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The Brawl about Kavanaugh

The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh got off a to an unruly start on Tuesday. Judiciary committee chairman Sen. Chuck of Louisiana was just 13 words into his opening statement when he was interrupted on a point of order by California Sen. Kamala Harris, who request the hearing be postponed was met by loud cheers from an unruly group of Code Pink protestors, with Grassley ignoring them as he tapped his gavel and continued saying something or another.
Given what’s at stake for both sides of our increasingly angry political discourse, and who’s at work in the judiciary committee, we don’t expect things will get any friendlier. It’s most likely the whole hubbub will wind up with Kavanaugh getting confirmed by the committee’s Republican majority and then by the Republican majority in the full Senate, but the Democrats aren’t going to make it easy.
The Democrats can’t deny that Kavanaugh has all the Ivy League credentials and prestigious clerkships and the long experience of legal work in the executive branch and on the federal bench, and have to admit he seems a nice enough guy, but they don’t like the way he’s almost certain to vote several issues dear to their hearts. At this point they’re not holding out any hope that such hated-by-the-left decisions as Citizens United and Heller will be overturned anytime soon, but they can still wish for a Justice who would allow a few of the campaign finance regulations that Citizens United did away with and perhaps chip away at the individual right to gun ownership established by Heller. More importantly they have good reason to believe that Kavanaugh might be the fifth vote needed to overturn such beloved-by-the-left decisions as Roe v. Wade, which legalized most abortions, and Obergfell, which established a right ¬†same-sex marriages, as well as all sorts of cases involving labor unions and environmental laws and other matters that all too often wound up being settled in the Supreme Court.
Although they’re out-voted until at least December, the Democrats do have a few things going for them. Opinion polls show that many of the ways Kavanaugh is almost certain to vote are widely unpopular with the general public, and only a slim plurality of 41 percent wants to see him confirmed. The Roe v Wade decision is lately enjoying a 63 percent approval rating, and although the Republican party has long vowed to overturn it some of the members are probably skittish about actually doing so. Kavanaugh was also nominated by President Donald Trump, whose latest poll numbers are back down in the high 30s, which provides the Democrats with a possibly persuasive talking point.
Between the “Russia thing” and the hush money payments to a porn star and a Playboy playmate and a suspicious family charitable foundation and the many unprecedented interactions between his still wholly-owned businesses the government Trump runs, Trump has more than the usual president’s share of legal woes. There’s a good chance that some or even all of it will wind up before the Supreme Court, and while Kavanaugh was working as a lawyer for President George W. Bush he had a very expansive view of presidential power, which shouldn’t give only Democrats pause. Trump has lately “tweeted” his view that the Justice Department shouldn’t indict popular Republicans, and Kavanaugh did once write that a sitting president cannot legally be investigated by anyone in the government, so we’ll expect some pointed questions in the coming days and hope for some pretty persuasive answers.
The Republicans also have some things going in their favor besides their slim Senate majority. Kavanaugh does indeed have the impeccable credentials, he comes across as a nicer guy than any of those unruly Code Pink types that the capitol cops kept hauling out of the room, and in most cases there’s sound legal reasoning behind even the decisions that his critics hate most. Once upon a time in America such credentials would win a quick and bipartisan decision, but that was long before Trump came along, and he hasn’t done much to restore civility.
Sound legal reasoning is too complicated for most busy Americans, and it’s easier to take sides on an issue based on how you feel about abortion or same sex marriage or owning a gun than to consider the underlying constitutional issues. For the politicians who are on the committee and will be starring on television for the rest of the week, it’s far easier to pander to those prejudged opinions. Among the players in this week long reality are at least two Democrats and two Republicans who are potential contenders for their party’s presidential nominations, and at least three are clearly eager to get high ratings.
