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Okay what do Senator

Okay, what do Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) and William of Ockham have in common?

You know, William of Ockham ... As in Ockham's Razor? … What? You don't know what Ockham's Razor is?!?! Geeeeezz!!! Okay, okay, don't worry, Talking Points will hook you up.

William of Ockham was a fourteenth century scholastic philosopher most remembered as the originator of what came to be known as Ockham's Razor. The Razor is a logical principle which states that "plurality should not be posited without necessity."

And what the hell does that mean? Basically it means that when a question needs answering the simplest explanation which covers all the data is the preferable one. Albert Einstein had a more aphoristic way of stating this principle when talking about scientific hypotheses. "Everything should be as simple as possible," he said, "but not simpler." (Smart guy that Einstein!)

Anyway Talking Points thinks Ockham's Razor rocks and he uses it all the time to find clarity through the muck of political obfuscation. Ockham's Razor helped Galileo demonstrate that his simple heliocentric model of the solar system was better than the weird-ass Ptolemaic system which the Middle Ages had inherited form Antiquity. And today you yourself can use Ockham's Razor to show that Evan Bayh is voting against John Ashcroft and Russ Feingold may vote for him because Evan Bayh wants to run for president and Russ Feingold doesn't. (Get that last one?)

Now you are probably asking yourself: where the hell is Talking Points going with this William of Ockham crap?

Bear with me!

Let's go back to our original question. What do Senator Zell Miller and William of Ockham have in common?

Answer? Not a damn thing. Because even with the clarifying magic of Ockham's Razor there's nothing that can explain why the new Georgia Senator is practically falling over himself to carry water for George W. Bush.

Last week Miller was the first Senate Democrat to officially announce he'd be voting to confirm John Ashcroft. That at least was understandable on political grounds. In a state like Georgia you get points for standing up to liberal, Washington-based interest groups. But yesterday Miller announced he was cosponsoring George W.'s megalithic tax cut with Phil Gramm.

Even a lot of Republicans are telling Bush that that just ain't gonna happen. Most people didn't even think Miller wanted to run for another term in the Senate. But if he does, he won't be up again till 2004. Bush's tax cut isn't even all that popular in Georgia. So it's hard to figure why Miller needs to back it to cover his right flank. And certainly he doesn't need to cosponsor it.

So why is he doing it?

That's what I mean: no one knows! Talking Points checked with some conservative Southern Dems today and some other folks from Georgia and even they can't figure out what Miller's up to. He couldn't find anyone to defend Miller's course. And it's not even like Miller was all that conservative during his two terms as governor of Georgia. By Southern standards he was pretty progressive.

The only thing Talking Points could come up with was this: When Miller was appointed to serve out the term of the late Paul Coverdell, a Republican, he kept on some of Coverdell's staff. (Miller and Coverdell were actually close friends.) In particular, he kept on Coverdell's Senior Policy Advisor, Alex Albert. In December, after Miller had won election in his own right, he appointed Albert his Chief of Staff. Coverdell was very tight with Phil Gramm and pretty much all the rest of more partisan Republicans.

Maybe Albert's just got Miller's ear. But it's hard to Zell.

When Talking Points first

When Talking Points first fired up his computer this morning he saw all the articles about the new ethical standards Bush is putting in place for his team. It's a bit of a slap at the Clinton folks. But it's also become something of a ritual for incoming administrations. Clinton instituted a bunch of new ethics guidelines when he came in too.

But then he looked a little closer. There don't appear to be any new ethical guidelines. Bush just told his crew "to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct.''

Why hasn't anyone pointed this out?

Basically Bush got the ball rolling with a gratuitous, but contentless, slap at the outgoing administration.

Imagine that.

Hows this for a

How's this for a description of Bush's bipartisanship and 'reaching out'?

For Bush, bipartisanship means something like this: Here's our program, here's what we want to do, here's what we're going to do. We're not shunning you. We invite you to come join us.

The Bush line on race is much the same: Here's us. These are our programs and our people. But we're not shunning you. We invite you to join us.

Look how this works. Bush is outlining a down-the-line conservative legislative agenda - but he welcomes Democratic support. He appointed an attorney general who is anathema to most African-Americans - but he is also "reaching out" to them.

