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October 31, 2005

How did Miers get the nod ahead of this guy?

The NYTimes has published a detailed biography of Judge Alito, the new nominee for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court. Most unexpectedly, the Ties does a good job, and provides a very positive assessment of the Judge. Based on how they portray him, there is a lot to like. I'm stunned, seeing this report, that the White House felt that Harriet Miers was the superior candidate when this fellow was on the list. I guess it really was cronyism that drove that nomination, since a close relationship with the President is all this nominee lacks. The two qualities that are repeated in this and other reports, are brilliant intellect and nice-guy style.
Larry Lustberg, a former federal prosecutor who has known Judge Alito for 22 years, called him "totally capable, brilliant and nice."
The fellow even has a reputation for humility, a breathtakingly rare quality both in government and the judiciary. On that basis alone I am enthusiastic for his confirmation.
Judge Alito is described by clerks, lawyers and former schoolmates as a man who takes extraordinary care to be gentle with others and is quick to help a struggling lawyer arguing before his court. "He's got a powerful intellectual humility, is the way I'd put it," said Clark Lombardi, who clerked for Judge Alito in 1999 and 2000 on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the judge's current seat.
I want to savor that phrase, "a powerful intellectual humility." That such a person can be found today is a comfort, that such a person would be valued and nominated to the highest court in the land is wonder. I don't need much more to become fully sold on this nominee. We were both at Princeton in the '70's, Alito some years before me, so I'm inclined to like him right off the bat, but there were more than a few brilliant but arrogant bastards graduating from "Old Nassau" then (and probably now), so I'm glad to hear that he was one of the nice ones. (Update: Tigerhawk has done some more digging into Alito's Princeton years. Calling Princetonians to service is something of a Bush family habit, it seems. Pretty savvy for a couple of Yalies...) (Update #2: Via Tigerhawk's post, the profile of Alito from the Daily Princetonian. Loads of good quotes from old friends.) To cap it all off, he seems to be the "right sort of conservative" in terms of his judicial philosophy.
"The notion that he's an extreme conservative is wrong," said Mark Dwyer, Judge Alito's fellow student at Princeton and roommate at Yale. "Sam is conservative because he's a straightforward believer in judicial restraint - that is, a judge's personal views should not dictate the outcome of the case." Even in the Reagan Justice Department, where a palpable sense of conservative triumph was in the air, "I never got the sense that he thought about legal issues in an ideological way," said Mr. Manning, now a professor at Harvard Law School.
There ought to be more than enough here to keep the "Gang of 14" together, which would prevent a filibuster, and ought to assure a smooth confirmation. The President and his staff are to be complimented on how quickly and capably they recovered from their misstep. That they could recover so well makes the Miers misstep the more difficult to explain.

Posted by Jay on October 31, 2005 at 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is Alito a match into dry tinder?

The Alito announcement is just now making the rounds of the various news outlets and blogs. The news folks are predictably fast to label him "very conservative" but this time the more legally-informed blogs seem to agree. We knew the nominee would be conservative, because we knew who was going to decide the nomination. What I would like to know now, is what sort of conservative. That will determine whether this is the beginning of the great death-match on the hill, or a relatively quick and painless confirmation. Some early analysis seems to indicate that this fellow is the good sort of conservative...careful, deliberate, focused on the legal points and not on his or her own emotional response (at Patterico, tip to Malkin). More here... Of course, any judge smart enough to obtain the federal bench knows better than to rule in an obviously arbitrary and personally motivated way. They always explain their opinions in terms of points of law. The trouble is that a powerful intellect fueled by powerful ideology can twist and contort any situation to provide the desired legal grounds. A properly conservative judge ought to be wary of that, capable of seeing the case clearly without the obstructing fog of politics. The predictable forces on the left and in the media, have jumped out early with their condemnation of the nominee; no surprise there (and no link from me, sorry). The key will be the moderates, especially the "Gang of 14" who will decide whether a filibuster can be broken. If Judge Alito's qualifications and legal care give them sufficient cover to support him, the deal is done, ad the Democrats may opt to avoid a losing war. On the other hand, their base is as eager for a fight as the conservative core. This is not a bad position, really. The folks out on the political wings have their minds made up and are itching for a brutal fight. The folks in the center, along with the White House and Congress, I suspect, are just as eager to avoid a fight. Since Alito has the long paper trail that Miers lacked one would assume that the White House has looked it over and is prepared to sell it as well as they sold Roberts. This term the White House does not always act as expected, so I think we have to wait and see how things develop.