The aforementioned Sen. Harris of California and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker are clearly near the front of the line for the next Democratic nomination, and both did their best to take advantage of the airtime. Harris’ early point of order to call for a postponement was based on the legitimate gripe that Kavanaugh’s White House handlers had provided 42,000 pages of long-requested documents just hours before the hearings began, and we’re sure those Code Pink punks weren’t the only Democrats who appreciated her futile effort. Her opening statement was a familiar but fairly well-stated litany of all the instinctive reasons liberals will hate the way Kavanaugh is almost certain vote on so many issues dear to liberal hearts, and she well made the good points about what might happen if Trump winds up as a litigant before the Supreme Court. Booker’s turn at the cameras and microphones was even more conspicuously a campaign stump speech, invoking the holy liberal trinity of race, class and gender, and the former mayor of Newark even put in a pitch for the beleaguered farmers out here on the prairie states.
Both were a bit too over-the-top with the righteous liberal outrage shtick to our old-fashioned ears, but we can see them playing well with our more righteously outraged liberal friends.
One of the Republicans who valiantly rode to Kavanaugh’s defense was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and we think that the former national collegiate debate champion handled himself rather well. Cruz came in second in the latest Republican primary race to Trump, and having ended a bitter feud with his former rival he might be next in line in ’24, or even ’20 is those don’t turn out so well for Trump, but first he has to survive a surprisingly close reelection run against a young and telegenic and well-funded Democrat named Rep. Beto O’Rourke, so of course he relished the air time. Despite his aw-shucks Texas persona Cruz is a Harvard Law graduate, and couldn’t help complimenting Kavanaugh’s impeccable Ivy League credentials “even though you did go to Yale,” but then proceeded to make a more persuasive case for Trump’s nominee than Trump ever could, and even fit a clear explanation of originalist legal theory into his time.
Cruz is clearly eager to get Trump’s nominee confirmed, and Trump has lately “tweeted” that he’s seeking the biggest stadium in Texas to campaign for his loyal Senate soldier, but all the Democratic money is putting up billboards all over the state remind voters of earlier Trump “tweets” about “Lyin’ Ted” and his ugly wife and how Cruz’ father might have been in on the Kennedy assassination and how the Senator was “all talk and no action.” Next we expect all of the Cruz quotes about Trump being a narcissist and a pathological liar and intellectually and temperamentally and morally unfit for office, and although we expect Cruz to eventually win reelection in reliably Republican Texas we’re not surprised that the polls have it close.
If Trump doesn’t even make it to the ’20 race, which does not seem at all outside the realm of possibility, the young and telegenic Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse will be well positioned to win the Republican nomination, and we thought he had the best turn at the camera. He rightly decried that Supreme Court confirmation hearings have been partisan brawls since at least President Ronald Reagan’s failed nomination of Robert Bork way back when we were young, and yearned for the “elegant and fair” process that confirmed justices who cases based on facts and law. Sasse made the case that Kavanaugh’s resume and work record suggest he will rule in the same time-honored way, and defended nice enough family guy’s character against the liberal slurs that are sure to come, and pleaded with his colleagues for a civil deliberation.
If Trump doesn’t make it to the ’20 election it will be because of the “Russia thing” or various shady business dealings or the Constitutions emolument clause or the 25th Amendment, or any number of things that might derive from that narcissism and pathological lying and general unfitness for office that Cruz used to talk about, and not because of his tax and deregulation policies of and the judicial policies that all the liberals hate. Sasse is the rare Republican who will openly criticize Trump for the crude disrespect for well-established traditions and the brazen corruption and crazy “tweets,” and as a farm state Senator he’s none too pleased with Trump’s trade wars, but on every traditional Republican thing Trump wants to do he’s been a reliable vote. As we say, this will leave him well positioned in a post-Trump race in ’20, if that should come to pass, which is not outside the realm of possibility.
Kavanaugh finally got an opening statement of his own, and we thought he did well enough. He made the familiar case for his originalist theory of legal interpretation, talked about his dad some and his mom a lot more, and talked about coaching his daughter’s basketball team, and how grateful he is to all the coaches had along the way. He noted the disproportionate-to-the-population number of law clerks who were female or of some ethnic minority, which took some of the wind out of the sails that both Harris and Booker had raised, and didn’t seem at all the type to poison the air or force back alley abortions or any of the other things he stands accused of.
