Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The New York Times on Alito’s Advance

Tibor R. Machan

The New York Times made much of the fact [01/15/06] that Democrats couldn’t trip up Judge Samuel Alito during the recent hearings at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Times fretted a lot about how Democrats felt outflanked both by Alito and by the Republicans.

One point, though, that The Times proposed seems to me to be patently wrong. You may recall that at one point in the questioning of Judge Alito his wife began to weep and this was caught on camera and shown throughout the major media. About this the Times writes:

That evening senior Democratic senate aides convened at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, stunned at the realization that the pictures of a weeping Mrs. Alito were being broadcast across the nation—as opposed to, for example, images of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, pressing Judge Alito about his membership in an alumni club that resisted affirmative action efforts.

What? Do The Times writers really believe that showing the lady shed a few tears at the grilling her husband received made such a big impact? Or that it would have been very different had the media focused on Senator Ted Kenney’s questioning?

As far as I am concerned, seeing a wife get a bit misty eyed when a husband is hassled couldn’t make much of a difference. It is just routine. Do these writers have such a low estimate of American citizens that they think such a scene is going to determine their thinking on the matter of who is qualified for the US Supreme Court? A few people, perhaps, but I would guess most of us make note of the tears and then move on to the relevant issues.

But perhaps even more interestingly, do The Times’ writers believe that showing Senator Ted Kennedy question Judge Alito would score big points against the Judge? Kennedy? He is practically a buffoon for most of us and survives in Massachusetts mainly because of his connections and how this enables him to bring home the bacon. Kennedy’s has no credibility as a serious judicial mind. He is viewed by millions as a nitpicker and a showman, barely managing to pose as a grand statesman.

Moreover, the issue of the “alumni club that resisted affirmative action efforts” surely isn’t a slam dunk against Alito since millions of Americans who haven’t a smattering of racism in their hearts or minds also oppose affirmative action, including quite a few blacks among them. If all that this club did is to oppose affirmative action, grilling Alito about it would probably have been seen by most people as a trivial pursuit. Whether affirmative action is a sound policy is itself quite debatable among all those who reject racism, racial exclusion, or any such policy. (I am not privy to what exactly this club stood for and why but judging by The Times’ story, its stance wouldn’t shake up many people, not, especially, given that it turned out to be Ted Kennedy’s hobby horse.)

Yes, Judge Alito managed to dodge nearly all the bullets fired at him by the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee but that’s because these bullets themselves were mostly, well, blanks. There wasn’t very much the Democrats could bring up of which they couldn’t be accused over the last several decades—such as favoring strong presidential powers (when, for example, Lyndon Johnson was president, or Bill Clinton).

Most informed citizens are aware that all that’s going on in Washington nowadays is a turf fight about who is to have the power of the growing and ever more powerful government, the Left or the Right. Neither side is much interested in principles, neither is interested in restraining government either in its scope or in its size, so what’s the fuss about who gets on the Court?

Yes, some special interests will get bent out of shape if one side gains the upper hand, but others will get upset if the other side does, because it is, after all, about power, not about adherence to the principles of the US Constitution. Where the Democrats claim to care about the right to privacy (in very limited areas, mind you), the Republicans may care about the right of the unborn (and few other rights). These are all special issues and not really about constitutional principles—like what does the Ninth Amendment mean, like what has happened to the principle of private property rights referred to explicitly in the Fifth Amendment, and like where have the constitutional protections against search a seizure gone now that the “war on terror,” as in the past “the war on drugs,” have made these nearly moot?

But of course The New York Times wouldn’t know anything about these matters—they are part of the turf fight, nothing more.

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