Honesty Hillary’s Glass House

The San Diego Union Tribune

Hillary Rodham Clinton is supposed to be smart. But how smart is it for a woman with such a bad reputation for truthfulness and veracity to put those character traits at the center of the campaign?

The irony of her potshots at Barack Obama's character has hardly gone unnoticed. Nor has the idiocy of her Dec. 2 press release breathlessly revealing that “in kindergarten, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled 'I Want to Become President.' ” This, the Clinton release explained, gives the lie to Obama's claim that he is “not running to fulfill some long-held plans” to become president. Hillary was not, it appears, joking.

At a campaign stop the same day, Clinton added: “I have been, for months, on the receiving end of rather consistent attacks. Well, now the fun part starts.” Indeed.

I will not excavate Clinton's own kindergarten confessions. Nor will I compare the honesty quotient of her campaign-trail spin with the dreadful drivel dutifully uttered by Obama and other candidates to pander to their fevered primary electorates.

Instead, let's take a trip down memory lane – from the tawdriness of the 1992 presidential campaign through the mendacity of the ensuing years – to revisit a sampling of why so many of us came to think that Hillary's first instinct when in an embarrassing spot is to lie.

Gennifer and Monica. Former lounge singer Gennifer Flowers surfaced in early 1992 with claims – corroborated by tapes of phone calls – that she had had a long affair with then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who had arranged a state job for her. Bill Clinton told the media, falsely, that the woman's “story is untrue.”


The San Diego Union Tribune

So far, at least, both sides deserve to lose the brewing battle over congressional Democrats' subpoenas for information about White House deliberations on the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

Legal merits aside, congressional Democrats face an uphill battle in seeking to defeat the executive privilege claim.

The administration deserves to lose because the contradictory, misleading, and sometimes false congressional testimonies of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other officials about the firings (among other matters) have the smell of cover-up about them. Their evasions have given a tincture of plausibility to what initially seemed to be far-fetched suspicions that the firings were driven by an administration scheme to abuse its prosecutorial powers to hurt Democratic candidates. This is not the best time for the compulsively secretive George W. Bush to hide behind the same executive privilege that the Watergate cover-up made famous, while implausibly claiming to be doing it for the benefit of future presidents.

“Presidents who really care about executive privilege and secrecy don't make the claims about confidentiality and evading legal rules wantonly and libidinously,” asserts Neal Katyal, a Georgetown law professor who served in the Clinton Justice Department and later criticized President Bill Clinton for misusing executive privilege to shield himself.

The congressional Democrats deserve to lose because they have so far made no serious proposal to pass new legislation or to do anything else – besides beat their chests in righteous rage – that shows a genuine need for whatever information they might obtain about the firings by demanding White House documents and the testimony of White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and political aide Sara Taylor.

Under Fire

The San Diego Union Tribune

This is not a prediction that Alberto R. Gonzales will be driven from office because of the incompetence and untruthfulness recently manifested by the botched firings of eight U.S. attorneys and the multiple misleading and inconsistent explanations thereof. Even if President Bush's buddy hangs on until 2009, the Senate should henceforth reject any attorney general nominee whose only outstanding qualification is his or her relationship with the president. Democrats who want to run Gonzales out of town should also pledge that they will never again support a nominee of either party who is as ill-qualified as Gonzales is or – for that matter – as Robert F. Kennedy was in 1961.

Hindsight shows that RFK turned out to be a pretty good AG in many ways. (Approving FBI wiretaps of Martin Luther King Jr. was not among his better ideas.) But as of 1961, his main qualification was that he was the president's brother.

The Justice Department, which employs 110,000 people, is entrusted with advising the president and other federal officials on the limits of their powers; safeguarding our civil liberties; evenhandedly enforcing laws on terrorism, national security, civil rights, the environment, white-collar crime, antitrust and narcotics; choosing judges; and running the FBI and the federal prison system.

Its prosecutors have “more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America,” as then-Attorney General (and later Justice) Robert Jackson said in a famous 1940 speech to an assembly of U.S. attorneys.

Trashing Alito

The San Diego Union Tribune

A sometimes subtle but unmistakable pattern has emerged in major news organizations’ coverage of Judge Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination.

