The Supreme Court nomination was supposed to test the philosophy of the Republican Party: Would Bush pick an ultraconservative to satisfy his party's base, sparking a bloody confirmation battle, or would he pick a more mainstream conservative and risk the wrath of the far right?

But now that Bush has "threaded the needle," to use the administration's preferred sound bite--have you ever seen anyone rack up more glowing profiles than John Roberts?--the spotlight is very much on the Democratic Party.

Do the Dems (most of whom have been restrained on Roberts) launch an effort to take him down anyway, even though, lacking key votes for a filibuster, they would most likely lose? Will they be pressured into outright opposition by liberal interest groups that burnish their reputations and raise money by crusading against conservative nominees? If by some turn of events the Democrats managed to block Roberts, how likely is it that Bush would name someone more conservative?

In other words, is Roberts--who seems a cautious and incremental type, as opposed to an overturn-the-precedents flame-thrower--about as good a nominee as the Democrats are likely to get from this administration?

I realized that the Roberts fight (or lack thereof) would be a kind of Rorschach test for the Dems when I saw two columnists with more or less opposite views spotlight the same question. First, the NYT's David Brooks | http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/21/opinion/21brooks.html?:

"I suspect the Democratic elites would rather skip this fight because it has all the makings of a political loser. Anybody who is brilliant during Supreme Court grillings, as Roberts is, will be impressive at confirmation hearings. He is modest and likeable, and has done pro bono work on behalf of the environment, parental rights and minorities.

"But the Democratic elites no longer run the party. The outside interest groups and the donors do, and they need this fight. It's why they exist.

"Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic hopefuls will have to choose between the militant wing of the party, important in the primary season, and the nation's mainstream center, which the party needs if it is to regain its majority status. It will be a defining and momentous vote."

And here's the WP's Richard Cohen | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/20/AR2005072002094.html:

"Roberts alone is not enough to reverse Roe v. Wade , and, anyway, a pro-choice nominee is just not in the cards. . . .

It seems to me that it is the Democratic Party that has a problem. It can either come to terms with reality or appear, to much of the country, both petulant and in the grip of special interests, particularly the pro-choice lobby. In effect, the fate of this nominee was settled back in the year 2000 when Florida, for better or for worse, squinted hard and pronounced George W. Bush its winner."

By the way, Drudge | http://www.drudgereport.com/flash3hcr.htm claims that Hillary has more or less decided to back Roberts.

Oxblog | http://oxblog.blogspot.com/2005_07_17_oxblog_archive.html#112192306659207801 questions the MSM coverage:

"Liberal activists must be fuming -- positive coverage from the NYT, WaPo, etc. is turning Roberts' confirmation into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Technically, the editorial boards at the Times and the Post are insisting that we must all reserve judgment until the Senate has conducted a thorough and substantive examination of Roberts' merit as a judge. But who're they kidding? When the WaPo is running headlines such as 'Democrats Say Nominee Will Be Hard to Defeat,' there is simply no way to portray Roberts as the sort of 'extreme ideologue with an agenda of stripping away important rights' that the NYT says is unacceptable on the nation's highest court.

"Now why has the media decided to give John Roberts the kid glove treatment? It's not because he went to Harvard College and Harvard Law. After all, Bush has degrees from Harvard and Yale. What matters a lot more is that Roberts graduated summa cum laude and was the managing editor of law review. He's not just an Ivy Leaguer -- he's the kind of Ivy Leaguer that journalists and pundits wish their children could be. In other words, Roberts is supposedly the kind of Ivy Leaguer who thinks in a way that fellow Ivy Leaguers readily understand and heartily praise -- whereas Bush doesn't."

Here are two examples of that remarkably positive coverage. Newsweek | http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8683401/site/newsweek/: "Self-effacing but self-assured, scholarly but easygoing, clever but not cute, Roberts, 50, will be the best witness in his own defense at his confirmation hearings in a few weeks...From all that can be gleaned about Roberts, he will decide each case, one at a time, with great intellectual rigor and honesty."

Time | http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1086169,00.html: "Universally described as decent, funny, civil and fair...The New York Times profile poured across the front page to two more full pages inside without uncovering one single person who knew Roberts and had a harsh word to say. . . . Roberts' resume reads so perfectly that it is easy to find the little flakes of destiny littered through his storybook life."

The Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/24/AR2005072401201.html finds one discordant flake--front-paging a piece on Roberts denying he belonged to the Federalist Society when a directory shows he did--but the Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum | http://www.washingtonmonthly.com is dismissive:

"Look, I'm always up for a spirited round of conservative scandal-mongering, but this is about the lamest excuse for a nano-scandal that I've seen in a long time. Why is the Washington Post wasting its time with this?"

