Free as a bird.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Nov. 22 2005 12:31 AM

Free As a Bird

Which turkeys will Bush pardon next?

80_thehasbeen
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Less than a week after voters rejected them in Virginia, wedge issues are back. One side says Sam Alito wants to strip search 10-year-old girls. The other side says at least he's not a gay rights group.

Ironically, Bush's failures as president may be helping him get away with moving the court to the right. It's hard enough to get the electorate to notice a Supreme Court battle in good times. With so many other worries, many Americans are more exercised about their next mortgage payment than about the next opening on the court. If nothing else, the ad wars will help settle one debate: hard-pressed families who had to cancel cable TV to pay their heating bill can feel better about their decision.

The Big Picture: Nevertheless, opponents are right to try to make Alito's fate turn on more than Roe. However much Judge Alito wants government to meddle in Americans' private lives, the broader threat is how much he might seek to limit the national government's role in helping Americans solve their problems. The real impact of the Roberts Court won't be that justices have trouble legislating from the bench; it will be that anyone who supports an affirmative role for government could have a much harder time legislating from Congress.

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Sadly, it's almost impossible to have a real debate about a nominee's philosophy unless he or she is willing to play along. Bork did, and lost; Roberts didn't, and won. The Roberts precedent is one Alito is sure to honor: that discussing narrow-minded views on past or present issues might prejudice his ability to be narrow-minded in cases that will come before the court later.

When a nominee will neither confirm nor deny that his judicial philosophy is outside the mainstream, opponents' only hope besides scandal is that like Bork and Thomas, his personality and temperament come across as outside the mainstream. So far, Alito has come off as a nice man with a few disturbingly nerdy tendencies, like suiting up in full baseball uniform to coach Little League games.

Garden State: If I could spare a few million for advertising, I'd spend less time trying to convince Americans that Sam Alito is a strip-searcher and more time hinting that he's the next Ed Grimley.

My first ad would show those yearbook photos  of Alito, along with the New York Daily Newsheadline: "Old-School Family Man: Calls Mother Every Day." Every day? Perhaps we shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss his mother's admission that Alito is very conservative and opposed to abortion.

The Daily News story says it all: "A shy and scholarly homebody, Alito is a gourmet cook and avid gardener who has a stone in his West Caldwell garden carved with the words 'L'Amour Grandit Ici' - love grows here."

Whether you think "Love Grows Here" is a secret, coded message to fundamentalist churches or a tripped-out hippie excuse for the horticulture of the 1960s, liberals and conservatives should be able to agree: not in our backyards.

Even John Roberts, who wrote an entire White House memo in French, wasn't weird enough to expose his family to precious, vapid, kitschy sentiments—and then put on faux-Gallic airs about it.

Presumably, conservatives haven't forgotten the last shy and scholarly homebody they put on the Court: David Souter. "En garde! Le Souter Grandit Ici." ... 5:07 P.M. (link)

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