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Supreme Blather

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005 11:06 AM

If I were running one of the cable networks, this is what I would have done yesterday.

I would have told the Senate Judiciary Committee that if you want to devote hours to rambling opening statements from each and every member of the panel-- essentially much-rehashed stump speeches-- fine, but we're not going to cover it.

We'll take five minutes from Specter, five minutes from Leahy and five minutes from John Roberts, and then we're gone until you actually begin questioning the nominee. Then we'll give you some airtime.

Senators bloviating for the cameras for more than three hours while the likely next chief justice sits there uncomfortably isn't news. Senators cross-examining the judge is news. I'm usually a fan of cable television covering the events rather than engaging in punditry, but only when the event is real, not prepackaged and warmed-over rhetoric.

The speechifying started at noon, and at 12:45 CNN was the first to break away to Wolf Blitzer, Jeff Greenfield, Jeff Toobin and none other than John Ashcroft. Fox bailed at 1:03, with Chris Wallace and Brit Hume, and MSNBC around the same time, with Brian Williams and Tim Russert. Within moments, Fox and MSNBC were showing Bush in New Orleans, chiding the press for playing the "blame game."

In short, the Judiciary Committee drove away its audience by insisting on the senatorial tradition that the lawmakers' extended remarks must come first, rather than adapting to the television age.

Dianne Feinstein, for one, figured out the game. After her opening statement, which was covered, she slipped outside and did an interview with CNN while Russ Feingold was giving his opening statement.

The day's most exciting development, in mid-hearing, was "Heck of a Job" Brownie resigning at FEMA. Why he didn't just pack it in last Friday, when he was humiliatingly sent packing from New Orleans, is anyone's guess.

Only Roberts had the sense to be mercifully brief. And that was it! On the first day, when interest was naturally the highest, the august committee adjourned. Its 17 white men (and one white woman) had spent the day listening to each other talk. There's a metaphor there somewhere.

It's All About Baseball or Politics

Roberts's baseball symbolism proved more lasting than all the senatorial flourishes:

"Judge John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's choice to be chief justice of the United States, told senators Monday that he seeks a modest and limited role for the nation's highest court, akin to an umpire who calls the balls and strikes rather than a star player who is the center of attention," says the Los Angeles Times .

"In an opening day of confirmation hearings in which senators drew sharp and partisan distinctions over his-- and their-- views on issues like abortion, civil rights and the role of the courts, Judge John G. Roberts Jr. promised on Monday that if confirmed as the 17th chief justice of the United States he would 'confront every case with an open mind,' " says the New York Times .

Philadelphia Inquirer : "In his first major public statement since being nominated to the Supreme Court, John G. Roberts Jr. hit one crucial point hard yesterday: that the role of judges in America is limited and that he would embrace the idea of judicial restraint above all else."

Chicago Tribune : "Pledging to confront every case with an 'open mind,' Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts Jr. said Monday that he would listen to the 'considered views' of his colleagues and be vigilant in protecting the court's independence and integrity if he is confirmed as the nation's 17th chief justice."

Salon's Michael Scherer calls the session "a practice in platitudes, a four-hour spectacle of partisan posturing and public introductions in a marble hearing room gilded with gold and strung with chandeliers. Senators droned on, while Roberts posed for the camera." Slate calls the senators "insufferably pompous."

Matt Margolis at Blogs for Bush: "To be honest . . . this opening stuff is very boring . . . This seems to be more about the individual senators than it does about Roberts."

Ya think?

The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen says libs should play hail to the chief:

"The claim that Roberts would move the Court to the right as chief justice-- and that he therefore deserves greater scrutiny-- is transparently unconvincing. Far from being a proponent of resurrecting the limitations on federal power that some conservatives call the Constitution in Exile, Roberts's memos and judicial opinions suggest, in fact, that he takes a more expansive view of congressional power than O'Connor. Although liberals canonized O'Connor as a moderate after she announced her retirement, they forget that she was among the Court's most enthusiastic and activist proponents of striking down both federal and state regulations. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, by contrast, was a more deferential conservative, less likely to strike down regulations in the name of economic rights . . .