Power Line's Scott Johnson | http://powerlineblog.com/, under the headline "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been?", says: "The liberals would like to exclude from consideration for the Supreme Court anyone who belongs to, or has 'hung out with,' the main organization for conservative lawyers in the U.S. This is part of their ongoing effort, recent election results notwithstanding, to define the political mainstream as including liberals and moderates, but not conservatives. In this connection, I would note that two of the four founders of the Federalist Society are Spencer Abraham, who went on to become a Senator from Michigan, and David McIntosh, who became a Congressman from Indiana. In what sense is the Federalist Society outside the political mainstream?"

But Chris Bowers at MyDD | http://www.mydd.com/story/2005/7/25/1520/26574 says: "I wonder what else he has forgotten. . . . This is pretty damning. No wonder the Bush administration is blocking the release of some documents he has written. I hope more Democrats will step up to bat and start opposing this guy."

The right is not exactly thrilled, says the Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/07/26/conservatives_defend_robertss_link_to_law_group/: "The White House's efforts to distance Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. from The Federalist Society came under fire from conservatives yesterday for creating a blemish on his candidacy where none existed, and for sending a signal that membership in the influential legal society was something to avoid."

Looks like the White House is going part of the way on documents, according to those ubiquitous unnamed sources, as quoted by the New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/07/26/politics/politicsspecial1/26confirm.html?hp&ex=1122350400&en=2a3f5db7c9c4f7e9&ei=5094&partner=homepage:

"The Bush administration plans to release documents from Judge John G. Roberts's tenure in the White House counsel's office in the mid-1980's and his earlier job working for the attorney general, but will not make public papers covering the four years he spent as principal deputy solicitor general starting in 1989, two senior administration officials said Monday."

But maybe it doesn't matter to the public, according to a USA Today | http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-07-25-roberts-rove-poll_x.htm/CNN poll: "Supreme Court, nominee John Roberts can claim favorability ratings that many politicians would savor . . . by 59% to 22%, those surveyed say he should be confirmed for the job."

No surprise, with the kind of press coverage he's getting.

It's a good thing the other justices don't get to vote on Roberts, based on this memo he wrote as a White House lawyer that was unearthed by the New York Sun | http://www.nysun.com/article/17462:

"'While some of the tales of woe emanating from the court are enough to bring tears to the eyes, it is true that only Supreme Court justices and schoolchildren are expected to and do take the entire summer off,' Judge Roberts wrote in a April 1983 memorandum to his boss, Fred Fielding, the White House counsel, about a proposal to create a new tribunal to relieve the perceived pressure on the high court. . . . 'The fault lies with the justices themselves who unnecessarily take too many cases and issue opinions so confusing that they often do not even resolve the question presented,' the brash young lawyer wrote."

National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru | http://nationalreview.com/ponnuru/ponnuru200507250928.asp takes on the argument that judicial nominees can't say much, declaring that Roberts on the high court "will do more to determine how Americans are governed than any senator, or any five senators. Yet it would apparently be wrong for senators to ask him how he would exercise this vast power. In our current political order, elections for the Senate may turn on the candidates' positions on abortion even though senators do not set abortion policy. But the people who do set abortion policy are not to be asked how they will rule. It is permissible to interview a candidate for the job of Supreme Court justice. But the hirers are not to ask for the answers they most want to know.

"That position, however absurd it may sound, has been embraced by the Republican party. Even before Bush named a nominee, most Republicans in Washington were saying that questions about how the nominee would rule on specific issues are off limits."

I'm sure Hillary's latest move will be very big in the blogosphere:

"The Democratic Leadership Council, an organization of influential party moderates, on Monday named Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to direct a new initiative to define a party agenda for the 2006 and 2008 elections," the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-dlc26jul26,0,1878987.story?coll=la-home-headlines reports. "The appointment solidified the identification of Clinton -- once considered a champion of the party's left -- with the centrist movement that helped propel her husband to the White House in 1992. It also continued her effort, which has accelerated in recent months, to present herself as a moderate on issues such as national security, immigration and abortion." The Republicans, HRC declares, "turned our bridge to the 21st century into a tunnel back to the 19th century."

In the CIA leak probe, liberal commentators are hopping mad about the Plame-wasn't-really-covert argument (we now know that the State memo mentioning her status was labeled S for secret). Salon's Joe Conason | http://www.salon.com/opinion/conason/2005/07/23/plame/index.html rips "the gallery of right-wing blowhards and fakers who have lately misinformed us about the career of 'Wilson's wife.'

