Bob Herbert's Thursday column in the New York Times is the best piece of writing yet to appear on the John Ashcroft nomination.
Bob Herbert's Thursday column in the New York Times is the best piece of writing yet to appear on the John Ashcroft nomination.
As someone who works for a liberal political magazine I've often caught grief for my support of the Clinton administration's approach to monetary and fiscal policy. Today, though, those positive feelings about Bob Rubin et. al. only make me all the more worried about the wackiness that seems to be taking shape down in Austin, Texas.
For starters, Bush signaled on several fronts today that he plans to abandon Bill Clinton's policy of not commenting on Fed policy and return to Bush, Sr.'s fairly disastrous policy of trying to jawbone the Fed into doing the administration's bidding.
This is about more than sound bites. There's an ethic about politics and fiscal and monetary policy which is implicit in this policy of silence.
It's really not an exaggeration to say that everyone with a serious interest in economic matters thought Clinton's move was a move in the right direction. Not only did Bush today himself "break" this rule. But his Press Secretary said it's not a rule he intends to follow.
That's for starters.
Then you have the increasingly reckless talk from the president-elect. The nation is in need of an "economic recovery." The rate cut is good because it is a "strong statement that measures must be taken to make sure our economy does not go into a tailspin."
A recovery? For the moment at least the economy is still growing. When asked about this, Bush responded: "I say 'recovery' because a lot of folks in this room [i.e., his mini-economic conference] have brought some pretty bad news."
And, a tailspin? If one were inclined to be cheeky one might remind Bush, Jr. that this isn't Reagan's 1982 recession or his father's 1990 recession. But cheekiness aside, is anyone talking about a "tailspin"?
It's not too much to say that Presidents never use this kind of language. Never. It just doesn't happen.
Bush said he believes the Fed's rate cut is a signal to congress that they should pass his tax cut to further stimulate the economy. Actually, every analyst says that if there's any signal it's the opposite.
The Clintonites have complained volubly of late that the Bushies are trying to talk down the economy. And, admittedly, up until now there's been a lot of spinning going on on both sides of this little rhetorical battle. But there's something more going on in Bush's comments. Something more than kicking the economy a bit for political advantage - which would be bad enough. There's a recklessness at work here that transcends political calculation. An unseriousness about what the economy. Something juvenile.
Is it possible that the Bushies' intuitive understanding of supply-side tax policy and fiscal stimulus doesn't really compute outside the context of an economic downturn? Do they need a downturn? Are they stuck in a time-warp from the mid-seventies - when most of Bush's economic hands cut their teeth?
I'm not sure whether this is the case or not. What I am increasingly sure of, however, is that these reckless statements are not simply rooted in political calculation.
In recent years Democrats have indulged the conceit that they were now the party of fiscal responsibility, in contrast to the Republicans, who had abandoned that mantle. Honestly, though, I didn't know it had gotten this bad.
Next up, Bush's wacky economic summit.
Admirers of Senator John McCain (and Talking Points has to admit he's one of 'em) will be chagrined to learn that during McCain's primary campaign in South Carolina last winter his chief campaign strategist was none other than Richard Quinn, long-time editor of the oft-mentioned Southern Partisan magazine.
Well, turns out so was George W. Bush!
While Bush was fending off criticism for going to that rally at Bob Jones University his campaign lashed out at McCain for being so low as to associate with the likes of Richard Quinn and his magazine the Southern Partisan.
Take a peek at this clip from a February 18th, 2000 article in the Washington Post:
Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer called Quinn's writings "offensive," adding that McCain "was very critical of one of Bush's supporters who said something he believed was out of line. Now it will be interesting to see how he reacts now that it is one of his supporters who has said something that is very out of line."Now here's where the story gets interesting. It was common knowledge at the time that the Bush folks were circulating copies of the Southern Partisan and trying to get reporters interested in pillorying McCain's outrageous behavior. (Maybe they even circulated the copy with John Ashcroft's interview in it?).
Someone should really ask Ari if he's had a change of heart.
My jaw almost dropped out of my mouth this morning on the subway when I looked down and saw this article about how the diabolical Katherine Harris is being considered for the post of president's special envoy for the Americas. It looks like she's actually gonna get her ambassadorship after all.
And guess what â¦ This post doesn't require Senate confirmation. So no hearings, no questioning under oath, etc.
Jesus! She gets to have her cake and eat it too!
What to say about George W. Bush's final three cabinet picks? Norm Mineta's a decent enough guy, certainly. And he clearly decided that six months wasn't enough time to spend as a cabinet secretary for one lifetime (I hear that before the election he was nudging Al Gore to keep him on.)
Linda Chavez has always struck me as a bit of self-promoter and someone with very bad politics. But she's better than Jim Talent and about what I'd expect for a Republican Labor Secretary. Not someone who cares much about any of the issues that labor cares about. But, hey, that's the price of acquiescing in Bush's theft of the election. So what are you going to do?
But Spence Abraham â¦ Now you're talkin'. I've gotta give Spence a big thumbs up. Sure he's a lousy pick to run the Energy Department (a department he voted to abolish). He's got terrible politics. And he's a complete oaf. But you've got to think of this one in terms of comedic potential.
