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In the ad, which airs in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the former Massachusetts governor says Americans must clean up “the ocean in which our children now swim.”

Actually, instead of water pollution, he is referring to the troubling culture that surrounds America’s children today.

“Following the Columbine shootings, [former Reaganite] Peggy Noonan described our world as ‘the ocean in which our children now swim,’ ” Mr. Romney explains in the ad. “She describes a cesspool of violence, and sex, and drugs, and indolence, and perversions.”

Empty Souter?

As president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, former Senate Judiciary Committee Counsel Ed Whelan, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, regularly examines judicial milestones from a “this week in history” perspective.

It was 17 years ago this week, he points out for example, that nearly 34 years of “liberal judicial activism” on the Supreme Court ended when Justice William J. BrennanJr. announced his retirement.

As ABC News legal correspondent and author Jan CrawfordGreenburg described it: “For conservatives, Brennan’s retirement gave the first President Bush the chance of a lifetime,” a “rare moment when a conservative president was positioned to replace a liberal giant,” and it “would give conservatives a dramatic opportunity to cement their majority and firmly take ideological control of the Court.”

But, she added, “the president did not want the kind of bruising fight over the Supreme Court that Ronald Reagan was willing to endure.”

As it was, Mr. Bush quickly nominated the now mostly liberal voting David H. Souter to fill Justice Brennan’s seat.

John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washington