John Roberts must be a good ballroom dancer.
He displayed all kinds of stutter-step moves in gliding by and tap-dancing around the tougher questions he got at yesterday's Senate hearing.
The tone was more legal seminar than confrontation, almost a chin-pulling session among constitutional scholars. Arlen Specter kicked things off by exploring the doctrine of stare decisis and then moving into more technical terms, such as super stare decisis and the rarely invoked super-duper stare decisis.
The only real sparks in the opening hours came when champion talker Joe Biden pressed JR to answer questions he felt were improper for a potential Supreme Court justice to answer, and Biden accused him of "filibustering" and providing non-answers (which is of course the goal of every nominee), and when Roberts accused Ted Kennedy of having "not accurately represented my position" in citing an old memo on civil rights.
Whatever the issue, Roberts tried to deflect it with talk of two-part tests and three-part tests and balancing acts and respect for precedents. He said he viewed Roe v. Wade as settled law -- "entitled to respect" under stare decisis (but not super stare decisis!) -- without binding himself in any way. (Stare decisis, for you non-Latin speakers, essentially means respect for precedent.) On Reagan-era issues, he said he was just representing the administration he worked for while ducking any hint of his own opinion. In many cases, he said nothing and said it very well.
The simple fact is that Roberts has the votes to become the next chief justice, and no senator can force him to answer any question he doesn't want to. Which may explain why the hearing seemed to lack much passion.
Almost everyone leads with Roberts on abortion:
Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-091305roberts_lat,0,3266856.story?coll=la-home-headlines: Roberts "indicated today that it would be hard for the Supreme Court to overturn its landmark Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion, but he refused to say whether he would support efforts to do so."
USA Today | http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-09-13-roberts_x.htm: "In a sometimes testy hearing marked by tart exchanges with Democrats, chief justice nominee John Roberts would not say Tuesday if he'd vote to overturn the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide."
Chicago Tribune | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0509140189sep14,1,4865723.story?coll=chi-news-hed: "Asserting that judges should not seek to 'solve society's problems,' chief justice nominee John Roberts Jr. on Tuesday declined to discuss specific cases related to abortion, while outlining a restrained and conservative view of the courts that recognizes overturning precedent is a 'jolt' to the legal system."
Wall Street Journal: "raised concerns among conservatives by telling senators that he recognized a constitutional right to privacy, and backed the 1965 Supreme Court opinion that was used to justify abortion rights."
And here's a quick look at the analysis:
LAT | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-assess14sep14,0,133758.story?coll=la-home-headlines: "John G. Roberts Jr. exuded the quiet confidence of a man who knew that he was ahead in the game during a lengthy but mostly sedate confirmation hearing."
Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/09/14/nominee_exhibits_several_deft_moves/: "Day Two of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings featured Judge John G. Roberts Jr. doing his own performance of the hit single, '50 Ways To Stay Undercover.' "
NYT | http://nytimes.com/2005/09/14/politics/politicsspecial1/14roberts.html?hp&ex=1126670400&en=8f3c60d2f404b4d6&ei=5094&partner=homepage: "His face never scowled. His level tone seldom varied. He answered questions he found useful to his cause and avoided those he did not. Above all, Judge John G. Roberts Jr. explained his views and defended his honor with the force and fluidity of an advocate who has argued often before tougher judges than those he faced on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday."
Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/13/AR2005091302087.html: "The very model of an enigmatic nominee."
Washington Times | http://washingtontimes.com/national/20050914-120149-5269r.htm: "Republicans and conservatives said John G. Roberts Jr. acquitted himself perfectly before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, but Democrats and liberal activists said he ducked questions and probably lost support for his nomination to be chief justice of the United States."
Salon's Michael Scherer | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/09/14/roberts_day2/index.html picks up on Roberts's self-description as a baseball umpire: "He spent the day stepping back from the plate, ducking and dodging. With furrowed brow and earnest demeanor, he declined to answer question after question. Even his wife, Jane, appeared to fall into a trance, repeatedly fighting back yawns and drooping eyelids."