All in all it was reassuringly bland, which we much prefer to the more common righteously outraged politics on both the left and the right these days, so unless the Democrats come up with some convincing evidence that Kavanaugh was nominated to rig the system in some upcoming Trump-related case, which is not entirely outside the realm of possibility, we’ll take that Sasse fellow’s word for it and give him the benefit of the doubt.

— Bud Norman

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What to Talk About in a Crazy Election Year

This should have been the best week yet for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Every poll shows the presumptive Democratic nominee is already considered dishonest and corrupt by a majority of the country, so it couldn’t have helped that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday publicly excoriated the former Secretary of State and her colleagues for being “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” conceded that state secrets might well have fallen into enemy hands as a result, and definitively refuted many of the lies she’s long been telling about it. That he did so while exonerating her from any criminal charges hardly helped, as he struggled to explain why to the resulting Congressional hearing on Thursday and the polls were already showing that a majority of the public thought it smacked of unforgivable dishonesty and corruption and even some of her most reliable apologists in the press were admitting that it did indeed look pretty bad.
All that any old presumptive Republican nominee had to do get a much-needed bump in the polls out of it was to deliver a well-written speech that factually outlined all the perfectly valid reasons every objective American should be outraged about the whole sorry affair, then get the hell out of the way and make sure he didn’t provide anybody any reason to talk about anything else. In this crazy election year the formerly Grand Old Party doesn’t have any old presumptive nominee, however, but is instead saddled with Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul’s greatest talent is for always giving people something to talk about, and even in what should have been his best week yet he couldn’t resist providing some entirely unnecessary distractions.
The presumptive Democratic nominee’s horrible week began over the weekend when some lucky Phoenix television reporter was tipped off that her ex-president husband, widely considered a thoroughly dishonest and corrupt creature in his own right, had left his private plane at the city’s airport to meet on the private plane of the Attorney General overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation in his wife’s extremely careless handling of very sensitive and highly classified information, which even the most reliable apologists had to admit made the whole affair look even worse. Around the same time the presumptive Republican nominee was “re-‘Tweeting'” an internet “meme” that showed an unflattering portrait of the presumptive Democratic nominee imposed over a pile of cash and a red star where the text accused her of being “the most corrupt candidate in history,” and because the red star had six points just like the Jewish Star of David and originated on an unabashedly white supremacist site that also cheered the death of Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Weisel there was inevitably some talk about that.
Despite the presumptive Republican nominee’s annoying habit of occasionally “re-‘Tweeting'” bogus statistics and rude “memes” from white supremacists web sites, even such philo-Semitic goyem as ourselves aren’t so hypersensitive to anti-Semitism that we noticed the star had six points or thought to associate them with any Jewish stereotypes, so we were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to any amateur staffer who had “re-‘Tweeted'” the image. In any case it wasn’t such a big deal as the extremely careless handling of very sensitive and highly classified information by the presumptive Democratic nominee, and we expect that almost everyone was willing to let this minor screw-up pass from the news cycle except for the presumptive Republican nominee himself. He kept “Tweeting” and kvetching about it, and the man who promises to make America great again by hiring the best people publicly criticized the amateur staffer who had changed the six-pointed star to a less offensive circle, and he “Tweeted” a photo of some children’s toy that also featured in a six-pointed star on its packaging in a context that had nothing to do with greed or corruption and came from the Disney corporation rather than a white supremacist web site, and he thus happily obliged all those apologists for the apologists for the presumptive Democratic nominee who would have preferred to write about something other than her obvious dishonesty and corruption.