Not being shunned is certainly preferable to being shunned. But in everyday life we have another name for this kind of attitude: We call it condescension.

Want more? See the whole thing in today's New York Post.

Say it aint so.

Say it ain't so. But it is so. The Ashcrometer, sadly, jumps up to a perilous 82% chance of confirmation. And, truth be told, it may warrant being higher than that.

It's not that Zell Miller of Georgia has announced he'll vote for Ashcroft that's such a big deal. The Dems don't need 50 votes on this one, just forty. And a surprising number of the Senators who are inclined to vote against Ashcroft's nomination seem just as willing to vote to sustain a filibuster. The only problem is that there don't seem to be forty of them out there. At least not quite.

Talking Points talked to staffers in the offices of a number of centrist Dems today and quite a few are still unwilling to say what they're going to do - even way off the record. Apparently they still want to see how these last few days sink in before sticking their neck out on Ashcroft.

Tom Daschle's stated unwillingness to participate in a filibuster is going to be key for a lot of these wavering members. And some speculate that Daschle's unwillingness to go to the mat on Ashcroft may have at least tacitly been a part of the very successful negotiations he carried out with Trent Lott over power-sharing in the Senate.

Having said all that, the Senate Dems whom one might expect to vote for Ashcroft are Zell Miller, John Breaux, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Tim Johnson, Evan Bayh … in the very possible category Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and Max Cleland. Obviously that doesn't get you under forty. But, hey, that's just what Talking Points is hearing.

People of Earth we

People of Earth, we come in peace …

(Translation: Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.)

More news soon from the scene of the festivities.

Ya know. From the

Ya know. From the sound of it, John Ashcroft is going to be such a staunch defender and enforcer of gun-control laws, abortion rights, and civil rights, that you sorta wonder why right-wingers want him so bad.

Is Ashcroft a lib now? Or is there some disconnect here? Or is Ashcroft just completely full of crap - and Senate Dems aren't doing a lousy job catching him out on it?

My my. Democrats do

My, my. Democrats do seem to be pushing Andrew Sullivan right off the deep end. They're pushing all his buttons. Pat Leahy's a hypocrite. Ted Kennedy's a hypocrite. There's apparently no decent reason to vote against John Ashcroft at all. Sullivan has even picked up the Republican talking point comparing Janet Reno's confirmation to John Ashcroft's. Does anyone honestly think that Janet Reno was as ideological or extreme an appointment as John Ashcroft? Does Reno deviate from the centerpoint of American politics to the left just as much as Ashcroft does to the right?

Really. This doesn't even pass the laugh test, does it? That doesn't mean Ashcroft should be voted down. But let's do keep some quality control on the analogies, okay?

(I won't call Sullivan a friend, because I've only met him a couple times and corresponded with him briefly by email. But when I have met him he's been very kind and generous. So that's my two bits in that regard.)

For the last several weeks, on his very entertaining and insightful website, Sullivan has been pounding away at anyone and everyone who thinks something untoward happened in Florida, and even more ferociously whacking away at those who think that what happened in Florida should inform how Democrats treat Bush's presidency.

He takes particular aim at Rick Hertzberg (writing in the New Yorker) and Michael Sandel (writing in the New York Times) both of whom argue that George W. Bush isn't just any president and that Senate Democrats have both the right and the obligation to compel Bush to provide the moderate governance he promised during the campaign.

(Actually, I made much the same point, albeit more briefly, about six weeks ago in the New York Post. But, hey! That's just a right-wing tab, so it doesn't get so much attention. Anyway, back to our story …)

In passing, Sullivan notes the "unprecedented way in which Gore and his trial-lawyers tried to overturn the result of a presidential election through legal maneuvering" and generally ridicules the process of unofficial recounts going on down in Florida, especially the use of "the most liberal standards imaginable" for counting ballots - standards which, improbably, ended up giving Bush a few extra votes in Miami-Dade county this week.