While the cable networks stuck with the Roberts hearings far longer than I would have expected, the broadcast networks all led with Bush's semi-mea culpa on the hurricane, not Roberts. The White House is clearly shifting tone in the post-Brownie era. Yesterday was the first time I saw Bush admit there were serious problems with the federal response, although he looked like he was being made to eat his broccoli as he said it. (In fact, that was the first time I saw Bush acknowledge a serious problem anywhere in his administration.) And with tomorrow night's prime-time speech, the White House is clearly making a new push to get off the defensive.
NYT | http://nytimes.com/2005/09/14/national/nationalspecial/14bush.html?hp&ex=1126670400&en=e565b95823f0736b&ei=5094&partner=homepage: "President Bush said on Tuesday that he bore responsibility for any failures of the federal government in its response to Hurricane Katrina and suggested that he was unsure whether the country was adequately prepared for another catastrophic storm or terrorist attack."
LAT | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-091305katrina_lat,0,2091786.story?coll=la-home-headlines: "It was the strongest statement of responsibility from the White House since the hurricane crisis began. . . . "
New York Daily News | http://nydailynews.com/front/story/346227p-295519c.html: "In a rare admission of fault, President Bush said yesterday that his administration shared the blame for the blundering response to Hurricane Katrina."
Slate's John Dickerson | http://slate.msn.com/id/2126244/: "Democrats were furious that President Bush didn't take responsibility for the Katrina relief catastrophe. Now they're furious that he did. President Bush's careful admission that he is responsible for the botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina 'to the extent that the federal government didn't do its job right' is a familiar Washington gambit: 'turning the page.' Bush's acceptance of responsibility answers cable news' echo-room charge that someone needs to be held accountable. Now the president -- having embraced his inner Truman -- can move on and change the message."
American Prospect's Robert Kuttner | http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=10235 worries that Bush will turn the hurricane to his advantage:
"We face two opposite prospects. The first is that Americans will finally grasp that what connects the catastrophes in New Orleans and Iraq is a witches' brew of self-delusion, deliberate deception, cronyism, and staggering incompetence on the part of the Bush administration. Republicans, meanwhile, will desert a president who is becoming a plain embarrassment even to his staunchest backers.
"But there is a darker possibility, already emerging. The Karl Rove team is gradually getting Republicans back 'on message.' To wit: There's no point in playing a 'blame game,' as Scott McClellan said fifteen times at Thursday's press briefing. The New Orleans disaster just proves the unreliability of government in general rather than this feckless president in particular. We should be looking forward to rebuilding -- with the private sector taking the lead.
"If we aren't alert, Bush will not only wriggle out of the political responsibility for diverting funds from New Orleans' flood defenses, eviscerating FEMA and then bungling the response, just as he evaded responsibility after Richard Clarke's devastating testimony that the administration ignored plenty of warnings about al-Qaeda's plans for a September 11 -- style attack. Katrina could even be a political windfall, promoting the ongoing campaign to disparage and cripple government, permanently displacing some reliable Democratic voters from the swing-state of Louisiana, causing the political faithful to rally round their beleaguered president, and knocking even more unpleasant news off the front pages and network news."
Ryan Lizza | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050919&s=lizza091905, in the New Republic, sees hope for the Dems:
"Democrats in Washington seem newly charged with purpose and a sense of mission. Harry Reid's office has become an idea factory. On Wednesday, Howard Dean gave a speech about how Katrina has forced us to face long-neglected problems of race and class. 'The truth is,' he told the National Baptist Convention of America, 'that we have ignored the poor for far too long.' Democrats like John Edwards, who have also been trying to highlight poverty in the United States, are now finally getting a hearing.
"If the White House has an antipoverty initiative, it is a well-kept secret. Before the August recess, the White House cited the passage of its energy plan as a great victory for Bush. The legislation, which doesn't address energy independence or deal seriously with conservation, seems even more hollow than it did before. Finally, the debate over rebuilding New Orleans will focus public attention on the tax and spending priorities of the Bush administration, which Democrats have turned blue talking about for five years, with little political gain to show for it.
