First Ladies Club

Notes from the political sidelines.
July 16 2005 8:48 AM

Desperate Housewives

George Bush learns you can't go home again.

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Not So Bad:Like most Americans, I spent the Fourth of July weekend waving flags, watching fireworks, and checking my e-mail for Democratic talking points on the Supreme Court vacancy. In the two dozen mass e-mails that have come in so far, the most interesting advice has been what to do in the unlikely event that Bush's nominee isn't a right-wing nut. The word from HQ is: "Avoid off-the-cuff declarations like 'he's not so bad.' "

This seems like superfluous advice, because people who speak off-the-cuff don't read talking points, and people who read talking points would never say anything Bush did was "not so bad." But isn't it the wrong strategy as well? The best way to stop an otherwise unbeatable nominee might be for Democrats to praise him. Then, the right wing might rush to block the nomination out of sheer paranoia.

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Conservatives don't know what's good for them, either. For the last four days, key Republicans have been insisting that nominees shouldn't have to reveal their views on divisive issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Republicans think a nominee who keeps quiet stands a better chance of confirmation than a Bork-like nominee with clearly articulated conservative views. Will they never learn?  The right's greatest disappointments have been Republican nominees who failed to define their views up front: Warren, Souter, O'Connor, Kennedy. Conservatives, not Democrats, ought to be the ones demanding that nominees put their cards on the table. Remember Grover Norquist's rule: Always get it in writing.

Another pillar of the Democrats' strategy is to make it harder for Bush to appoint an ultra-conservative by extolling O'Connor as an ultra-centrist. O'Connor has earned an important place in history as the first woman on the Supreme Court, and paved the way for more women on the bench. But let's not get carried away with her jurisprudence. Being a swing vote on this Court does not make her a principled centrist. Even her admirers concede that she was a high-class hack, joining conservatives when she thought the Court could get away with it, ducking when her political antennae sensed a losing issue. 

Glowing tributes to O'Connor's sense of judicial restraint conveniently underplay her decisive role in perhaps the greatest judicial overreach of recent times: Bush v. Gore. If Bush is able to shift the balance of the Court enough to overturn Roe v. Wade, O'Connor's vote on the most important decision of her tenure will be the reason. My off-the-cuff declaration:  Stop saying she was "not so bad."  ... 8:42 A.M. (link)

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Full Disclosure:  Before covering the Martha Stewart trial for Slate, Henry Blodget wrote an exhaustive statement disclosing potential conflicts of interest. It is a classic of the genre, more direct, self-aware, and revealing in its disclosures than most of us could ever hope to produce.        

I owe you the same respect, because like Henry Blodget, I am not a journalist. I have spent the last 20 years in politics. No one involved in partisan politics can pretend to be objective. It is hard enough pretending to be honest.

Two decades in any profession is bound to produce its share of biases, grudges, and conflicts of interest. Here are a few of mine:

1. Some bloggers view the mainstream media as a vast conspiracy. My view of the mainstream media is that of any disgruntled job seeker. I spent my twenties trying unsuccessfully to write for magazines instead of politicians. I am a reluctant blogger. If I have a blog, it means the barriers to entry must be as low in the blogosphere as they are in politics.

2. I am what used to be known as a neoliberal, and is now somewhat nostalgically called a New Democrat. Politicians always say labels don't matter. I disagree. Politics is a contest of ideas and principles; without them, all is lost. My ideology is summed up here and here.

3. I am an avid Democrat, as are the people I work with and most of the people I know. I grew up in one of the reddest states (Idaho), but live in the bluest (D.C.). I spent my youth handing out party leaflets at rodeos and county fairs, so I learned about rejection at an early age. I have spent my life working to return Democrats to power, and even when I disagree with my party, that is my ulterior motive. Has-Beens are all the same: We liked our old jobs better.

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