Posted by Jay on October 31, 2005 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 27, 2005

Peggy Noonan sees the darkness approach

Peggy Noonan, who once wrote speeches for Presidents (Reagan and Bush I) now writes columns for the Wall Street Journal. She's worth reading, not only for here smooth and elegant writing, but mostly for here refreshing clarity of vision and occasionally unexpected viewpoint.

In today's article she raises a disconcerting note, coming from a member of the sunny Reagan team. Noonan senses that there are dark times approaching, and finds that others agree.

I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it's a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with "right track" and "wrong track" but missing the number of people who think the answer to "How are things going in America?" is "Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination."

There are people out there who are quite sure of it, but the "end-of-the-world" crowd is always out there and never right, at least so far. What Peggy is feeling is a pessimism or, more telling, a despondency where you would not expect it. I think I know what she is saying and suspect I agree, with both the observation that people are becoming despondent about the future, and with the belief that they are right.

Perhaps what Noonan is sensing is related to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. The "elites" within whom Noonan senses this unease are generally Boomers, and we are getting up to the age when the past looks a lot happier than the future. I agree that the modern culture is shallow and decadent, but my grandfather felt much the same way about the youth culture of my era (which, on reflection, actually was shallow and decadent.) 

She may also be sensing the end of the era of US domination in the world, which was never really all it was cracked up to be. The first decades after WWII were quite dark in outlook, what with the nuclear sword hanging over us all. decade and a half since the end of the Cold War have not been all that rosy, that we should be too depressed by a change.

Peggy didn't even mention climate change, the big cloud on the horizon for many folks. The bird flu is another. That the US is losing whatever "edge" it enjoyed in the last 50 years is not unexpected and probably good news to some, but the concern over the future is global. I've been following this issue since the '70's when I was a student of geology and climate, when there was not even the faintest whiff of politics around the issue, and have long expected that climatic disaster would be a significant part of the 21st century. There have been great global disasters before, however, great droughts and floods, along with crop failures and pandemics and other horrors, and the world has survived all.

The latter years of the 20th century may turn out to be the aberrant era, when global diseases seemed under control, and the weather was relatively benign, and wars were contained to regional affairs. Perhaps the blue-mood Peggy has perceived is a realization that we have been living in illusion, convinced that the horrors of earlier centuries were past us. In that case it is best for all that we wake up from our happy dream and face the reality of mankind's ongoing troubles. We are better prepared to face them than our ancestors were, and have no cause for despair.

Nevertheless, there is a dark mood afoot these days. As someone who struggles with depression, I have learned to be sensitive to these influences. By perverse good fortune, this may be a helpful thing for me, personally, and perhaps for others. My natural inclination towards contrarianism drives me to adopt a hopeful outlook now that the self-declared "elites" are feeling blue. I wonder if others out there, at odds with the intelligencia and cultural elites, will have the same reaction. If folks within the beltway are getting depressed about the future, I wonder if it isn't really "morning in America" again.

Posted by Jay on October 27, 2005 at 06:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Well, that was a refreshing interlude

The Miers saga has ended, to no one's surprise, and I suspect that we're not going to chew on this one for long. The conservatives won a victory of sorts against their own President but will have to wait and see what their prize is, they may be disappointed. I have said before that I suspected that Ms. Miers was the reliably conservative vote that the President hinted she would be, so I'm not sad to see her nomination withdrawn. Conservatives are sure that the White House, after feeling the power of their wrath, will not cross them and will obediently send up a "solid conservative" with a long public record.

This event may not resonate much outside of the beltway and the blogosphere, but it has been noted by Congress and political press, and they are certainly not feeling as frightened of this White House as they might have felt some weeks ago. I'm, wary of predicting the actions of this administration, at least in this term, but I cannot imagine them feeling confident about a battle over the filibuster at this point. I would expect that the next nominee will be remarkable for his or her extreme legal brilliance and nothing else. They will look for the closest thing to another John Roberts as can be found. The result might be the "consensus nominee" some Democrats have called for, in other words, an apparent centrist. More likely the nominee will be vaguely conservative but not very political.

As we all know, once people with strong minds get a lifetime appointment to the top job in their profession, they can change subtly and become more "progressive" and activist than before. It is easy to claim you would retrain power when you haven't got it. Somehow getting one's hands on the power to change the country make people want to try it.