"There are also characterological issues that may be rethought by voters. To the extent that Bush has been a successful president, his success has rested to a remarkable degree on his personal character. His campaign slogan last year might as well have been, 'Even though you don't think I'm doing a good job, you can trust me.' Bush aides call this leadership -- getting people to support you even though they disagree. Instead of character or leadership, Democrats like to offer competence. (Clinton's slogan could have been, 'Even though you don't trust me, you know I'm doing a good job.') Democrats, who see before them the most incompetent presidency of their lifetimes, were mystified as to why the competence Kerry offered last year wasn't enough.
"Early polls don't show universal hostility toward Bush's incompetent handling of the disaster. But, more importantly, the polls don't show the country rallying to Bush's side, as almost always happens after such a disaster. Perhaps Katrina is the sort of catastrophe that could tip the political balance back in favor of competence rather than character."
Jeff Jarvis | http://www.buzzmachine.com wonders why the administration let Michael Brown hang on for several news cycles:
"What amazes me about l'affaire Brownie is that is reveals how indecisive the Bush White House is. Why torture the puppy and relieve Brown of his Katrina duties only to have him 'quit' a few days later? What was gained versus just getting rid of him in one swift cut? Why be indecisive when indecisiveness is exactly the problem with the government's response to the storm? If local and state governments hadn't screwed up, too, I think the downfall of the Bush legacy wouldn't be Iraq after all, but Katrina. There's still time."
Roger Simon | http://www.rogersimon.com/archive/2005/09/no_need_for_exp.html#002798 says the Bushies feel put upon for having to deal with the disaster:
"If you want to know what went wrong with the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, just examine the following statement by Dick Cheney.
"When asked by a reporter why he did not return from his vacation earlier than last Thursday, three days after the hurricane hit, the vice president replied: 'I came back four days early.'
"And you can see why Cheney is so testy. He had to miss four days of his vacation to help a bunch of people who probably had never voted Republican in their lives.
"The same sense of irritation was noticeable in the initial post-Katrina public appearances by President Bush (though his handlers now seem to have him under control.)
"It was a sense of 'Why me?' Wasn't a quagmire in Iraq enough of a burden? In addition to his own man-made disaster, did he have to deal with a natural disaster, too? . . .
"Dumping hacks and cronies in an agency in charge of federal emergency management? Isn't that a recipe for disaster? Well, yes. George Bush is out of the Ronald Reagan school: disengaged, affable, dependent on and loyal to his subordinates."
Arianna Huffington | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/the-gop-finds-the-silver-_b_7241.html objects to the Republican prescription for action:
"Two weeks in, Katrina has turned into an-all-you-can-eat-right-wing-policy buffet.
"And, as is so often the case with these tireless champions of crony capitalism, the main course at this opportunistic smorgasbord is "privatization." And the target du jour is FEMA. The subtext is that the Katrina debacle somehow proves that disaster relief is no business for the government and should be turned over to the Halliburtons of the world (after all, they've done such a great job supplying our troops and reconstructing Iraq, right?).
"Of course, FEMA's Katrina failures have far less to do with some inherent big government bugaboos than with the way Bush and the partisan hacks he installed there turned a successful, widely-praised cabinet level agency (one that then-Gov. George Bush took time to praise in a debate with Al Gore in 2000) into a denuded and incompetently managed after-thought."
What Arianna misses -- but which this Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/09/AR2005090901867.html piece captures nicely -- is that both parties are trying to use the disaster to push their pet political causes.
Want to get ticked off? Check out this piece by ABC's Jake Tapper | http://abcnews.go.com/US/HurricaneKatrina/story?id=1123495&page=1 on how a Louisiana congressman used the military to retrieve his own belongings while people were waiting to be rescued.
Finally, Sean Hannity is right. If you go to Google | http://www.google.com and type in "miserable failure," the first thing that comes up is the White House bio | http://www.whitehouse.gov/president/gwbbio.html of George W. Bush. Seems a lot of critics have been trying to attach that label to the president.