"Writing in the Weekly Standard, humorist P.J. O'Rourke mocked 'the cover that Valerie Plame was using as a covert CIA agent' as 'a masterpiece of hiding in plain sight. . . . Plame was working a desk job at CIA headquarters.' How does O'Rourke know so much about her work? He doesn't actually know anything, but puffs his 'experience as a foreign reporter' to let innocent readers think he does. . . .

"Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn wrote that 'Valerie Plame . . . wasn't a "clandestine officer" and indeed hadn't been one for six years. So one can only "leak" her name in the sense that one can "leak" the name of the checkout clerk at Home Depot.' It is impossible to tell where the pompous Canadian columnist obtained this information about her status at the agency where she has served her country ever since she left college. Like O'Rourke, he speaks with great authority on subjects of which he possesses no relevant knowledge, only talking points from the Republican noise machine.

"'Valerie Plame wasn't a covert field operative,' wrote National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg. Actually, she was. No doubt Goldberg was just repeating what he heard from a couple of Republican legal experts while watching TV. But he stated it as fact. That's what can pass for informed opinion (or even journalism!) in the brave new world of the blogosphere.

"Yet similar bunk recently appeared in the august old-media newsprint of the New York Times, under the byline of columnist John Tierney. He suggested that 'the law doesn't seem to apply to Ms. Wilson because she apparently hadn't been posted abroad during the five previous years [before her identity was published by columnist Robert Novak in July 2003] . . . Ms. Wilson was compared to James Bond in the early days of the scandal, but it turns out she had been working for years at C.I.A. headquarters, not exactly a deep-cover position.'"

Josh Marshall | http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/index-old.php pounces on the same issue--as well as Pat Roberts, the Senate intelligence chairman--saying that "either this whole debate about her status is rendered moot by the original CIA referral to DOJ, or you must believe that the referral was knowingly fraudulent.

"Those who are so Bush-true as to hypothesize that the CIA made a knowingly fraudulent referral would have to contend with the fact that the Bush Justice Department and then later Patrick Fitzgerald both concluded that the referral was a valid one.

"The only other possibility -- one which I've referred to jokingly in the past -- is to argue that she wasn't covert enough. That is to say, maybe she was covert to the CIA. But she really wasn't covert up to the standards of say, Bill Safire or Tucker Carlson or Bill O'Reilly.

"And this, understand, is the premise of the new Roberts' hearings. Was she really covert enough? And does the CIA really know how to define 'covert'. Asked about a bankrobber caught red-handed outside the bank, Sen. Roberts' response would be to say, 'But how much real claim did the bank have to that money? Did they really earn it? And what did they do to protect it?'"

Where are the Howard Bakers of yesteryear, wonders David Corn | http://www.davidcorn.com/2005/07/rove_scandal_lo.php:

"There is one ritualistic action that has yet to occur: a member of the president's own party publicly criticizing the White House for the wrongdoing being investigated. Now that it is known that Rove and Scooter Libby passed information about Valerie Wilson's classified relationship with the CIA to reporters, no prominent GOPers have said boo. The Republicans who talk about the scandal on the chattering-head shows have followed the White House's lead and have suggested that (a) no one should judge Rove and Libby's actions--or the White House's previous and false denials--until the inquiry is over and (b) the only real issue is whether a crime was committed. . . .

"Sadly, John McCain has been drawn into this dishonest campaign. McCain has tried to promote himself as the straight-talking politician. You might even think he would be a candidate to perform the specific ritual I mentioned above: the from-within-the-party blast. But scratch him from that list. On Hardball a few nights ago, McCain once again placed politics and loyalty to Bush (the guy who dragged McCain's reputation through the mud in 2000) above straight talk. He repeatedly defended Rove, saying that when Rove confirmed Valerie Wilson's CIA ID for Bob Novak and Matt Cooper he was merely countering 'false information' being put out by Joseph Wilson 'concerning whether Dick Cheney sent him to Africa.' McCain went on: 'It's understandable why Rove would say to a reporter, "Hey, look, the vice president did not send Wilson to Niger. It was done at the recommendation of his wife, etcetera, etcetera."'

"Regular readers will know this is the same-old disinformation being hurled by GOP spinners."

Finally, if you think the Pentagon's spin on Iraq is sounding rather old, CNN.com | http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/meast/07/24/military.release/index.html says you're right:

"The U.S. military on Sunday said it was looking into how virtually identical quotations ended up in two of its news releases about different insurgent attacks.

Following a car bombing in Baghdad on Sunday, the U.S. military issued a statement with a quotation attributed to an unidentified Iraqi that was virtually identical to a quote reacting to an attack on July 13."