Something unusual happened on the way to this week’s nomination hearings for Judge Samuel Alito: Reporters scoffed at the ridiculousness of Sen. Ted Kennedy. Notably, one columnist called his antics “meandering and listless” and suggested Mr. Kennedy is beyond his prime. It’s about time: Mr. Kennedy and his 1960s mental furniture cannot square a modern nominee, much less a conservative one. So the spectacle of an angry and rambling Mr. Kennedy yesterday accusing Judge Alito of “support for an all-powerful president” and other baseless charges can only increase the guffaws.
Since Judge Alito was nominated in November, Mr. Kennedy has been searching for a monarchical, racist or sexist dragon to slay in the hopes of creating a second Robert Bork. He tries to suggest he has found one, but everyone knows he hasn’t. Lately, his every flail and factual misstatement confirms it. But Mr. Kennedy still insists he hasn’t made up his mind how he will vote.
“Monarchical tyranny” might find a friend in Judge Alito, Mr. Kennedy speculated last week. An “unfettered, unlimited power of the executive” is what Judge Alito supposedly wants, per Mr. Kennedy. In a torrid and rambling Op-EdSaturday in The Washington Post, Mr. Kennedy then did his worst. He backhandedly accused Judge Alito of racism and sexism because he reportedly belonged in the 1970s and 1980s to Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a now-defunct conservative group. The group certainly sounds rearguard and retrograde. But Judge Alito cannot possibly be held responsible for the actions over many years of other people who happened to be members, at least one of whom has published racist statements.
The guilt-by-association logic shouldn’t fool anyone. Such logic takes the worst examples of other peoples’ behavior 30 years ago and applies them to Judge Alito as if “six degrees of separation” were the rule.
The guilt-by-association logic is always a dangerous one. If Mr. Kennedy were the nominee, perhaps a muckracker would happen upon his onetime membership in the Fox Club, one of Harvard’s so-called “final clubs,” which in the 1950s were havens for white, wealthy sons of privilege like Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy’s name was scrubbed years ago from the alumni list, according to club members. Perhaps that’s because at least a few racists or sexists must have been members — it was an old boys’ club in the 1950s. But no reasonable person can hold Mr. Kennedy responsible for the association.
He now wants to hang Judge Alito for something similar.
The racist, sexist dragon Mr. Kennedy wants to slay simply isn’t there. Judge Alito is an honorable public servant who has spent 15 years on the federal bench. Judge him on his merits as a public servant.