In any case, the conservative are not going to want to rehash this episode. The Left will be equally eager to drop it. They want to rub salt into the administration's wounds, but are stuck either appearing to agree with arch conservatives or appearing to be supporters of Harriet Miers, who is certainly pro-life, and still a close adviser to Bush and a member of his staff. They are much more interested in Plamegate indictments or in attacking the new nominee, once he or she is announced.

Posted by Jay on October 27, 2005 at 05:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 25, 2005

If he's a professor he must be a Democrat, right?

I caught this comment in the NYTimes article on the announcement that Ben S. Bernanke will be the nominee to replace Alan Greenspan as the Federal Reserve chief. Bernanke has been a professor of economics at Stanford and Princeton.

"When the news first came that he was a candidate to be named a Fed governor, I thought it was interesting that the Bush administration would nominate a Democrat," Mr. Frank said. "I was surprised. I worked with him and did not know he was a Republican."

The speaker is Robert H. Frank, "a liberal professor at Cornell" and co-author of an economics text book with Bernanke. Mr. Frank's immediate assumption that an intelligent friend who taught at a major university would obviously be a Democrat, is actually a common one. In some parts of the country, most anyone who seems like an educated and "nice" person is assumed to be a Democrat. That Bernanke would keep his political affiliation close to the vest is no surprise, and may not be a reflection of his personality, as the Times suggests. To be openly affiliated with the Republican party might be career suicide in an academic environment.

There are plenty of "stealth Republicans" in the more liberal or "blue" areas of the country, and I imagine there might be areas where Democrats live in stealth-mode, fearing that their neighbors and friends at church might not accept their politics. It's a shame that this sort of broad-stroke demonization of all opponents is so popular these days. When one of the liberal pundits, or even the Democratic leadership, makes charges against all Republicans, I know they are speaking out of ignorance. I know loads of Republicans, including some very conservative party members, and I know from personal experience that they are not what some would allege. The exact same can be said for those conservative pundits who make broad-brush statements about Democrats. The people of my neighborhood and even my church are largely Democrats, overwhelmingly so, in fact, and they are also overwhelmingly fine citizens and good people.

The aforementioned Robert Frank, I note with relief, did not renounce his friendship with Bernanke when he discovered his secret identity as a member of the enemy party. Good for him. That a liberal professor and a republican who speaks with G. Bush can get along, ought to set a good example for the rest of us.

Posted by Jay on October 25, 2005 at 01:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 18, 2005

"Politically Correct", a now meaningless term?

Wonderful post from Eric Scheie at Classical Values. Ostensibly its about the how the term "Politically Correct" has been tossed about so as to become meaningless. In truth the post is also much about Intelligent Design, which I would normally discuss at my other blog. Things are quiet at the moment at Radical Centrist so I'll pick up Eric's "Politically Correct" theme as an excuse. Eric has found proponents of Intelligent Design calling Evolution a "Politically Correct" idea. He's right in calling this a meaningless use of the concept.

But calling evolution itself politically correct would seem to torture the whole idea of political correctness.

You want genuine politically correct science? Try Stalinist genetics!

At the risk of sounding like a flaming liberal, there's something about a claim which places H.L. Mencken into the politically correct camp which doesn't pass my smell test -- any more than it would to label William Jennings Bryan (or Savonarola, for that matter) "politically incorrect" .

And if Mencken is to be PC, what about Galileo? Is the Inquisition, then, "politically incorrect"?

I'm not friend of Political Correctness as a concept, and I won't mourn the passing of the term either. I suspect, however, that the phrase will fade out long before the habit or inclination to enforce speech and idea regulation, which seems as strong as ever.

BTW: I also like Eric's points on ID. The more I read about ID as a "movement" the less I am moved by it. As John Derbyshire said in The Corner a bit ago, Intelligent Design "should not be confused with the notion that some sort of intelligent design is operating in the universe." I find the positions of capitalized Intelligent Design objectionable on religious grounds as much as scientific grounds, and I especially dislike the way the idea is being evangelized. In any case, that's for the other blog.

Posted by Jay on October 18, 2005 at 11:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 16, 2005

Another perspective on the new German government

I normally blog about international events over at my other site, but the German "Grand Coalition" which has been announced but not consummated as yet, is a sort of centrist government, although not by choice. I've been concerned that such a "shotgun wedding" would lead to a government that could not function, or at least "would not", in that they would not be willing to cooperate with one another. I find that more informed observers than I (which would be just about anyone...) have the same idea.

Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian, likes the look of Angela Merkel, who is expected to become Germany's first female chancellor, but is not convinced this coalition will work.