"And, in other areas of concern to liberals--such as his willingness to uphold precedents with which he disagrees-- Roberts may turn out to be more concerned about judicial stability and humility than either Rehnquist or O'Connor, which suggests he might even move the Court to the left. The truth is that Roberts's nomination as chief justice was a peace offering from Bush to Democrats and a gift to principled liberal and conservative defenders of judicial restraint. Rather than listening to the siren song of ideological interest groups who are urging them to cast a symbolic but futile vote of opposition, Democrats should instead vote to confirm Roberts as chief justice with gratitude and relief."

Court TV anchor (and former judge) Catherine Crier has a new book out called "Contempt," and she steps out of the anchor closet to rip hard-right conservatives:

"The extreme Right has conquered the executive and legislative branches of government, but it has not been able to bring the federal courts to heel . . . yet. Undoubtedly, this group has a prodigious impact on the Supreme Court and the other federal courts, but it wants so much more. Its leaders have taken an entity that innately resists politics and turned it into a highly politicized battle zone. They seethe over this unelected, independent third branch of government, the last bulwark between the American people and their attempted coup. That some federal judges have proven well educated, fair, and unintimidated by these voices and methods has further stymied their best-laid plans . . .

"Most of them would like to see the United States under biblical law. Comparable to countries like Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, all of which live by Sharia (the strict Islamic code of the Koran), America's right-wing fundamentalists seek a nation governed by Old and New Testament scripture. Born-again Christianity will supplant the Constitution."

Yow. I hope this doesn't happen by next week.

Bush Bubble?

Mike Allen who recently jumped from the WashPost to Time, questions whether Bush has a bubble problem:

"A related factor, aides and outside allies concede, is what many of them see as the President's increasing isolation. Bush's bubble has grown more hermetic in the second term, they say, with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad news -- or tell him when he's wrong. Bush has never been adroit about this. A youngish aide who is a Bush favorite described the perils of correcting the boss. 'The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me,' the aide recalled about a session during the first term. 'Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, "All right. I understand. Good job." He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom.'

"But as the Bush era begins to wane, some remaining aides lack the chops to set him right when he is off course."

Dry heaves? Will these people kindly get some backbone?

More Like FDR?

OpinionJournal's John Fund noting that Bush has asked for $62 billion for Katrina and not a cent in spending cuts, says W. should be more like . . . FDR???

"After Pearl Harbor, it's generally known that Franklin D. Roosevelt dramatically expanded the bite of the federal income tax so that, in the words of one tax professor, it 'spread from the country club . . . down to the railroad tracks and then over to the other side of the tracks.'

"Less well known is FDR's decision to slash non-defense spending by over 20% between 1942 and 1944. Among the programs that were eliminated entirely were FDR's own prized creations. By 1944, such pillars of the New Deal as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Youth Administration and the Work Projects Administration had been abolished. In 1939 those three programs had represented one-eighth of the federal budget. Roosevelt and the Congress of his day knew what to do in an emergency."

Certain Louisiana Politicians

Powerline's John Hinderaker reacting to a Fox interview with a certain Louisiana senator:

"Mary Landrieu has gone stark raving mad. It's funny, though, how seldom these MSM interviewers ask her about the fact that her brother is the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. Plus, of course, her father was the Mayor of New Orleans. Can anyone say 'corrupt oligarchy'? Another time, that would be a topic of interest to the MSM, but not now, when they are hunting bigger game."

The Illumi blog, citing a note from the son of a doctor, points the finger at the gov:

"Here's a bit of incompetence he relayed regarding the embattled (better word than incompetent?) Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco . . .

"A lot of doctors (including him) rushed to New Orleans (at their own expense) to help in the effort. Doctors (especially in refugee centers like the convention center and the Superdome) were overworked and there weren't enough to deal with the health needs of refugees. Dad doesn't have a license to practice medicine in Louisiana. He's licensed in Wyoming. Since licenses are issued by states, it's illegal for him to practice medicine in a state where he's not licensed . . . In emergencies like natural disasters it's normal for states to suspend this requirement and offer temporary reciprocity with the other 49 states, recognizing their licenses as being valid in the affected state . . .