Before the voters of Michigan tossed him out on his ear two months back, I always used to think of Spencer Abraham as the 'Mikey' of the Senate. You know, like 'Mikey' from those Life Cereal commercials from back in the 1970s.
I could just imagine it â¦
Trent Lott: Who's gonna carry water/eat $&%# for irredeemable corporate interest X?And that pretty much tells you what Spence Abraham's career in the senate was all about. He was the dorky little mascot for the most craven money-conservatives in the senate - the eager bumbler who the cool kids always kept around, if for nothing else than to give him noogies and have him man the keg at their parties.
Mitch McConnell: I'm not gonna eat it (slides the bowl over to Trent)
Trent Lott: Well I'm not gonna eat it (slides the bowl back over to Mitch)
Mitch McConnell: Hey, I know, let's get Mikey!
Trent Lott: Yeah! He'll eat anything.
Enough metaphors? Okay, I'll stop. But you get the idea.
Abraham was always carrying someone else's water, most often some corporate types who couldn't find a first-tier senator to do their bidding. Which sort of tells you why Bush and Cheney put him at Energy.
I'm not saying that Abraham's such a bad guy, or really any worse than anyone else Bush might have nominated. He's really just a party man who happened his way into the senate when the Republicans destroyed the Dems back in 1994 and lost the seat in 2000 after the fever had passed.
My colleague Nick Confessore wrote an excellent piece on Abraham which is well worth a read. Okay, sure. Nick said Abraham was gonna win. But, hey, give the kid a break. He's young. He can't get 'em all right. And besides Nick was the only one to tell the comical tale of how Abraham's senate buddies tried to pull out all the stops (and thankfully failed) to bring their bud over the finish line.
P.S. Extra laughs on the Abraham subject can be found in Tuesday's article on him in the Washington Post. The article explains pretty nicely why, for Spencer Abraham, the phrase 'pathetic hack' isn't so much derogation as painfully precise description.
The prospect of life outside government did not appeal to Abraham, some Senate sources say. His selection as energy secretary has baffled many environmentalists, political observers and even some of his closest colleagues. "I really think the answer is that once the cards were shuffled, that was the only one [Cabinet position] left," said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst and editor of the Rothenberg Report, an independent newsletter. "It was one of the slots they had open, and this is a multicultural Cabinet if they ever had one."Remember, comedic potential.
I just got done with a radio interview (the Bob Grant show in NY City) in which I debated the merits of the Ashcroft nomination with another guest. Apparently the Republican line on the would-be-AG is that he's a man of integrity, spotless record, no one questions his honor, and so forth.
Do we really know that John Ashcroft is a man of integrity?
Who knows? In absence of evidence to the contrary (and I don't know of any) I'm happy to believe that he's personally honest and all that.
(I leave to another post the question of whether mercilessly slandering and defaming another honorable man of integrity, i.e., Ronnie White, diminishes one's own integrity.)
But I'm happy to believe that John Ashcroft is a man of integrity.
But who cares?
That's much better than not being a man of integrity. But it's not a sufficient qualification for the job.
And who agrees with me? Well, who else? John Ashcroft.
Ashcroft has been a key figure in torpedoing numerous Clinton-appointees to the Justice Department and he's often said his opposition had nothing to do with their character or integrity. No one ever said Bill Lan Lee lacked integrity; Republicans just said he had the wrong position on affirmative action.
Or listen to this from Mike Grunwald's recent article in the Washington Post:
[Ashcroft] personally held up the nomination of California attorney Margaret Morrow, who had broad bipartisan support, and voted against her purely on philosophical grounds -- even though he praised her integrity and intellect.Maybe GOPers can defend Ashcroft on other grounds. But this one doesn't even pass the laugh test.
Yesterday's Michael Grunwald article in the Washington Post does the best job so far at setting forth the 'campaign politics' explanation (as opposed to the 'racial bias' explanation) for John Ashcroft's decision to oppose the judicial nomination of Ronnie White.
But he also gives Ashcroft a pretty unequivocal, and largely unwarranted, clean bill of health on the racial bias front.
In reality, a review of White's nomination -- the first defeated on the Senate floor since Robert H. Bork's -- provides no evidence of racism by the man who would be America's top law enforcement officer, but strong evidence of bare-knuckled opportunism.And then later in the same article:
But no one has produced evidence that racial animus had anything to do with his efforts to stop White. And in the heat of a close election, there was a much more obvious explanation.Grunwald allows Ashcroft to be guilty merely of opportunistic character assassination and political manipulation of the judiciary rather than racial bias. Now I'll admit that Grunwald's discussion of Ashcroft's political motives provides important context. But doesn't he let Ashcroft off a little easy? Does it really have to be either/or?
Sure, Ashcroft torpedoed the White nomination in part as a campaign ploy. But doesn't it seem like one of the things that made White such a juicy political target was the fact that he was black?
Also consider Grunwald's description of the Southern Partisan interview issue:
Ashcroft is taking heat for some seemingly pro-Confederate comments he made in the magazine Southern Partisan â¦Does that really cover the issues at hand?
