January 2004, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
While I Am Discussing Slander, I might as well mention this column by Maureen Dowd, where she describes some of our allies as follows:
You wonder how many votes he [Bush] scared off with that testosterone festival: the taunting message, the self-righteous geographic litany of support? The Philippines. Thailand. Italy. Spain. Poland. Denmark. Bulgaria. Ukraine. Romania. The Netherlands. Norway. El Salvador.Including, presumably, Britain and Australia, nations she does not name. This naturally got the attention of Australian Tim Blair, who has replies here and here. My apologies to all our allies for Ms. Dowd's slurs.
(And I suppose the fact that I learned of this column from Blair shows how little attention I pay to Maureen Dowd.)
- 9:43 AM, 24 January 2004 [link]
2004 = 1984: Or at least parallels it. That's the message of a Seattle play, supposedly based on George Orwell's novel. Playwright Wayne Rawley, who "adapted" the novel, is convinced that the parallels are obvious.
"Parallels are already there," suggests Rawley, "and you don't have to make up any. People may think we've made some of these things up, but we haven't."There are some differences, Rawley admits.
Rawley also finds Big Brother's frequent use of the slogans, "You have it good," and "It's getting better" pertinent to our own era. "Those are messages we're constantly getting too. So who is Big Brother in our society today? I think it's corporate America as much as it is the executive branch of government."But Rawley certainly includes the government; the main advertisement for the play here shows George Bush as "Big Brother", with "1984 is here" underneath, just in case, I suppose, that not all of us find these ideas as obvious as Rawley does.
Ideas this crazy are harder to criticize than ideas with some plausibility. One can point out the contradictions. The play is being publicized in the Seattle Times, part of the corporate media, and is being sponsored by a man who got his money from working at Microsoft. One can say that the comparison is obscene and should offend anyone who knows about real totalitarian states from Stalin's Soviet Union to today's North Korea. Imagine, for a moment, what Solzhenitsyn (who has his own criticisms of our society) would say about this attempt to draw a parallel. One can try listing the millions of ways in which 2004 is not parallel to 1984, such as our robust protections for free speech (outside the universities), or our vigorous two party system. None of these arguments seem likely to make any impact on people like Rawley. He may not have read 1984 but he must know something about the ideas in it, and he should be able to see just how bizarre claims of a parallel to today are.
Author Tom Wolfe, faced with similar arguments three decades ago, concluded that they were not serious, that they were poses. Here's how he describe a certain type of intellectual in his essay, The Intelligent Coed's Guide to America.
Did he want to analyze the world systematically? Did he want to add to the store of human knowledge? He not only didn't want to, he belittled the notion quoting Rosa Luxembourg's statement that the "pot-bellied academics" and their interminable monographs and lectures, their intellectual nerve gas, were sophisticated extensions of police repression. Did he even want to change the world? Not particularly; it was much more elegant to back exotic, impossible causes such as the Black Panthers. Moral indignation was the main thing; that, and a certain pattern of consumption.Such poses, however absurd they may be, are nearly impervious to rational attacks. Nor are appeals to common standards likely to be effective; Rawley would probably agree that we should not slander others, but does not see that it is slander to compare George Bush to Stalin. Both rational arguments and common decency would forbid the kind of arguments that Rawley makes; neither has much strength against the power of fashion, especially in his narrow circles.
Wolfe had some impact by satirizing the absurdity of the ideas. In that spirit, let me mention the name of the organization putting on this play—Empty Space. That seems the perfect description of both the minds and the consciences of the people who butchered Orwell in order to slander Bush.
Finally, what did Seattle Times theater critic (and corporate employee) Misha Berson think about the argument in the play? As far as I could tell from her article, she approves this obscenity. Orwell, who had a low opinion of people like her, would not be surprised.
- 7:42 AM, 24 January 2004 [link]
The Spirit Mars Rover phoned home, to the great relief of mission controllers, I'm sure.