"In Louisiana, it took several days for the governor to issue such a proclamation. Meanwhile, doctors from all over the country just sat around in New Orleans, unable to do anything."

Brownie

It was almost possible to begin feeling sorry for former Arabian horse expert Michael Brown, until I read he was blaming the media for scapegoating him. (True, but deserved, no?) Via Kevin Drum I find that the Rocky Mountain News has printed an email that he sent to some friends before quitting:

" I don't mind the negative press (well, actually, I do, but I try to ignore it) but it is really wearing out the family. No wonder people don't go into public service. This country is devouring itself, the 24-hour news cycle is numbing our ability to think for ourselves .

"Um, Brownie, wasn't part of your problem the fact that you weren't paying attention to the 24-hour news cycle? Just asking . . . "

The Race Issue

USA Today poll echoes the racial divide found by last week's Pew survey: "Six in 10 African-Americans say the fact that most hurricane victims were poor and black was one factor behind the failure of the federal government to come to their rescue quickly. Nearly nine in 10 non-Hispanic whites say those weren't factors."

The president, in New Orleans, said: "My attitude is this: The storm didn't discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort," he said. "When those Coast Guard choppers . . . were pulling people off roofs, they didn't check the color of a person's skin. They wanted to save lives."

Richard Haass a State Department official in Bush's first term, says in Slate that the impact is truly global:

"The initial federal and local reactions to Hurricane Katrina, however, have sent the opposite message. The images seen around the world communicated a lack of competence and considerable chaos and suffering. The dominant overseas reaction has been sympathy mixed with shock and horror at what was seen by many as evidence of racism and a reminder of the extreme poverty in which many Americans live.

"America's enemies indulged in schadenfreude. Hugo Chávez could not resist the chance to taunt President Bush; North Korea radio linked the U.S. 'defeat' in Iraq with its 'defeat' by Katrina; jihadists celebrated what had happened and the possibility the price of oil would soar even higher. The world's only remaining superpower appeared to be anything but. In an era of 24-hour satellite television and the Internet, public diplomacy is about who Americans are and what they do, not just what they say. Unlike Las Vegas, what happens here does not stay here.

"The global impact goes beyond impressions. A priority of this administration's foreign policy is to promote democracy around the world. But the attractiveness of the American model, and the ability of the United States to be an effective advocate for more democratic, capitalist societies, which had already been weakened by the disarray in Iraq, is now weaker still as a result of the disarray at home. It will be more difficult to make the case for free markets and more open societies if the results of such reforms come to be associated with the disorder seen in New Orleans."

Dodging Bullets

CBS's new blog, Public Eye debuted yesterday with former Hotline guy Vaughn Ververs providing the analysis. When Katrina hit on Monday, Aug. 29, "the conventional wisdom was that the city had dodged a bullet, thanks to the storm's last-minute jog to the east. 'City Saved' read a graphic on ABC's newscast, where Charles Gibson said that the 'nightmare scenario of an entire city underwater did not happen.' Brian Williams, hosting the NBC Nightly News from New Orleans, talked about 'where the worst fears didn't come true.' The coverage was comprehensive but not remarkable. This was still, for the most part, just a hurricane story, albeit a big one . . .

"Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, says that part of the reason there was no special on Tuesday was logistical. 'All of the networks were operating under these extremely onerous, difficult conditions,' he says. 'Just doing the basics was extremely taxing. By Wednesday, not only had the story taken on a new dimension, but we felt capable of adding to what we were doing on the evening news in primetime.' Heyward says that the logistical challenges were so significant that, for much of Wednesday, people in the news division in New York weren't even sure that the reporters expected to appear on the primetime special that evening even knew about it."

Finally, Salon has the most, ah, colorful of the New Orleans remembrances, by Laura Misch :

"I would marry a cop of easy virtue, pose nude in Hef's magazine, appear in some of the worst movies ever made and lie on the AstroTurf floor of the Superdome with former football star Paul Hornung, wondering why he had such bad cigarette breath."

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