Through various mixes of factual distortions, tendentious wording, and uncritical parroting of misleading attacks by liberal critics, some reporters insinuate that Alito is a slippery character who will say whatever senators want to hear, especially by "distancing himself" from past statements that (these reporters imply) show him to be a conservative ideologue.

I focus here not on the consistently mindless liberal hysteria of The New York Times’ editorial page. Nor on such egregious factual errors as the assertion on C-SPAN, by Stephen Henderson of Knight Ridder Newspapers, that in a study of Alito’s more than 300 judicial opinions, "we didn’t find a single case in which Judge Alito sided with African-Americans … [who were] alleging racial bias." This, Henderson added, is "rather remarkable."

What is remarkable is that any reporter could have overlooked the at least seven cases in which Alito has sided with African-Americans alleging racial bias. Also remarkable is the illiterate statistical analysis and loaded language used by Henderson and Howard Mintz in a 2,652-word article published (in whole or in part) by some 18 newspapers. It makes the misleading claim that in 15 years as a judge, Alito has sought "to weave a conservative legal agenda into the fabric of the nation’s laws," including "a standard higher than the Supreme Court requires" for proving job discrimination.

The systematic slanting – conscious or unconscious – of this and other news reports has helped fuel a disingenuous campaign by liberal groups and senators to caricature Alito as a conservative ideologue.

Alito is Neither Far Right Nor Activist

The San Diego Union Tribune

Liberal critics and many media outlets have spewed tons of misleading stuff about Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., particularly about his supposed views on abortion and about the significance of two Sandra Day O’Connor opinions disagreeing with prior Alito opinions. So here’s some straight stuff.

The claims that Alito is a "far-right activist" are laughable, except to far-left activists. He richly deserves the praise that he has received from colleagues and friends across the political spectrum for his powerful mind, intellectual honesty and fairness.

The American people will figure this out. Any effort to filibuster Alito seems likely to fail, and likely to backfire against Democrats. So, the Senate will confirm him by 60-40, give or take five votes, I’d wager. Most of the no votes (and, alas, many of the yes votes) will reflect political posturing and herd instincts rather than careful analysis.

Once installed in Justice O’Connor’s seat, Alito will be an exceptional justice. His rulings will probably be congenial to the broad middle of the electorate. He will be to the right of O’Connor – that is, the O’Connor of recent years, who has been markedly more liberal than she was before 1991 or so. Alito will probably be to the left of Antonin Scalia, albeit with less of a libertarian streak. He will be well to the left of Clarence Thomas, and far more respectful of precedent.

Alito will try as hard as anyone – and far harder than O’Connor – to be intellectually honest and analytically rigorous, and to keep his political preferences out of his legal rulings. He will therefore disappoint the most passionate political conservatives and horrify many liberals.

President Bush and the Court

The San Diego Union Tribune

A lot of liberals, and a lot of conservatives, think that President Bush is speaking in code when he says he would nominate to the Supreme Court "strict constructionists" who would "faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench."

Just as liberal activist judges have driven millions of moderates into the Republican fold, conservative activist judges could drive them back out. Karl Rove must know this. So must Bush.

After all, didn’t Bush once cite Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his model justices? And haven’t they both voted to overrule Roe v. Wade? To uphold laws making homosexual acts criminal? To outlaw government use of racial preferences? To allow state-sponsored school prayers (at least at graduations and football games)? To require states to subsidize religious instruction (at least in some contexts)? To overrule Miranda v. Arizona? To strike down many federal laws as violating states’ rights?

Well, yes – but. Bush surely has committed himself to naming to the Court conservatives who would not invent new constitutional rights. But some conservative jurists are far less radical, and far more deferential to established precedents, than others. And if you imagine that Bush wants to pack the Court with Scalia/Thomas clones determined to sweep aside Roe and a raft of other liberal precedents, ask yourself this: What would that do to Republicans’ hope of securing their fragile majority status, and to Bush’s legacy?

The answer is that just as liberal activist judges have driven millions of moderates into the Republican fold, conservative activist judges could drive them back out. Karl Rove must know this. So must Bush.