NASA received data from the Spirit rover Friday morning for the first time in two days, ending a period of anxious worry that the Mars mission may have come to a calamitous halt.
- 10:22 AM, 23 January 2004
More: Unfortunately, it does not look good for the Spirit. Although contact has been restored, the controllers now think that a hardware failure has confused the rover's software. The cost of sending a technician to replace a broken part may be a little high, given our budget constraints.
- 5:20 AM, 24 January 2004 [link]
Looking Forward To New Hampshire: Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire holds a true primary. It's even an open primary, where independents as well as Democrats can vote. (Independents can vote in Iowa only if they register as Democrats on the spot.) And there are a lot of independents in New Hampshire; in fact, at 37.7 percent, they outnumber both Republicans (36.7 percent) and Democrats (25.6 percent), though they are not as likely to vote in a Democratic primary as Democrats. Independents have helped such different candidates as Gary Hart, Pat Buchanan, and John McCain win the New Hampshire primary. (When they do provide the margin of victory, the loser always complains that those who don't belong to a party shouldn't be allowed to choose its leaders.)
The independents in New Hampshire and the larger turnout create an electorate that is closer to the center than Iowa caucus attendees, how much closer depends largely on which party draws the most independents. Since there is no real Republican primary contest, one would expect those independents who do vote to choose a Democratic ballot. Which is not good news for Howard Dean and could produce a surprise or two.
(For some history of the New Hampshire primaries, see this Joel Connelly column, though he misses the most interesting fact about the 1968 results, why Gene McCarthy did as well as he did, something I will discuss in a future post.)
- 9:51 AM, 23 January 2004 [link]
Amusing: Newsweek reporter Michael Hastings describes this campaign's oddest couple, Michael Moore and Wesley Clark, in an article that raises even more doubts about Clark's character. Moore, as you probably know, endorsed Clark in a speech that smeared president Bush. What you may not know if you haven't seen Bowling for Columbine is that this is a reversal.
Moore hasn't always been so taken with Clark, at least if his Oscar-winning film Bowling for Columbine is to be taken at face value. Indeed, the documentary repeatedly slams the shining moment in Clark's career: stopping Serb aggression in Kosovo, the highlight of his tenure as NATO supreme allied commander. In fact, Moore suggests that the bombing tactics employed by NATO—and thus Clark—were in part to blame for the massacre at Columbine.Does Clark know this? The author isn't sure.
This strange alliance, and the willingness of both to smear President Bush, directly or indirectly, lessens my already low respect for both men. Neither, it seems clear, has much respect for the truth.
- 7:57 AM, 23 January 2004 [link]
One More Reason Dean Lost Iowa: Before Monday's caucuses, one of Howard Dean's strengths was thought to be his army of volunteers, who streamed into Iowa to help him. After reading this description of the Deaniacs from one of Seattle's alternative newspapers, I suspect they may have hurt him more than they helped him. The volunteers included many people who were, well let's not say weird, but certainly different. Many were seeking personal fulfillment, rather than the usual political goals. Here, for example, is Annie Robbins, who is a little bit of a hippie and a little bit of a businesswoman.
To boil down Robbins' story, the Dean campaign has become for her far more than a simple political struggle--it is also, at least so far, a potent talisman to ward off despair. The former Vermont governor must win, she says, for the good of the country and, not incidentally, for the sake of her own emotional equilibrium. She relates that in the run-up to the Iraq war last spring, she grew increasingly fretful. "I couldn't sleep," she says. "I started getting this feeling in my chest of doom. I was smoking all the time, staying inside watching the news, getting all strung out.Like others, she decided to cure her problems by joining the Dean campaign.
Now suppose that you were a typical Iowa Democrat, a retired railroad worker, for example, and this woman came to your door, dressed in Seattle style and wearing the orange cap that the Dean campaign used to identify its workers. Would she make you more or less likely to vote for Dean? Less, I suspect.