The good news is Angie. The bad news is her government. Unfortunately, the bad is likely to subvert the good. Even if this lady chancellor is made of iron, a messy, unstable coalition will ensure that her feet are stuck in clay. All Europe will keep limping as a result.

Ash also hints that the German voters might actually be looking for "more consensus, less action" from their government. Not all Germans seem stuck in neutral, however:

Those who are more optimistic than I am about Germany's capacity for change point to what is happening already among the young and in business. Now it's true that one meets a lot of impressive, highly educated young Germans, able to tell you, in fluent English or French, what their country needs to do. The trouble is that you are most likely to meet them in Oxford (which has lots of outstanding German students), Harvard, Paris or Tokyo rather than in Heidelberg, Munich or Berlin. Today's genuinely free German youth have seized the chances offered by an integrated Europe, and a globalised world, to vote with their feet. Many of the brightest seem likely to make their professional careers largely outside Germany. Unless something changes back home, that is.

Some of those "impressive young Germans" have alighted in Silicon Valley (SAP runs a research center in Palo Alto.) They are mingling with the impressive young Indians, Chinese , Koreans and, nowadays, Irish, in this "world is flat" valley and planning for a glorious future. Whether continental Europe or, for that matter, the United States, has a role in that future is an open question. In the meantime we will watch with great interest whether Angela Merkel can forge a centrist coalition out of former (and likely future) combatants.

Posted by Jay on October 16, 2005 at 08:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2005

No wonder she leads the early popularity polls for 2008

Condi Rice is turning out to be a remarkable Sec. of State. When President Bush aimed high in his second inaugural speech and committed the U.S. to support for global democracy and individual freedom, I was impressed and pleased but also doubtful we would have the "intestinal fortitude" to stick with it.

So far, I'm still on the "impressed" side.

Tigerhawk, who attended the Secretary's speech recently at Princeton, is also impressed.

Posted by Jay on October 14, 2005 at 04:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 13, 2005

Checks and Balances, German Style

Interesting article in the Economist this week about Angela Merkel and the "Grand Coalition." (And also a great example of how not to be photographed. The Economist is fond of using really awful pictures of political leaders.) I do hope they can make this thing work, but it is not really a "Centrist Coalition". The politicians are not joining forces because they find common cause, except the powerful desire to retain some hold on power, even if they have to share it. This is a coalition that the voters have forced, which is what I like about it. Given that the voters did not establish a clear preference in the election, the parties have decided to split the difference. This is, of course, not how things would be handled in the U.S., but still it may turn out to be a failure or even die aborning, there are still some "rank and file" folks on either side who need convincing. The point raised in the Economist that caught my attention is the idea that the coalition might end up being less than either party alone, and that this just might be appealing to the German voters.
The government agenda also risks looking all too familiar. Since Mr Schröder lost the election mainly because of his reform package called Agenda 2010, and Ms Merkel didn't win it because she had announced that she would push reforms even further, the mood is not in favour of experiments.
Of course, the German populace was not planning to produce a near tie in any conscious way, it just worked out that way, but if they parity resulted from both parties turning off voters with too aggressive proposals, than a Grand Coalition, which become a "Grand Standoff", might be just the ticket!

Posted by Jay on October 13, 2005 at 03:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 10, 2005

Germany gets a "Grand Coalition"

I really don't know what to make of this.

I imagine that if I'm going to make a case for centrism, I should be pleased to see the Germans come together in a blended government incorporating leaders from both parties. It represent the triumph of compromise, that's for sure. Now we get to find out if it is a triumph of compromise in the best sense of that word or in the worst sense.

If Angela Merkel, soon to be the new chancellor, can forge a genuine bi-partisan government, and get it to operate with any effectiveness at all, she will have accomplished something remarkable. The policies of this new coalition are not going to please either party's core followers, but it ought to please an electorate that split the vote as cleanly as the American electorate likes to do.

The obvious risk is that this grand coalition will be an example for future students of "dysfunctional government." Before it can even be put to the test, the idea must be sold to the disappointed and suspicious members of both parties. This is not a marriage forged on love, it is a marriage of convenience, or perhaps "desperation" is a better word. Not a solid foundation for a happy relationship, I fear.

Still, its a better result that the American solution, which is to devolve into desperate partisan battles, investigations, lies and misleading reports in the press, and a final round in the courts. Bravo to the Germans for at least trying to get along.

Posted by Jay on October 10, 2005 at 10:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack