The Alito Confirmation Hearings: Day 3 (updated)

I’ve listened to about as much of the Alito confirmation hearings today as I can stand. Democrats continue to press the same issues over and over again and continue to receive the same responses. Republicans continue to respond with the same platitudes. It reminds me of nothing so much as a computer user who keeps doing exactly the same (incorrect) thing over and over again hoping impossibly that on one of the repetitions he or she will see a different result.

The news of the day IMO was the sharp exchange between Committee Chairman Arlen Specter and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy:

The questions about CAP led to a testy exchange between Kennedy and Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Last month, Kennedy sent a letter to Specter seeking a committee subpoena for private documents of William A. Rusher, a founder of the group, that Kennedy said might shed light on Alito’s membership. Specter said he had not received the letter and bristled at Kennedy’s pledge to push repeatedly for a committee vote on a subpoena.

“I will not have you run this committee,” said Specter, who brushed aside Kennedy’s threats.

Are they:

  • Petulant children?
  • Crotchety old men?
  • Old toads so puffed up with their own importance that they croak at every imagined impuning of their imagined dignity?

The process is working less to cast doubt about Alito than to cast doubt about the Senate.

UPDATE: I see that I’m not the only one who received this impression.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Joe Gandelman’s take on the Alito hearing so far:

If Shapiro’s impression is the one that Mrs. Smith in Peoria has then she’ll decide the Democrats couldn’t get anything new out of him due to:

* him stonewalling. That requires an assumption about his political character that nonpartisans may not have.
* the Democrats being incompetent and basically outclassed politically (more or less what Shapiro, a shrewd judge of politics, seems to feel).
* nothing damaging was really there.

All of this suggests that unless there is some “defining moment” (HATE that phrase) this could wind up being the usual type of political matter in 21st-Century America with partisans on both sides riled up and with many swing voters pointedly less so.

Which suggests, if Shapiro is correct, that (a) the Republicans benefit by doing what they’re doing the way they’re doing it (b) the Democrats would not be the kinds of lawyers you’d want to hire if you were up for a murder charge (c) there could be some polarizing or bitter end to all of this…but in the end Alito will be saying hello each day to John Roberts.

I think there’s actually a little more going on here than Joe is painting it. As I see it there are at least two presidential aspirants among the Democrats: Joe Biden and Russ Feingold. These hearings have provided an opportunity for each to re-introduce themselves to Democratic Party primary voters. Biden has squandered this opportunity. Feingold has fared somewhat better; I expect his star to rise.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Richard Cohen at The Washington Post has a similar observation on Biden from a slightly different vantage point:

The seniority that makes Biden so knowledgeable on foreign policy — a conversation with him is always instructive — is also what cripples. He has been in the Senate since 1973 and suffers, as nearly all senators do sooner or later, from the conviction that he and his colleagues are the center of the world. After all, no one — with the possible exception of family members — ever tells a senator to shut up. They are surrounded by fawning staff and generally treated as minor deities. They lose perspective, which is why, now that you’ve asked, they talk and talk at these hearings. They are convinced the world is watching. Actually, it’s only a half a dozen shut-ins on C-SPAN — and, of course, the nearly catatonic press corps. Everyone else is playing computer solitaire.

Biden ran for president once before — and then, too, his mouth went off on its own. (In 1988, his stump speech was perilously similar to the one used by Neil Kinnock, Britain’s Labor Party leader.) This time seems no different, except the loss is greater. Foreign policy, Biden’s specialty, is the number one issue. He has much to say — and then too much to add. He is an anatomical disaster. His Achilles’ heel is his mouth.

And from Marshall Wittman:

Sam Alito would not be the Moose’s choice in a Supreme Court nominee. He is far too differential to money power. And of course, he has been evasive in his answers – that is the way the game is now played.

Alas, however, the Moose did not win the last Presidential election – and neither did the donkey. While it is the proper role of the opposition party to grill a nominee, it should not at the same time make fools of themselves and expose their own weaknesses. More importantly, the donkey should consider the values and views of voters they need and have lost before the agendas of liberal interest groups.

He also notes a column of David Brooks’s:

The big story of American politics, which was underlined by every hour of the Alito hearings, is that sometime between 1932 and 1968, the DNA of the Democratic Party fundamentally changed. In 1932, the Democrats had working-class DNA. Today, the Democrats have different DNA, the DNA of a minority party.

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