- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ever since prolonged attendance at “the world’s greatest deliberative body” during the Clinton impeachment trial, my general line on the U.S. Senate has commended New Zealand’s example: They had a Senate, and they abolished it.

But, until that blessed day, I would have been quite content for the John Roberts confirmation hearings to go on another six months, couple of years, half a decade, until the last registered Democrat on the planet expired in embarrassment at the sheer maudlin drivel of it all. It was obvious on the first day about 20 minutes in — i.e., about halfway through Joe Biden’s first question — that the Democrats had nothing on Judge Roberts. But they’re game guys and, like the fellow in a tight spot in a caper movie, they stuck their right hands in their pockets, pointed them through the material and pretended they had a real gun in there. By the second day, their pants had fallen down, but they bravely stood there waggling their fingers at the nominee and insisting they had enough firepower to blow his head off.

New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, began with some observations about Judge Roberts’ “troubling” record on “the issue of civil rights.” Ah-ha. “Many of us consider racism the nation’s poison,” he said sternly. And then he dropped the big one: 25 years ago, Judge Roberts had inappropriately used the word “amigos” in a memo.

I yield to no one in my disdain for Mr. Schumer, but at that moment my heart went out to him. If I had been president, I’d have declared his mouth a Federal Disaster Area and allocated $200 billion so the Federal Emergency Management Agency could parachute in a reconstruction team to restore his tongue to its previous level of toxicity.

Alas, two days later the watery gush that had transformed Mr. Schumer into his own devastated wetland had still not dried up. He had pretty much abandoned the racism angle of the inappropriate “amigos,” though he trotted out some boilerplate about how it reflected the “misguided” and “cramped view of civil rights professed in the early Reagan administration.” But by Day Four, he had moved on to “the question of compassion and humanity,” telling the judge he had grave concerns about “the fullness of your heart.”

And what was Exhibit A for the heartlessness of Judge Roberts? Well, back in the early ‘80s, it seems he wrote this memo containing the word “amigos” … .

Oh, dear. With enemies like Chuck, who needs amigos? Whatever happened to the party’s fearsome forensic skills at “the politics of personal destruction”? Granted, blathering on about how, if the other guy doesn’t agree with your views, he must be deficient in “compassion and humanity” is a lot of baloney even by mawkish Democratic standards. But, if you’re going to twitter about the fullness of somebody’s heart, why get Chuck Schumer to play Sen. Oprah? He has the shifty air of a mob accountant, even with every intern on his staff holding onions under his eyes. Likewise, sneering at Judge Roberts’ life of privilege may be a smart move, but not if you entrust it to Dianne Feinstein, one of the wealthiest women in the galaxy.

But, like Lord Cardigan’s 13th Light Dragoons facing the Russian guns at Balaclava, onward they rode into the Valley of Death — or the Valley of Continuous Cable News Coverage, which boils down to flogging your dead horse through a Valley of Living Death. As Lord Tennyson wrote:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die ?

Well, OK, scrub the “theirs not to make reply” bit. The senators were making reply before Judge Roberts had said anything. Indeed, they seemed reluctant to let him get a word in. Asking 25-minute questions is a sound strategy if you’ve got chapter and verse, such as: “In 1958, you were dismissed from an old folks’ home in Cleveland after the food-poisoning deaths of 11 residents; in 1963, you were fired from a boys’ summer camp in the Adirondacks for inappropriate touching; in 1965. …” But here the interrogators had nothing. And, in that scenario, your best shot is to ask short questions and give the guy all the time in the world to answer in hopes he’ll wander carelessly into some infelicitous subordinate clause. Hey, he might even use the “a” word again if we get real lucky, amigo.

But these guys seemed to be locked into some anything-you-can-bloviate-I-can-bloviate-longer contest of their own, a nightmare reality show of “Senatorial Survivor” where none of ‘em ever gets voted off the island.

The champ, of course, is Delaware’s Joe Biden, whose laborious regular-Joe routine — hey, howjadoin’, ol’ buddy, ol’ judge, let’s talk baseball — is only marginally undermined by his apparent unfamiliarity with whatever working-stiff metaphor he’s employing: quizzing Judge Roberts on America’s national pastime, Clueless Joe managed to get the Strike Zone wrong.

I love the Biden shtick. Remember the Alberto Gonzales confirmation hearings? “We’re looking for candor, ol’ buddy,” scoffed Joe. “I love ya, but you’re not very candid.” Years back, when he ran for president, Mr. Biden was tripped up for plagiarizing the then British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. Now he’s plagiarizing the interrogation routines from “NYPD Blue.” I’m sure they’ll keep that “I love ya, buddy” line when he and Dianne Feinstein sign on for their new good cop/bad cop routine in the dinner theatre revival of “Hill Street Blue State.” “C’mon, buddy, you know I love ya, but you don’t want me to bring the broad back in, do ya, amigo, hey?”

Meanwhile, despite retinues larger than the average Gulf emir, few senators seemed engaged enough by anything other than their own emoting to order their minions to rustle up some questions on judicial philosophy. We’re now told most Democrats will vote for Roberts in order to give themselves some bipartisan cred before they Bork the president’s next nominee. That sounds like feeble spin to avoid getting flayed by the moveon.org types.

But maybe it’ll go better for ‘em next time. Or maybe it’ll just be another rote slog through “troubling” stuff no normal person or his amigo cares about. Or maybe Mr. Bush will nominate Marcel Marceau so the bloviators can talk over the nominee to their hearts’ content, hammering away with the Gone-With-The-Windy speechifying until they collapse momentarily exhausted and M. Marceau does 3 seconds of his man-feeling-his-way-round-the-inside-of-a-box mime before the infuriated Mr. Biden interrupts: “C’mon, ol’ buddy, gimme somethin’ to work with here, you know we love ya but buy us some peanuts an’ Crackerjack, amigo … .”

Better luck with the second nomination, Senator. As they say in baseball, two strikes, you’re out.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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