- 5:48 AM, 23 January 2004 [link]
Racial Preferences May Return To Washington Schools: In 1998, Washington state voters passed Initiative 200 forbidding the use of race or gender as a factor in state contracts and admissions to state schools. The initiative, though opposed by almost all of what one might call the state's establishment—nearly all newspapers, major businesses like Boeing and Microsoft, major labor unions, and most public officials—passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote. After it passed, there were various attempts to evade it by the universities, local governments, and, of course, the Seattle public schools, but even those seem to have diminished recently.
Financially, it had its biggest effect on white women, who had been given an edge in contracts with the state and some local governments. Of course, since white women are, as often as not, married to white men, some white men lost, too, by that change in contracting rules.
It appears to have had no permanent effect on admissions to the University of Washington or Washington State University, as this Seattle Times article explains.
Undergraduate enrollment of racial minorities, however, did not drop dramatically, and at some schools, minority enrollment rebounded to pre-I-200 levels.The temporary dip was probably the result of bad publicity from the Initiative, rather than a higher barrier for minorities.
This 2001 census report gives the percentage of Hispanics in Washington at 7.5 percent, blacks at 3.2 percent, American Indians at 1.6 percent and Pacific Islanders at just 0.4 percent. This might lead you to think that minorities are, if anything, over represented in admissions, except that there are two other groups, other (3.9 percent) and two or more races (3.6 percent), so we can't say that for certain. However, as anyone who walks around the University of Washington or Washington State campuses can tell you, Asians are there in far higher proportion than they are in the state's population (5.5 percent). Including Asians who are, in fact a minority, we can say that minorities have a higher proportion of admissions than of the state's population.
Given these facts, one would hope that the universities would accept their defeat with good grace. They have not, and are back trying to get as much racial preferences into admissions as possible. A bill, backed by Governor Locke and the universities, has already passed out of a state Senate committee—after hearings in which not a single opponent was heard. Directly defying the public is not usually a good political move, which shows just how important this issue is to the backers of the bill. If it does pass, I suppose we voters will have to go to the polls, pass I-200 again, this time with an extra clause—"We really mean it", translated into legalese, of course.
There is one very odd aspect to these controversies, which I discussed in this post. The plain language of civil rights laws already banned racial preferences in admissions and elsewhere. For some reason, almost no public official felt bound by those laws, until the initiative, which borrows language directly from them, was passed. I have never seen an explanation for this strange situation, where language in the 1964 Civil Rights law did not forbid discrimination in admissions, but nearly identical language in I-200 did.
Finally, what makes this especially infuriating is that there is a growing body of evidence that racial preferences hurt the very people they are intended to help. They often result in a mismatch between a student and a school, so that a person who would have done well at, for example, Penn State, fails at MIT. They discourage minorities from doing the hard work and preparation that are needed in college, at least in the more challenging fields.
- 5:43 PM, 22 January 2004
More: Stefan Sharkansky has some numbers on admissions at the University of Washington. If the UW's freshman class were to reflect the state's population of 18-19 year olds, the school would have to reduce Asians from 28 to 6.5 percent and increase whites from 56 to 72 percent.
- 6:11 AM, 23 January 2003 [link]
Global Cooling Killed The Neanderthals, according to this article from the New Scientist. They retreated before the ice sheets but ran out of room. So did the modern humans known as Aurignacians, who had shared Europe with the Neanderthals. Both groups were replaced by modern humans called the Gravettians, who had the technology needed for the new conditions.
The Gravettians appeared in eastern Europe 29,000 to 30,000 years ago complete with flash new tools, such as javelin-like throwing spears and fishing nets, which allowed them to catch a greater range of prey.There may be a moral there for us; surviving in changing conditions can require new technology and new organizations.
- 11:02 AM, 22 January 2004 [link]
Worth Reading: Economist Irwin Stelzer considers the two measures of unemployment, the payroll survey and the household survey, and comes down in favor of the latter. If he is right, we gained two million jobs last year, rather than losing 70,000. If he is right, the productivity figures look less amazing and we have more reason to worry about excessive spending.
