he finds for his "Man on the Street" interviews. Carson somehow managed to be both witty and accessible. His jokes didn't have punchlines that we could see "coming from a mile up 6th Avenue" as Letterman might say. He didn't mind asking the comedically challenged to make an effort to catch up. But neither did he ask the average man to figure out what was funny about, oh, I don't know, a list of the Top Ten minerals of the world, with bauxite at number five or whatever. He didn't just show us a mirror of the humor we could have come up with ourselves in seventh grade, and he didn't leave us saying, "What the heck was that?" He left us thinking, "I wish I had thought of that."
Carson was cool, in the best and most mature sense of the word. He was a genuinely human host, but he didn't mine his own neuroses for his material like Letterman seems to. ("I don't tell people my problems," he said once, "because ninety per cent of the people don't care and the other ten per cent are glad you have them.") He was passionate about the quality of his show, but he never let his passion lead him into fits like that of his predecessor Jack Paar. He indulged in no false humility, but he never took pains to draw attention to himself either because, of course, he never had to.There was plenty of off color double entendre in his material, for sure, but he didn't go for the shock value like Leno can at times. Johnny was the coolest because he was a rebel decidedly with a cause, a cause that is not the greatest of human history, but is surely in the top ten: good humor.
Yes, there were two hosts of The Tonight Show before Carson came along. But it doesn't matter. Late night TV as a cultural phenomenon was truly his own creation. But the future of Carson's creation doesn't look promising. Letterman will keep giving belly laughs to the comedically twisted like myself for at least another decade, but he will never be the reigning late night host that Carson was. Leno has announced his retirement in five years or so and will ostensibly be replaced by Conan O'Brian. I find it just as likely, however, that before that time Conan will have put an end to his own career by leaping, in one of his moments of manic hyperactivity, headfirst into the lens of one of his studio cameras. And even if he does survive to host The Tonight Show, who wants to wind down before bed by watching an ADD talkshow host? Craig Kilborne has disappeared from late night TV, having vanished like the Cheshire Cat, with nothing left of him but his sneer. Does anyone even know who took his place?
The common cultural experience that Carson created for us was already cracking in his last years and was shattered on his retirement, with Letterman, Leno, and Arsenio Hall all competing for the audience that only Johnny could hold together in the palm of his hand. Now, with the proliferation of cable channels, probably no host, regardless of his talent, can ever reign like Carson again. And this should point us to why an ever widening range of choices is not always good: A wider range of choices is an unambiguous good only when people have the time and motivation to weigh their options, and the patience to give a chance to something that might not initially fit the taste of the little demographic province to which they belong. When these things are missing from the public life, viewers will run in all directions after whatever is new, or whatever mediocrity happens to tickle the right neurons in their brains, and they won't stick around to give the good stuff, which always requires a bit more effort to appreciate, a chance. And they will lose one more small brick in the wall of cultural cohesion, like Carson's Tonight Show.
No, Johnny Carson didn't save my life and he didn't give me any profound insights, spiritual or otherwise. But I think my life is at least one iota richer for having been able to watch him on The Tonight Show, and so I mourn his passing.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
The Da Vinci Code: The Secret Review
Your review ... was removed because your comments in large part focused on your personal opinions of the subject matter, rather than reviewing the title itself.My inner culture warrior is begging me to write about how this is one more instance of the neo-pagan, New Age, reality-TV-watching, French-loving assault on traditional values and Christianity. But, I have to disappoint him because there are plenty of reviews already on Amazon's Da Vinci Code site that actually say pretty much all the same stuff I wanted to say, though they lack my scintillating style. So, this affront to my creativity is purely that and nothing else. And it's really not much of an affront either. My brief exchange with these guys over all this has been completely pleasant. They just have a little bit of inconsistency in the application of their editorial policies, in my opinion. So my inner culture warrior must wait to fight another day. My inner child, on the other hand, assures me that he is not crying, he just has the sniffles. Because he's allergic. To something. Anyway, I still want to see this thing on the internet, so here it is (sniff sniff):
Dan Brown's prose in The Da Vinci Code is pretty much on the level of what you would expect from Robert Ludlum. This would be just fine. I have really enjoyed Ludlum over the years. But there are critics out there who want us to think this guy is the next Hemingway or Fitzgerald. And he just ain't. He is really isn't even the next Robert Ludlum.
The research into the background of The Da Vinci Code is pretty much on the level of those Bermuda Triangle books that publishers were cranking out back in the seventies. This would be OK too. Those books gave me all the material I needed to write my best grade-school research paper ever. But Dan has to ruin it all by putting in that statement on the front page, and I quote: "All descriptions of art, architecture, religions, secret rituals, secret handshakes, and organizations of middle aged guys who wear funny hats and ride scooters in small town parades are all accurate." OK, not an exact quote, but you get the picture. If he hadn't gone and said that, he could get away with peddling his fantasies as entertainment. But he did say it. And then he said it again in front of the "Today Show" cameras not too long ago. So the "just a story" defense won't cut it.
He clearly knows nothing about Constantine. He apparently has never read any of the "secret gospels" that he seems to have discovered all by his lonesome. He knows nothing about Mary Magdalene, or, rather, he knows far too much, since none oof the sources he "quotes" know anything about her either.
Or maybe he does know about all these things, but he's just a big liar. This would explain a few things. Like how he can tell the world that Opus Dei is out to get anyone who reveals the truths that he has revealed, and then, instead of hiding out from O.D. like poor Rushdie from the Ayatollahs, he lives the good life in broad daylight.
Now let's not go to the "just a story" gambit. Dan has already ruled that out himself, remember?