Is it really irrelevant that half a million more Americans voted for Al Gore than for George Bush? Doesn't this and the Democrats' gains in the Senate call for and justify some added scrutiny of Bush's decision-making from those 50 Senate Dems? Anything else is sour grapes and cheating. The Democrats, according to Sullivan, are the ones playing at the edges of a coup.

Obviously, this stuff just makes my blood boil ... errr, Talking Points' blood boil ... errr, whatever. But, anyway, I've tried to give some thought to precisely why it does so. And now I think I've found out.

Sullivan's election model seems to be symbolic procedural formalism. It really doesn't matter how we got to Bush's inauguration. What matters is that we're there! If he got there with the most votes or the second-to-most votes. Or whether some people weren't allowed to vote. Or whether some others were allowed to vote but then didn't have their votes counted. This is all just ingredients tossed in the stew. Now let's just eat!

And anyway, if you wanted to vote so bad, why didn't you push the chad all the way through! Look, we had an election, everyone could vote, if %&$@# got weird, well, come on', an election's an election. Bush won and that's the end of it.

But an election isn't just symbolism. It's not an ordeal or a trial by fire. The underlying democratic process actually matters. Everybody gets to have their say, and then you count up the says, and whoever gets the most says wins. It's not shoddy or indulgent to actually try to find out what people said. That's the point!

True, a 'ballot' doesn't automatically become a 'vote.' But it should come pretty damn close.

Yes, George W. Bush gets to become president, with all the powers of the office. But this isn't the same as popular legitimation. And doesn't our constitutional system have enough play and flexibility in it (with things like the Senate's "advise and consent" authority) to grapple even with odd and unprecedented situations like these?

Which got me thinking … Is this that whole difference between virtual representation, which the Brits are into, and actual representation, which the Americans like?

You know, like during the American Revolution when the colonists said you actually had to be able to vote in order to actually be represented. (A radical concept!) Maybe that's where he gets this from.

But didn't we fight a war over this? Isn't this one settled? Hasn't anyone told him?

P.S. Do you hope Sullivan will take this whole thing in good humor? I certainly hope so … And if he attacks you in print and drives gobs of people to your website? That's the fallback ... But does he even read Talking Points? Good point, probably not.

No movement on the

No movement on the Ashcrometer today. Still holding steady at 75% chance of confirmation.

But did you notice how Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (one of the most underrated senators, in Talking Points' book) caught Ashcroft in a lie, and called him on it?

Sure, he didn't put it quite so baldly. But ... well, let me just get to the story.

The latest Republican angle is to frame the confirmation debate as though John Ashcroft's critics were saying that he either has the wrong religion (he's Pentecostal) or that he is too religious. So John Ashcroft becomes just one more potential victim in the on-going persecution of white Christian conservatives.

Here Orrin Hatch implies that some senators may be doing just that and Ashcroft responds with a self-serving, lametonian response.

HATCH: Doesn't matter to me whether you're Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever, or an atheist or agnostic. I'm sure that goes for--I hope that I'm sure that that goes to the rest of our fellow senators. In fact, the Constitution of the United States specifically forbids religious qualifications for office.

Now, having gone through that type of, I think, offensive criticism, which is continuing right up to today, is there anything in your religious beliefs that would impair you from faithfully and fully fulfilling your responsibilities as attorney general of the United States?

ASHCROFT: Well, I don't believe it's appropriate to have a test based on one's religion for a job. I think Article V of the Constitution makes that clear.

Please!

A short time later Senator Leahy tried to clear up the libel Hatch had slipped into his remarks.

LEAHY: I just would not want to leave one of the questions from my friend from Utah to give the wrong impression to the people here and just, sort of, make it very clear. Have you heard any senator, Republican or Democrat, suggest that there should be a religious test on your confirmation?

ASHCROFT: No senator has said, "I will test you," but a number of senators have said, "Will your religion keep you from being able to perform your duties in office?"

LEAHY: I'm amazed at that.

ASHCROFT: Pardon?

LEAHY: Well, I'm amazed at that …

Yeah, me too.

Youd like to nudge

You'd like to nudge down the Ashcrometer in honor of Martin Luther King Day. But it's not to be.

Today the Ashcrometer holds steady at 75% chance of confirmation.

P.S. Another update soon on the filibuster option.

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