The gain of two million, I should add, is not as impressive as you might think, since we have to continue adding about that many jobs just to keep the unemployment rate constant, because of population growth mainly from immigration, legal and illegal.
- 10:43 AM, 22 January 2004 [link]
The Bloated Budget: In 2000, I opposed Bush's budget plan, thinking that it relied on too optimistic estimates of spending and revenue. (Gore's proposals were even worse. Though he proposed smaller tax cuts than Bush, he proposed much larger spending increases. How much larger is uncertain, but independent estimates made his total of tax cuts and spending increases substantially larger than Bush's total.) Though I foresaw budget problems, regardless of which candidate was elected, I did not expect them to be this large.
Not all of this can be blamed on Bush or even the Republicans. The slump, which started before Bush took office, and the 9/11 attack both increased government expenditures and decreased government revenues. (And the Bush campaign team deserves some credit for recognizing that the economy was not doing as well in 2000 as most thought.) The additional spending for security and the efforts to stimulate the economy are moves that I approve of. But there is much in the budget that is pure waste, or pork. The Washington Post is right to criticize that, as they do in this editorial. But they immediately show what the problem is by recommending even higher spending for the projects they like in the editorial immediately following. If you took out the spending they named as wasteful and added the additional spending they argue for, the total would be larger than the current budget.
Robert Reich's column attacking Bush's proposal to strengthen marriage demonstrates why the Democrats will not be of much help. Spending is at record levels, and he complains that it is too low.
The best way to stabilize the American family and improve the odds that children won't be impoverished is to help women -- and men -- get better-paying jobs. That means, at the least, access to good schools and job training. Yet school budgets all over America are being slashed, funds for job training have been cut and community colleges are turning away many poor students. Government programs to promote marriage are beside the point.How much has federal spending increased on education while Bush has been president? Jonah Goldberg says 60.8 percent, which seems about right to me.
As the governing party, Republicans will have to take the lead in getting control over the growth in spending. If, as I expect, they win four more years of control in Novmber, they will have to take the punch bowls away and end the party. A veto or two of some of these spending bills will probably be essential to getting some control over the growth in spending.
- 9:56 AM, 22 January 2004 [link]
The General And The Private: Wesley Clark must never have heard that old political joke. Recently, he sneered at his opponent, John Kerry, for being a mere lieutenant.
Is Wesley Clark one tantrum away from a Dean meltdown? John Kerry staffers believe so, after watching Clark throw hissy fits on television when commentators and interviewers attempted to make the case that Kerry had a similar military career to Clark's. Clark has stated on several occasions of late that while he stayed with the U.S. Army through the Vietnam War, Kerry left military service to become a war critic. On other occasions, Clark has belittled Kerry's rank, saying he was merely "a lieutenant" compared to his rank of four-star general and pointing out in a fit of pique that unlike other candidates, including President Bush, "I won a war."That's not a good tactic for Clark, as the old joke shows. After the Civil War, two candidates were running for office in a Southern state, where the memories of the recent unpleasantness were sharp. At a debate, the first man to speak had been a general during the war and made much of it during his speech, touting his experience and belittling his opponent, who had been a private.
After he finished, his opponent got up and said, "It's true. My opponent was a general and I was a private. And that let me see a side of the war that he didn't. All the generals in the war should vote for him, and all the privates should vote for me."
- 8:31 AM, 22 January 2004 [link]
More On Pickering: A few days ago, I said that the opponents of Pickering had smeared him. Among those who smeared him were the editorialists at the New York Times. They had even less excuse than most, because, as this Washington Times editorial reminds us, the New York Times had shown, with its own reporting, how false the smears were
Judge Pickering has been depicted by groups like the NAACP and People For the American Way as an enemy of civil rights. But black residents of Laurel, Miss., his hometown, say these assertions are false. Two years ago, New York Times correspondent David Firestone conducted scores of interviews with black residents of the city. He wrote that "on the streets of his small and largely black hometown, far from the bitterness of partisan agendas and position papers, Charles Pickering is a widely admired figure." Blacks praised him for helping to set up after-school programs in the city and for directing federal money to low-income areas. Black city officials praised him for persuading white-owned banks to lend money to black entrepreneurs.One charge came up again again and is still being used in campaigns, notably that of John Edwards.
