- - Thursday, January 12, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Only the terminally high-minded are qualified to break precedents, and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is qualified, at least in his own mind, to break hoary Senate tradition to testify against a colleague up for a presidential appointment.

The pain for the Senate Judiciary Committee was that Mr. Booker didn’t have anything new to say about Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Trump nominee for U.S. attorney general. He nevertheless took a long time offering tributes to himself. Mr. Booker said he was driven, at great pain, to speak up for principle and his conscience, even if it upset his colleagues, the men and women he works with every day on the Hill.

He need not have worried. Some of those colleagues on the Judiciary Committee panel looked grateful for the opportunity to nod off from time to time at the end of a long afternoon with no scheduled nap time. What he had to say was more about himself and the liberals — “progressives” as they want to be called after abusing “liberal” for so long — and how they twist and manipulate the words and positions of those with whom they disagree.

Mr. Booker demonstrated why he is regarded on the Hill as more “show horse” than “work horse,” stepping forward to lead the Democratic senators to smear the Sessions nomination with partisan goo when nobody else wanted to do it. He no doubt imagines that he has collected a stack of chips for cashing with progressive partisans on a later day.

Mr. Booker’s practiced outrage, such as it may be, is not about moral differences with Mr. Sessions, whom he has lavishly praised on other occasions, but political differences. Mr. Booker regards political views unlike his own as evidence of deep-seated bigotry, and this would prevent Mr. Session from enforcing the law as the attorney general.

The Booker outrage is transparently selective. On past occasions he has eagerly shared the stage with, worked with and praised his colleague from Alabama, but told the panel that his conscience forces him now to speak out even if it means offending his colleagues. “In the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country,” he said, “I will always choose conscience and country.” No Eagle Scout ever recited a bromide better.

Such rhetoric promised something noisy to come, but anyone still listening to what followed would have been underwhelmed. Whelm was scarce indeed. There were no revelations for the next day’s headlines. All he had to say was that because he’s a conservative and a Republican, Mr. Sessions should be rejected because conservatives and Republicans (and particularly conservatives and Republicans from the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon Line) are, well, you know, racists.

That’s the battle cry on the left, which has been rejected by the fair and the just who understand that people can differ on how best to achieve shared ends. The weakness of Mr. Booker’s contrived outrage was underscored by other witnesses with the same message: Republicans are misanthropic racists who cannot be trusted because Democrats and liberals don’t like their views. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, seemed surprised by the NAACP’s low view of Mr. Sessions in particular and Republicans in general. “I hope,” he said to Cornell William Brooks, the president of the NAACP, “that doesn’t make us all racists.”

Mr. Booker and his like-minded obviously think it does. The Sessions hearing has given them an opportunity to vent, and we hope they feel better now, and that the senators can get on with the confirmation of Jeff Sessions, who will make a superb attorney general.


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