Plenty of folks have written factual refutations of Dan Brown's "accurate descriptions." If you want one from a source with impeccable academic credentials, check out Prof. Bart Ehrman's Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code. If you want to know what a real writer and a real scholar can do with much of Brown's background material, check out Umberto Eco's excellent Foucault's Pendulum.
Monday, November 29, 2004
Red State/Blue State. Not Really.
The Evangelical Vote. So the vanguard of the Enlightenment was defeated by the rearguard of religious zeal and bigotry, i.e. fundamentalists and Evangelicals. Not really. David Brooks and Kohut of the Pew Research Center both make the point that evangelical turnout, though a necessary part of W's win, was no larger this time than it was four years ago. Bush won by increasing his share of the vote in other demographics, one such being conservative Catholics, as discussed by Kate O'Beirne in the November National Review. O'Beirne tells us "... Massachusetts Catholics ... gave George Bush 49 percent of their vote to their former alter boy's 51 percent." No wonder the Dems are all taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
I don't know if I like this or not, honestly. When the mud first went flying and we were told the election was all the Evangelicals' fault, I kind of liked being part of the king-maker constituency. But, I guess it really is better to find out that the truth is, instead, that we Evangelicals are not as alone as we often like to think we are.
Kerry, Geraldo, and Usama.So Kerry actually said to Geraldo "It was that Usama tape -- it scared them." If I had seen this anywhere except on Fox News, I would think this had to be another one of Geraldo's "Al Capone's vault" moments. But it was real. Kerry actually said that Usama cost him the election. It's hard to believe Kerry paid no attention to his internal polls. Anyway, this writer and political junkie was mainlining tracking polls like the ones at Rasmussen and Real Clear Politics every day for two months before the election and it was pretty clear that the Big W was ahead, just barely, all the way. The only thing that might have made a bit of a difference was that shameless story from CBS and the
"The Message." And speaking of lame excuses and shameless reporting, we are told by several Democrats that they lost because they couldn't get their message out. This despite the megaphone CBS handed them, and the daily broadsheets the
We were told the same thing in 2002 as well. "The Democrats were not able to articulate a distinct message," was, I believe, the Party Line then. And, as David Letterman said then, "You know you're in trouble when you can't out-articulate President Bush."
But speaking of W and the art of articulationism, someone seems to be giving the ol' cow poke some lessons in electrocutionsim. Whatever you might say about his debate performances, he never once misunderestimated anyone and his strategery was always right on target. Actually, I kind of miss the old W. You could always expectorate that he would add some entertainment value to the 6:00 news.
Red State/Blue State. Not really. California is blue and Alabama is red. New York is blue and Tennessee is red. The intellectuals of the east coast and the aesthetes of the west were drowned in a blood red sea of southern fundamentalism and midwestern provincialism. Not really. Look at how the vote breaks down by
But Red Country isn't all red either. Kerry got the votes of Virginia's D.C. suburbs. In North Carolina, he got Charlotte and a big chunk of the Research Triangle. He got Atlanta, Alabama's old plantation belt, big swathes of the Mississippi and Rio Grande valleys, and Austin, Texas. (Of course, pervasive university and government workers have turned Austin into Texas's own little slice of the Pacific Northwest over the past couple of decades, so winning there is actually almost a given for the Democrats.)
The 2004 vote was not so much north versus south, or coasts versus "flyover." It was urban centers and regions of minority poor versus middle class small towns and rural areas. I don't know exactly what lesson to draw from this. Bill Maher certainly got it wrong when he looked at the first red/blue map back in 2000, and said something like, "The people who voted Democrat are in areas where they all have to live close to one another and talk to each other." Yeah, you've got to love those city folk. Always friendly and talking to each other. It does mean that Republicans have a greater challenge in "getting out the vote." Their potential constituents are much more spread out than the Democrat voters of the urban areas, making it harder for them to draw crowds to stump speeches and send vans and buses out to bring voters to the polls.
Post-Election Selection Trauma. Yes, it's true. Some Dems are actually getting counseling on their reactions to the election. As far as I can tell, the story first broke in the Boca Raton News. Actually, I don't want to make fun of these people. If Kerry had won, I might be spending a few hours curled up in a fetal position on a psychiatrist's couch myself. I know that I spent the four years after Clinton won his second term wondering if I could really be from the same planet as almost half of my fellow Americans. The counselors who are bilking these poor people out of their money should be brought up on malpractice charges, but the suffering is real. If you run into some of these poor folks, take a moment to show them that compassionate conservatism is real too.
2008. And speaking of going nuts, give us a break! A campaign season lasts the better part of two years, and there are only four years between elections, so almost half our lives are already taken up with mud slinging and baby kissing as it is. It's over! No one knows what is going to happen in four years! The only voting I want to know about is who gets voted off of
Sunday, October 03, 2004
Al Quaeda and Saddam: Actually, there were connections.
Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.
This comes from the second chapter of the report, "The Foundation of the New Terrorism", which details how al Quaeda evolved after Bin Ladin left the Sudan and returned to Afghanistan in the nineties. What I have yet to hear from anyone, even from Republicans, is the three paragraphs that preceded this one sentence:
There is also evidence that around this time Bin Laden sent out a number of eelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperations. None are reported to have received a significant response. According to one report, Saddam Hussien's efforts at this time to rebuild relations with the Saudis and other Middle Eatern regimes led him to stay clear of Bin Ladin.
In mid-1998, the situation reversed: it was Iraq that reportedly took the initiative. In March 1998 .... two al Quaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Laden. ...
... According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Laden a safe haven in Iraq. Bin Laden declined, apparently judging that his circumstances were more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe friendly contacts and indicae some common themes in both sides' hatred of the United States.
Just thought you would like to know.