On his Web site, Mr. Edwards repeats a most egregious smear against Judge Pickering: that he "took extraordinary steps to reduce the sentence required by law for a man convicted of cross burning." But the facts of the case are as follows. In January 1994, three hoodlums burned a cross on the lawn of a house. Two of the three—including the apparent ringleader and chief organizer of the cross-burning attack—received a sentence of six months of home detention and one year of probation. Judge Pickering urged prosecutors to reduce the sentence of the third, less culpable defendant, who had been sentenced to seven years in prison.Senator Edwards, who has not shown much capacity for shame, should be ashamed of that smear.
- 8:22 AM, 21 January 2004 [link]
State Of The Union Speech: I didn't watch much of either the State of the Union speech or the Democratic reply. My usual practice is to read important speeches, rather than see them, unless I want to evaluate the delivery. I did see enough of the reply to wonder, as I have before, why Nancy Pelosi's face looks so frozen. Roger Simon, or more accurately, his wife, screenwriter Sheryl Longin, has the answer: Botox. That makes sense since Botox works, as I understand it, by paralyzing the area where it is applied.
(I'll have something serious to say about the speeches in a day or so.)
- 7:54 AM, 21 January 2004 [link]
Sometimes Saying Nothing is the best policy. By not making a prediction, I avoided looking foolish, like many famous journalists, including Mickey Kaus, Ruben Navarette, and Gregg Easterbrook. (Would I have gotten it right had I made a prediction? Maybe, though that is easy to say now. I am inclined to go with the polls, flawed as they are, when I have no proof they are wrong, and the polls did show Kerry surging.)
With 20-20 hindsight, Dick Morris points out what should have been more obvious before the election.
The history of politics has always suggested that when one candidate attacks the other and the fire is returned, they both go down and the third - and fourth - candidate soars into the lead. Never has this been more true than it was in Iowa.This point is easy to forget when analyzing primaries with more than two candidates. If we apply it to New Hampshire, then we would expect other candidates to gain at the expense of Kerry and Dean—assuming they direct most of their fire at each other.
Tom Bevan makes another point with this ideological analysis of the caucus attendees. Kerry beat Dean in every group except "very liberal", and they constituted only 17 percent of the attendees. Those who think that we are polarized should note that, even in this group of Democrats, who are to the left of their party as a whole, fully 37 percent describe themselves as "moderate" and 6 percent describe themselves as "conservative". The (relatively) high turnout, about 120,000, probably brought out more moderates and independents than usual. More than half (55 percent) were first time attendees, and 19 percent described themselves as independents. (The caucus rules allow a person to sign up for the party at the door, if they were not previously registered as a Democrat.)
- 7:23 AM, 21 January 2004 [link]
Bush Landslide: That's what a University of Massachusetts political science professor is predicting.
Addressing a regular meeting of the Berkshire County Republican Association at the Berkshire Athenaeum last week, Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, an associate professor of political science at UMass-Amherst, used the results of various polls to back up his contention that Bush's margin of victory will be wide and that the GOP will garner 15 to 20 additional seats in Congress.I don't see anything implausible about the prediction—assuming the economy expands as most economists predict it will. You can find my own, similar prediction here and here.
Almost as interesting as the prediction is the fact that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has a Republican political science professor. Maybe he's their token.
- 6:57 AM, 20 January 2004 [link]
Churchill's Parrot is still alive, and has not changed her opinions about Hitler and the Nazis.
Her favourite sayings were "F*** Hitler" and "F*** the Nazis". And even today, 39 years after the great man's death, she can still be coaxed into repeating them with that unmistakable Churchillian inflection.Not bad for a bird that is at least 104 years old.
