A Question of Justice

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2008 9:44 AM

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first full-fledged ideological battle of the fledgling Obama administration.

The sniping at Rahm is mostly about his slashing, send-'em-a-dead-fish partisanship. The argument over Hillary has mostly been about the political implications of her working for her former rival and the potential complications of Bill the globe-trotter.

But Eric Holder is a whole different story. Some folks on the right really don't like him as the next attorney general -- and, guess what, neither do some folks on the left.

The initial reports on the former Justice Department official focused on a) his race and b) his role in the infamous Marc Rich pardon. But I suspect we're in for a much deeper debate.

Have you wondered, by the way, why all these appointments -- Tom Daschle for HHS is the latest -- keep leaking? This, from the No Drama Obama operation that managed to keep the Biden choice a secret until the wee hours on the day he was announced?

The answer is that Obama no longer operates in a self-contained campaign world. His team has to do soundings to figure out whether his potential nominees will get bloodied in Senate confirmation hearings, and the Hill is the leakiest place on earth. FBI agents have to talk to colleagues and neighbors as they conduct background checks. So there's almost no way to keep a tight lid on these appointments. Welcome to Washington, Mr. President-elect.

So now we're looking at an administration with Bill Clinton's senior adviser as chief of staff; his wife as secretary of state; his acting attorney general as AG; his impeachment lawyer, Greg Craig, as counsel; his chief of staff, John Podesta, as transition chief; Gore's counsel, Lisa Brown, as staff secretary; and Gore's chief of staff, Ron Klain, as Biden's chief of staff. Boy, it's a good thing Hillary didn't get elected; she would have just given us a recycled version of the Clinton administration.

We get quite a glimpse of the right's antipathy toward Holder, a former U.S. attorney in the District, in this National Review broadside:

"As we observed throughout the campaign, Barack Obama gave indications that his election would mean a return to the September 10 mentality, a national-security outlook marked prominently by its lack of seriousness about the terrorist threat. In choosing Eric Holder to be his attorney general, President-Elect Obama has taken a step toward confirming those misgivings. . . .

"Holder's rise, like Obama's own, is of symbolic significance, as he now has been nominated to be the nation's first black attorney general. Symbolism, however, cannot camouflage the fact that Holder is a conventional, check-the-boxes creature of the Left.

"He is convinced justice in America needs to be 'established' rather than enforced; he's excited about hate crimes and enthusiastic about the constitutionally dubious Violence Against Women Act; he's a supporter of affirmative action and a practitioner of the statistical voodoo that makes it possible to burden police departments with accusations of racial profiling and the states with charges of racially skewed death-penalty enforcement; he's more likely to be animated by a touchy-feely Reno-esque agenda than traditional enforcement against crimes; he's in favor of ending the detentions of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay and favors income redistribution to address the supposed root causes of crime."

And, on Rich: "Holder's role was aptly described as 'unconscionable' by a congressional committee. He steered Rich's allies to retain the influential former White House counsel Jack Quinn (Holder later conceded he hoped Quinn would help him become attorney general in a Gore administration); he helped Quinn directly lobby Clinton, doing an end-run around the standard pardon process (including DOJ's pardon attorney); and he kept the deliberations hidden from the district U.S. attorney and investigative agencies prosecuting Rich so they couldn't learn about the pardon application and register their objections."

That don't sound good. As for his policy positions, though, that's why we have elections. Is Holder any more to the left than John Ashcroft was to the right?

But if you think the left is embracing the man who would be the first African American attorney general, check out this Nation post by John Nichols:

"Quick! Name the veteran Department of Justice insider who, shortly after the USA Patriot Act was signed into law and at a point when the Bush administration was proposing to further erode barriers to governmental abuses, argued that dissenters should not be tolerated?

"Who invoked September 11, explicitly referencing 'the World Trade Center aflame,' in calling for the firing of any 'petty bureaucrat' who might suggest that proper procedures be followed and that the separation of powers be respected?

