- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

One place Democrats and Republicans fail to find common ground concerns the exact whereabouts of the cultural "mainstream." This dispute, brought to a nearly perfect mathematical stalemate by the 2000 election, has been largely overshadowed since September 11, but that doesn't mean it has gone away. The battle of the mainstream rages on, hotter than ever, on the front-line of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That's where nine Senate Republicans, led by Utah's Orrin Hatch, try and try again to avert the vacancy crisis on the federal bench by championing Bush nominees from the conservative mainstream. And that's where 10 Senate Democrats, led by Vermont's Patrick Leahy, block Bush nominees, declaring that their very conservatism marks them as fish out of mainstream waters. Who's right? Who's got a finger on the American pulse?

No one will really know the answer until the next election, but we're going to bet it isn't Mr. Leahy and not just because of his judicial philosophy. This little hunch boils down to something more basic: the sheer, jaw-dropping grumpiness that drove Mr. Leahy to nix legislation that would have made the nearly 400 police and firemen who gave their lives on September 11 the first recipients of a new public-safety award for valor. As Judiciary Committee chairman, Mr. Leahy has refused to bring a House medals-for-heroes measure to a committee vote "effectively killing it," as the New York Post reported last week. Looks like it isn't just conservative judicial nominees who suffer at Mr. Leahy's obstructionist hands.

But why the inexplicable churlishness? The Vermont senator told the newspaper he killed the medals measure because proper protocol wasn't followed: The 11-member advisory board behind the Presidential Medal of Valor didn't recommend the medals distribution; just 409 members of the House of Representatives did. (The House voted unanimously last October to approve the medals bill sponsored by New York Democrat Joseph Crowley, whose fireman-cousin died in the attack.) And Leahy "aides also said that under the legislation creating the medal" written before September 11, incidentally "a maximum of only five per year are supposed to be doled out." Does that mean that either Mr. Leahy or his aides believe that there was "a maximum" of only five heroes on September 11?

In the end, it turns out there was nothing here that a lot of bad publicity couldn't fix. After Mr. Leahy's "DISS-HONOR" of the heroes of September 11 became a New York tabloid headline and after "getting flooded with complaints at his office," as a Post follow-up story reported the Vermont senator reversed himself and decided to bring the measure to a vote this week after all.

What a good idea. Still, it makes you wonder what Mr. Bush's judicial nominees have to do to get similar treatment.

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