- 6:21 AM, 20 January 2004
Correction: The story now seems to good to be true, as I explain here.
- 4:09 PM, 25 January 2004 [link]
The Instapundit has a round up of opinions on the Iowa caucus results. I plan to take a look at the data and may have more to say, later.
- 6:12 AM, 20 January 2004 [link]
Fox News Is Reporting that John Kerry is leading in the first "vote", the entrance polls conducted by the networks. They are giving him 29 percent, trailed by Edwards at 22 percent, Dean at 21 percent, and Gephardt at 16 percent. Fox is also saying that there are fewer union members and a higher turnout than expected. This is, of course, just the first "vote" and an entirely unofficial one.
- 5:37 PM, 19 January 2004 [link]
The Word "Caucus" has an uncertain origin. The first documented use was in the name of a political club in Boston before the American Revolution. Some think that the name came from an Algonquin word, "kaw-kaw-was", meaning to talk. Safire's New Political Dictionary says the word comes from an Indian word meaning elder or counselor. And my American Heritage dictionary says that it may come from a medieval Latin word, caucus, meaning drinking vessel.
The principal meaning of the word is meeting, but it is also used to describe party organizations in legislatures, and, by extension, group organizations in legislatures and elsewhere.
The British borrowed caucus during the 19th century, but changed the meaning from meeting to organization. It was first used to describe Liberal party organizations, and has a meaning there close to the American political "machine"
- 5:24 PM, 19 January 2004 [link]
Organization Will Determine The Winner In Iowa: That view is "probably correct", according to David Yepsen, who has been covering Iowa politics approximately forever. Which is why many think that Dean, who has a strong organization in Iowa, will win there. David Hogberg has his own claim to expertise in Iowa politics. He agrees on the importance of organization, and expects Richard Gephardt to win, since he also has a good organization and Dean has peaked in Iowa. Chris Suellentrop says that it depends on turnout; at high enough levels, the caucuses become more like a primary. I am skeptical that the turnout will reach the highest level mentioned in the article, 160,000, since that would be 100,000 higher than in the last Democratic contest.
Given the uncertainties of the polls, the complexities of the process, and the narrowness of the race, I have no idea who will win and make no prediction. Tom Bevan of RealClear Politics made the same decision for the same reasons.
In the same post, Bevan had a fascinating tidbit on Carol Moseley Braun, who endorsed Dean last Thursday. She will receive $20,000 a month for expenses, as she travels around speaking for Dean. It is not unusual for candidates who drop out and endorse another to receive help with retiring campaign debts, but this arrangement does seem both generous and unusual.
- 9:05 AM, 19 January 2004 [link]
Mickey Kaus has more on the four votes (at least) that will be taken in the Iowa caucuses.
1) The entrance poll taken under the auspices of a six large news organizations--call them Big Press--and their group, the National Election Pool. This completely unofficial count simply questions caucus-goers as they enter the caucuses at 6:30 in the evening.Is that clear? If not, you probably still know more than most network anchors, and certainly know more than they will explain on TV. (I am not terribly critical of the anchors for that; some subjects, including this one, simply can not be easily explained on a network news program, under the usual constraints.)
Scroll down a bit from Kaus's description of the four votes and you'll see some explanations of why the polls are likely to wrong, particularly Zogby's.
Finally, Kaus has different standards for the candidates than I do. He favors John Edwards, while I think the North Carolina senator is unqualified. Last year, in this post, I pointed out that Senator John Edwards has "[n]o relevant education, experience, or accomplishments". He has never been the head of any significant organization, public or private. (And I disagree with Kaus's character rankings, too. I would criticize them in detail, except that he doesn't explain how he arrived at them.)
