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A moveable feast

Franken, Cheney, Sotomayor and other topics

Why dine on only one meal today, when there is so much on offer in the buffet? Let us indulge, one small bite at a time. This is what Ernest Hemingway would have called "a moveable feast." For instance:

Tim Pawlenty's decision not to seek a new term as Minnesota governor interests me greatly. His announcement yesterday was probably his first big step toward seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2012; it's far easier to stump for the top job without being encumbered by gubernatorial duties, particularly those that would include tangling with a Democratic state legislature.

The more urgent question is what will happen next in the Al Franken marathon. Later this month, when the Minnesota Supreme Court likely rules that Franken has indeed beaten Republican Norm Coleman in the '08 Senate election (thereby ratifying the election results, and the recount results, and the lower court ruling), will Gov. Pawlenty do his duty and certify Franken as the 60th Democratic senator? Pawlenty's decision to quit his day job in 2010 and position himself for a GOP presidential bid could mean that he has no intention of signing the certification; after all, he would be toast with the conservative voters in the Iowa caucuses if he got tagged as the guy who gave the Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate.

Pawlenty did say at his announcement yesterday that he would sign a Franken certification if so ordered, but he never said he would do it promptly. In the wake of the state high court decision, he could always say, "I intend to sign it, but if Norm Coleman wants to appeal to federal court, we should see how that plays out first." Bottom line? The conclusion of the Franken-Coleman saga may hinge on whether the Minnesota Supreme Court does a Jack Bauer and simply tells Pawlenty: DO IT! NOW!


So I was watching Fox News and there was Dick Cheney again, still defending his presidency, and suddenly I heard him say this: "On the question of whether Iraq was involved in 9/11, um, there was never any evidence to prove that."

Huh? What?

The mind reels. At what point did he become enlightened about factual reality? And when that miracle did occur, why didn't he tell us then? If there was "never any evidence," why did he repeatedly go on Meet The Press, back in the day, and repeatedly peddle the lie about 9/11 conspirator Mohammed Atta supposedly meeting with a Saddam intelligence agent? Why is he 'fessing up about all this now? Where is the apology that he owes us? And since he has now outed the rhetorical deception at the core of the march to war, why should we listen anymore to anything he has to say?

Above all, his admission brought to mind a recent remark, by Army Major Paul Burney, which turned up in a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report. Burney was recounting his stint as an interrogator of prisoners at Guantanamo: "A large part of the time, we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, and we were not being successful in establishing a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got, in not being able to establish this link, there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

And still, the interrogators couldn't prompt the prisoners to ratify Cheney's cherished link. What does this say about the efficacy of torture?


How long can the Democrats keep running against George W. Bush? It worked in '06 and '08, when he was still in office. The strategy will be tested again this November, in the New  Jersey governor's race. I wonder whether it's still viable.

Yesterday, Republican primary voters smartly nominated ex-federal prosecutor Chris Christie (instead of a too-conservative challenger) to take on Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, whose popularity has been sapped by the state's deep fiscal woes. Here's Corzine's basic pitch: "I don't know about you, but I'm not about to put my trust in the same people who gave us George Bush, Dick Cheney or John Ashcroft, skyrocketing unemployment, a housing crisis, bank bailouts, and a war in Iraq." Democrats will be watching to see whether that theme can still resonate, because they'd love to use it in the '10 congressional elections. Corzine will certainly give it his best shot; he can spend as much of his personal fortune as he desires, thanks to New Jersey's famously lax campaign financing rules. But as a former New Jersey political writer (albeit, 19 years ago), I can attest that Garden State voters are a famously cranky lot, and even the Bush-haters are fully capable of focusing solely on fiscal issues in their own backyard - at the incumbent's expense.


President Obama has picked off another centrist Republican, and deepened the GOP's congressional crisis in the Northeast. Yesterday, he tapped House veteran John McHugh to be his secretary of the Army, a two-fer much like his recent nomination of moderate GOP governor Jon Huntsman to be his ambassador to China. In this new instance, Obama deepens his bipartisan creds by bringing in another Republican, this time with serious defense expertise; and he gives the Democrats another strong opportunity to pick up a House seat in the Northeast, where congressional Republicans are a fast-dwindling breed.

It's no surprise that McHugh wanted the Army secretary job. There are only three Republicans left in the 29-member New York House delegation, and he's one of them. Voters in his GOP-leaning district voted for Obama over John McCain last autumn, and  the Democrats now hold power in Albany. And if the state Democrats keep their power in 2010, they'll have the once-a-decade opportunity to redraw the House district boundaries and make it even harder for any Republicans to win seats.

So Obama and his political lieutenants (particularly Rahm Emanuel, who understands House politics), basically made McHugh an offer he couldn't refuse. This is one small example of why those guys are winning in the poltical trenches.


Earlier this spring, conservatives went ballistic when Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano posted a report entitled "Right-Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." They prompted her to remove the report from the Homeland Security website.

Conservatives took great exception to the report's warning that domestic threats might come from "groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion."

Now we have the vigilante murder of Dr. George Tiller. The report got it right.


As I mentioned the other day, Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has assailed the idea that high court judges should factor their life experiences into their deliberations. He said Sunday that Sonia Sotomayor's intention to do so "goes against the heart of the great American heritage of an independent judge."

All of which prompts me to bring up Sandra Day O'Connor, who was the swing vote in the 5-4 ruling that delivered the presidency to George W Bush in December 2000. What follows is an excerpt from page 194 of The Nine, Jeffrey Toobin's fine book on the contemporary Supreme Court, which was based on interviews with the justices and their clerks. Note, in particular, the second sentence:

"She thought Bush should win, the case as well as the election. If there was anything O'Connor had learned growing up on a remote ranch, it was self-sufficiency; people had no right to blame anyone else, including the government, for their own mistakes. She had convinced herself that the root of the issue in Florida was simply that some voters hadn't figured out how to cast their ballots the right way...If the voters didn't bother to learn how to vote correctly, the state shouldn't try to figure out what these hapless souls meant to do...Never mind that Florida law called for vote counters to determine the intent of the voters - or that state law also empowered the Florida courts to make the process work."

So thanks in part to O'Connor's life experience on that self-sufficient ranch, we wound up with Bush. As Toobin tells it, O'Connor subsequently found Bush to be "arrogant, lawless, incompetent, and extreme." By then, however, it was too late.

O'Connor wasn't wrong to tap her life experience; that's what judges do, even if, in this case, she declined to give a strict constructionist reading of Florida law. But this anecdote amply demonstrates why the high court would benefit from a broader diversity of back stories.


And finally, on the Sotomayor nomination:

The right-wing cartoon characters have been in predictably fine form lately, but arguably the prize must go to G. Gordon Liddy, the convicted Watergate felon who now entertains via radio. Here's what he said the other day about the high court nominee. I swear that this is not one of my satirical constructs:

"Let's hope that the key conferences aren't when she's menstruating or something, or just before she's going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then."