"John Ashcroft? No.

"Alberto Gonzales? No.

"It was Eric Holder, the man who has reportedly been selected by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as the next attorney general of the United States . . .

"If that's unsettling, consider the fact that Holder was part of the legal team that in 2005 developed strategies for securing re-authorization of the Patriot Act."

The gloves are coming off.

And speaking of ideological opposition:

"Antiwar groups and other liberal activists are increasingly concerned at signs that Barack Obama's national security team will be dominated by appointees who favored the Iraq invasion and hold hawkish views on other important foreign policy issues," the L.A. Times reports.

"The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go to war."

Today's installment of What Would Bill Do:

"Former President Bill Clinton has agreed to all of the conditions sought by President-elect Barack Obama's transition team to eliminate potential conflicts of interest if Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes secretary of state, people close to the Clintons said Wednesday.

"Mr. Clinton accepted several restrictions on his business and philanthropic activities to remove any obstacle to his wife's nomination if the cabinet job is formally offered and accepted, said the associates, who insisted that they not be identified because they were disclosing confidential negotiations," the NYT says.

So much for yesterday's she-isn't-sure-she-wants-it spin.

The new team includes one pretty wealthy guy, as Politico reports:

"Incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's career as an investment banker was short but, oh, so sweet. Emanuel left the Clinton White House in 1998 as a senior adviser on a government salary. By the time he won election to the House in 2002, he had earned an astonishing $16 million.

"How did he do it? Partly, it was simple luck: Emanuel dipped quickly into the world of investment banking in time to catch the tail end of the 1990s boom economy as a Chicago-based managing director at Wasserstein Perella & Co., where he worked from 1999 to 2002. While he was there, the firm was sold to the German Dresdner Bank for $1.37 billion in stock, netting Emanuel much of his Wall Street windfall . . .

"Frequently, Emanuel turned big Democratic donors and others he'd met during his White House years into clients for Wasserstein Perella, a firm that was led by Bruce Wasserstein, a hefty financial supporter of Clinton."

Remember when columnist Kathleen Parker got savaged by the right for dismissing Sarah Palin as unqualified? Now she's really asking for trouble as she diagnoses what ails the Republican Party:

"Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.

"I'm bathing in holy water as I type.

"To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh.

"Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

"The choir has become absurdly off-key, and many Republicans know it. But they need those votes!"

It didn't take long for Jonah Goldberg to respond to Parker:

"I don't know what's more grating, the quasi-bigotry that has you calling religious Christians low brows, gorillas and oogedy-boogedy types or the bravery-on-the-cheap as you salute -- in that winsome way -- your own courage for saying what (according to you) needs to be said. Please stop bragging about how courageous you are for weathering a storm of nasty email you invite on yourself by dancing to a liberal tune. You aren't special for getting nasty email, from the right or the left. You aren't a martyr smoking your last cigarette. You're just another columnist, talented and charming to be sure, but just another columnist. You are not Joan of the Op-Ed Page. Perhaps the typical Washington Post reader (or editor) doesn't understand that. But you should, and most conservatives familiar with these issues can see through what you're doing.

"For the record, I have no problem with arguments about how the GOP has become too religious. I ended my book with pretty much that argument. I opposed Mike Huckabee vociferously because he seemed the quintessential rightwing progressive imbued with a rightwing social gospel. These are all good arguments to make and they have good responses to them. But please drop the nonsense about how the G-O-D people or the Palin people are lowbrows and beasts."

The debate about Palin is still raging on, proving that either she struck a deep cultural chord or that the chattering classes have nothing better to chatter about. Kathryn Jean Lopez says that while Time is a virtual lock to make The One its person of the year, the magazine should consider Sarah. And she has this tidbit from the NR cruise:

"One foreign-policy expert showed up for a panel in a towel (but fully clothed underneath) in an act of solidarity with Palin (referencing the now debunked post-election story that she once appeared to top campaign officials in a towel). What is it about Sarah? . . .