- 7:49 AM, 19 January 2004 [link]
More Fun With Google: The popular search engine has added features that allow better searches on numbers. For example, if you search on a zip code, Google will give you pointers to maps of the area from Yahoo and MapQuest. It can do the same thing for area codes. And, although I didn't check them out, the article says that it responds intelligently to searches on flight numbers (with the airline), Postal Service tracking numbers, vehicle identification numbers, and universal product codes.
- 7:20 AM, 18 January 2004 [link]
Most Journalists Are Democrats, as you can see from their pattern of political donations. Probably. Unfortunately, Kurtz and the Post did not make their entire list of contributions from employees of major news organizations available. But of those he does mention, there are about twice as many donations to Democrats as Republicans. It is, I am sure, just a coincidence that Kurtz begins by listing mostly contributions to Republicans.
Some of the contributions, notably those to Congressman Billy Tauzin and Senator John McCain, may have been intended to influence legislation. The two are the chairmen of the commerce committees, where much of the legislation that affects news organizations is considered.
- 6:00 AM, 18 January 2004 [link]
President Bush Made His First Recess Appointment of a judge, naming Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Pickering had first been rejected, on a party line vote in the Judiciary Committee, after the Democrats took control of the Senate. When Republicans regained control after the 2002 election, Bush resubmitted Pickering and he passed out of the Judiciary Committee, again on a party line vote, only to be blocked from getting a vote in the full Senate by a Democratic filibuster. The vote to end the filibuster, 54-43, shows that Pickering almost certainly had majority support in the Senate, though not the 60 votes needed to end debate.
Supporters of Pickering claimed that he had been smeared by his opponents during the fight over his confirmation. From all the evidence that I saw, the supporters were right. Pickering had strong support from blacks who knew him in Mississippi, where he had taken some brave stands over the years in support of civil rights.
Bush's choice of Pickering, rather than some of the other nominees who were blocked by filibusters, shows a nice sense of politics. It was important to make at least one recess appointment, to help make the political case on the subject of judges. (The issue probably helped the Republicans win Senate seats in Georgia and Missouri in the 2002 election.) But, Bush would not want to do this many times because it infringes on the Senate's prerogative to confirm appointees. Pickering probably had more personal support in the Senate than any of the other nominees and was widely believed to have been treated unfairly during his confirmation. This makes it safer for Bush to give him a recess appointment, rather than some of the other nominees with more impressive academic credentials. Finally, Pickering will probably retire when his recess appointment expires, which make further argument moot.
(The law professors at the Volokh Conspiracy found the choice of Pickering puzzling, as you can see here and here. That's because they are thinking legally, rather than politically. Pickering may not be as brilliant as Miguel Estrada, who was blocked in a similar way, but he is a much safer choice politically.)
Finally, you can see just how politicized this issue has become from this New York Times article and their editorial on the same day. Neither the article nor the editorial is willing to admit the most important point about the fight, that a majority of the Senate, including a few Democrats, favored Pickering's confirmation. The editorial repeats many of the smears against Pickering, even though the editorial writers should know how dubious they are.
- 4:37 PM, 17 January 2004
More: This Washington Post editorial is fairer to Pickering than the New York Times editorial, but gets the essential point wrong: There is every reason to believe, contrary to the editorial, that Pickering would "garner a vote of confidence from the Senate". Democratic senators certainly thought so; that's why they refused to allow the full Senate to vote on the nomination. Apparently the editorial writers at the Post don't read their own newspaper.
- 5:11 AM, 18 January 2004 [link]
Iowa Caucus Rules Are Complex: If you are curious about the procedures in the Democratic caucuses, here's a description from Saletan and Schiller, along with this warning:
This time, the vote isn't national or final, but it will go a long way toward determining the alternative to Bush in November 2004. The vote will take place in Iowa Monday night. More than 100,000 Democrats will go to precinct caucuses to select a nominee for president. Which candidate will get the most votes that night? If the race remains close, you'll never know.At this point I would say that you may never know, but history and the strange rules used by the Iowa Democratic party give considerable reason for their pessimism.
- 7:17 AM, 17 January 2004 [link]