The presumptive Republican nominee did get around to that more important matter during a typically well-attended and enthusiastic rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday, and with what we have to admit was a fairly well-written speech that factually outlined all the perfectly valid reasons America should be outraged about it. Then he went into a seemingly impromptu and stream-of-consciousness rant about how the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, although a “very bad guy,” had nonetheless been a bulwark against terrorism. “But you know what he did well?,” Trump asked the crowd, answering his own question by saying “He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were a terrorist — it was over.” The presumptive Democratic nominee’s press apologists were mostly willing to let this slide, given in its implicit criticism of the same George W. Bush that they and the presumptive Republican nominee accuse of lying to start the Iraq war, even if it was unclear whether Trump was blaming Bush’s entry into the war or President Barack Obama’s pull-out for turning Iraq into the “Harvard of terrorism,” but on both the left and right people were talking about Trump’s grossly ahistorical account of the facts. Although Hussein did indeed kill a lot of terrorists who had plotted against him, along with many thousands of people who had merely sought peacefully political resistance to his rule or otherwise expressed some dissatisfaction with, he was also a gracious host to a an all-star roster of Islamist terrorists who didn’t oppose rule, and a generous benefactor to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and hardly an exemplar of the supposedly stable Middle East that Trump now claims was de-stabilized by either the Iraq War or its early end, not to mention whether Trump seemed to be endorsing such stern tactics for American policy.
One could argue these points all day, but that would mean arguing about something other than the more pertinent and politically exploitable facts about the presumptive Democratic nominee’s extremely careless handling of highly sensitive material and inarguable long history dishonesty and corruption, which is surely what any old presumptive Republican nominee other than Donald J. Trump would prefer people be talking about. Trump always prefers that people are talking about him, however, so he offered yet a third distraction from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s travails by scheduling meetings with the formerly Grand Old Party’s members of Congress.
On the same day the congressional Republicans were holding the hearings that made the FBI chief look ridiculous and promising authorizations for fresh investigations and quite persuasively arguing that the presumptive Democratic nominee is indeed at least as dishonest and corrupt as a majority of the country already believes, the presumptive Republican nominee was in a closed meeting with many of his party’s members vanquished squished roll-over establishment types, and by all accounts it did not go well. Several of the Senators in attendance have been either ambivalent about or more openly hostile to their party’s presumptive nominee, and as is his wont Trump preferred the vinegar rather than the honey approach to persuading to be more supportive. Trump reportedly greeted Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake by saying “you’ve been very critical of me” and threatening verbal attacks against him that would make his re-election impossible, and Flake reportedly responded that he wasn’t up for re-election because “I’m the other Senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured,” which defiantly recalled when the presumptive Republican presidential ridiculously called into question the prisoner of war heroism of past Republican nominee Sen. John McCain. Not in attendance was Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who withdrew his endorsement of Trump last month when the presumptive Republican nominee lambasted the Indiana-born judge in one of his scam university lawsuits as a “Mexican,” but Trump reportedly called the reluctant Republican a “loser” and vowed he was going to be out of office after Trump wins the electoral votes of Obama’s home state of Illinois. In attendance was Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, perhaps Trump’s most outspoken Republican opponent, and although he declined comment after the meeting his spokesman later allowed that “Mr. Sasse continues to believe that our country is in a bad place, and with these two candidates, this election remains a dumpster fire.” The presumptive Republican president also reportedly promised his fidelity to the First and 12th articles of the Constitution, although there is no 12th article, and in a meeting with the generally more receptive Republicans in the House of Representatives he urged they “say only great things” about him.
Such bully-boy tactics will surely play well with Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters, who seem to find it all very¬†alpha male, but we don’t expect it to play well with the majority of country that is telling pollsters they’re resolved to vote against him and even the majority of formerly Grand Old Party members who voted in the admirable likes of Flake and Kirk and Sasse and are saying they’d rather vote for someone else as their party’s presumptive nominee. It certainly doesn’t speak well to his common political sense that he wouldn’t prefer everyone was talking about how very awful that presumptive Democratic nominee is instead.

— Bud Norman