"Like the 'change' from the Obama campaign slogan embraced by so many, Palin offered something different. For some it was an anti-Washington feel. Many consider her a refreshing citizen-politician in the old mold, one that Thomas Jefferson would be proud to meet. Does that make her just like Obama? I do wonder what the campaign would have been like had they both been at the helm: He wouldn't have had a monopoly on change, and she would have had her own staff and freedom to follow her instincts, and perhaps better advice than she was given as she ran for vice president."

I guess if the newsmags can liken O to Lincoln and FDR, she can invoke Jefferson.

In the Daily Beast, Daphne Merkin ponders Palin, Hillary and sexism:

"Now that the election is over and racism is ostensibly down for the count, has sexism gotten a new dispensation? Has the 'unlikability' . . . of Hillary not only cost her the presidential nomination but brought out the streak of misogyny that runs deep in American culture, affecting the way men think about women and the way women think about themselves?

"And what about Sarah Palin, the breeding babe who has emerged as a comely figure of fun with seemingly not a mote of self-doubt in her constitution? Has she furthered men's natural instinct to write off women as light entertainment, chattering nitwits with a shaky hold on the hard facts, and also triggered the self-hatred mechanism in the women who refused to go along with her as a 'you can have it all' representation of how far feminism had come? . . .

"But here's something to give pause: The special election issue of The New Yorker has five male writers commenting upon its implications; there is only one woman featured in the issue (although she has two pieces, as if in compensation.) Similarly, the November issues of Harper's and The Atlantic are top-heavy with male writers, notwithstanding the fact that The Atlantic cover touts a story headlined 'Should Women Rule the World?' which turns out to be a rather cutesy review of a book by DeeDee Myers with that title -- not a serious consideration of the question at all.

"Meanwhile, a recent issue of OK! magazine promised to tell readers about Michelle Obama's style ('Michelle looks amazing in yellow') and 'her date nights with Barack.' You know, girly stuff, as befits our interest in a Grownup Girl."`

Commentator Mark Hyman is an unabashed Palin fan:

"Women want to be her. Men want to be with her and not just because she is very attractive. Guys feel comfortable with her, rather than threatened by her. She could hang with them all day watching football on TV and it would feel genuine. Contrast this with Hillary Clinton. Guys would expect Mrs. Clinton to lunge for the remote and turn on some man-bashing, made-for-TV movie on one of those men-hating channels."

I wonder which channels those would be.

Not everyone loves Obama, as Newsweek reports:

"Obama triggers such fear in the hearts of America's millennialist Christians. Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University's law school, says he does not believe Obama is the Antichrist, but he can see how others might. Obama's own use of religious rhetoric belies his liberal positions on abortion and traditional marriage, Staver says, positions that 'religious conservatives believe will threaten their freedom.' The people who believe Obama is the Antichrist are perhaps jumping to conclusions, but they're not nuts: 'They are expressing a concern and a fear that is widely shared,' Staver says."

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen cries foul:

"Um, Newsweek? 'Widely shared' fears can most definitely be 'nuts.' . . .

"I can appreciate the fact that there are a handful of very odd people in the world, some of whom believe the Book of Revelation foretold Obama's election. Strange people can be led to believe strange things. That's not a reason for Newsweek to publish articles about their inanity."

Adulation Watch

In my new feature -- nominations welcome -- the AP is a contendah:

"Many women recoil at the thought of baring their arms in sleeveless dresses or blouses, but not Michelle Obama -- half of the fabulously fit new first couple.

"Both President-elect Barack Obama and the future first lady have exercise routines that would put most people to shame. Michelle Obama used to join a friend for 4:30 a.m. workouts, and Barack Obama usually starts his day in the gym.

"Michelle Obama has hosted 'The View,' been interviewed on '60 Minutes,' graced the cover of Newsweek and hit the campaign trail, all with her buff arms bared."

Another first for the first lady!

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