I really don't mean to be overly critical of Grunwald, who's an excellent writer and reporter, but how much special pleading does someone like John Ashcroft deserve?
P.S. If you're interested in Talking Points' case for opposing the Ashcroft nomination, it's in today's New York Post.
Hmmmm. Now we're talking. Today on Meet the Press Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (reported here by Reuters and Agence-France Presse) made it clear that John Ashcroft faces a very tough nomination hearing, and that his confirmation is anything but assured. This flies in the face of what seems like an utterly wrong-headed prediction in today's Washington Post that "barring a startling revelation, Ashcroft should win swift confirmation."
"I think it's very difficult for us as people who try to govern from the center to accept that kind of a nominee," says Daschle.
You gotta love Tom Daschle, a steel fist in a velvet glove.
Still more recount news dribbling out of Florida. And, not surprisingly, Al Gore picks up still more votes. This time 120 from undervotes in the largely Republican county of Hillsborough. Gore got 999 and Bush got 879 votes from 5,533 undervoted ballots that hadn't yet been counted.
And the obligatory Republican whining?
"We carried the county by 11,000 votes, so let Gore have his few votes. Who really cares?'' said Margie Kincaid, Hillsborough's GOP chairwoman. ``I think the media spent their money for nothing. It's all pretty silly and it's not going to change anything. It's just going to confuse a lot of people. It's just an exercise in futility."So confusing, so confusing.
LATE CHAD UPDATE: In response to overwhelming pressure from Talking Points readers (okay, okay, actually in response to pressure from the editor of Kausfiles) I need to update this post. A chart which the Tampa Tribune included in its print version but not online shows the breakdown of the vote by chad standard - hanging chad, dimpled chad, two-point hanging, three-point hanging, etc.
The upshot is that it was only with dimpled chad and pinpricks that Gore comes out on top. If you exclude those, Bush picked up ten net. Here's the actual breakdown:
2 corner 3/4
3 corner 67/61
"punched clearly" 47/42
So the question now becomes, should dimpled chad be counted. Or to put the question more finely: do dimpled chad actually show voter intent or are they just random dents on ballots, as Republicans argued?
Kausfiles (original author of the famed "Sloppy Dem" theory) says this new info casts doubt on the Sloppy Dem theory. He's currently put it under review.
But Talking Points doesn't quite understand this. The new data seems only to confirm the Sloppy Dem theory. Here's why: If dimples really didn't signify anything, if they were just random dents on ballots, they should be evenly distributed between the candidates -- the law of statistical averages being what it is. But in Hillsborough and in every other county they seem always to favor Gore.
How can that mean anything else but that Gore's voters much more often tried but failed to perforate their ballots for their candidate? The very fact that dimples so consistently favor Gore is prima facie evidence that they are not random dents but rather do show the intent of the voter.
So the new info out of Hillsborough not only strengthens the Sloppy Dem theory, it also strengthens the case for including dimpled chad.
In Tony Lewis' New York Times column mentioned below, Lewis prods Senator Joe Biden (a member of the Judiciary Committee) to reconsider his apparent intention to vote in favor of Ashcroft's nomination for AG.
This brings up a delicate, but important, point. And one that's worth considering.
African-Americans are an extremely important Democratic constituency. Despite all the hot-air you've been hearing about Republicans reaching out to the African-American community, the percentage at which African-Americans vote for Democrats has actually been increasing in recent years. And even more important, black voter turnout has risen dramatically in the last two election cycles - particularly in a series of Southern states like Georgia and Florida.
And as important as African-Americans are for Democrats in general elections, they're even more important in primary elections - where they make up twice as large a percentage of the electorate.
In short, support from African-Americans is extremely important to any Democrat who wants to run for president.
Which brings us back to Joe Biden.
You may not know this (I didn't until recently) but Joe Biden is actually interested, very interested, in running for president again.
(Historical Note: Biden ran for president in 1988 but had to leave the race amid allegations that he had plagiarized a speech first given by then-British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock â¦ and for what it's worth, Talking Points actually thinks pretty highly of Joe Biden, and thinks the whole plagiarism charge was a bit overdone.)
Anyway, back to my story.
Let's assume that Ashcroft is confirmed. If he does I suspect he'll become a lightening rod for criticism from African-Americans and supporters of abortion-rights, somewhat along the lines of Antonin Scalia, only about twenty times more. (Ashcroft's militantly pro-life stance hasn't yet gotten as much attention as it should.)
So â¦ fast forward three years and we're in the Democratic primary and Joe Lieberman and John Kerry and Joe Biden and John Edwards are duking it out. Needless to say, the one's who voted against Ashcroft will beat up on the ones who voted for him. And if they don't, activists and constituency groups will do the job for them.
I'm not saying that this is still going to be a burning national issue four years from now. But primary races are funny things. How else are you going to distinguish these characters from each other?
True, if Ashcroft gets confirmed and we never hear another peep from him again, none of this will matter. But I don't really think that's going to happen.
So when you start watching where senators line up on the Ashcroft vote, don't forget about 2003 and 2004. Trust me, they won't be forgetting either.