I find it, as grave somber Senate Democrats like to say, "troubling." Indeed, I find it not just "troubling" but sad that a party once so good at "the politics of personal destruction" has got so bad at it. The last time they had a Supreme Court nominee to hang upside down in the Democrat bondage dungeon was the John Roberts hearings. And at least, when hatchet man Chuck Schumer professed himself "troubled" by the "fullness" of John Roberts' "heart," the crack oppo-research guys had uncovered an "inappropriate" use of the word "amigo" by Roberts back in the early '80s.
But, with Sam Alito the worst they come could up with was that he might have been around some other guy who might have used the word "amigo." Not back in the early '80s, but in the early '70s.
That's it? It's a tragedy to watch once-fearsome attack dogs spend a week chasing their tails because they're "concerned" about the "Concerned Alumni of Princeton" though, of course, these days one's heartened to find Sen. Kennedy still capable of chasing tail. Still, would it be too much to ask these guys to put in a little rehearsal time and practice grilling themselves in front of the bedroom mirror:
Sen. Leahy (D-Vt.): "I find it troubling that as a young man you joined an all-white club affiliated with a national institution that has a very troubling historical pattern when it comes to the treatment of minorities."
Sen. Leahy (D-Vt.): "Yes, it's true I joined the Vermont branch of the Democratic Party in the 1950s. But, I mean, I never met George Wallace or Robert C. Byrd or anyone . . ."
Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.): "I find it, uh, troubling, uh, that as a, uh, grown man you were a, uh, member, uh, of an, uh, organization, uh, with, uh, a, uh, very troubling, uh, track record on, uh, the treatment of, uh, women."
Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.): "Yes, it's, uh, true I was a member of the, uh, Kennedy family."
Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.): "Please don't interrupt. And it's, uh, true, is it not, that you've, uh, made, uh, jokes that could be regarded as, uh, inappropriate and offensive to, uh, women, uh, you've, uh uh, known?"
Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.): "Well, uh, I named my dog Splash, but, uh, other than, uh, that, uh uh..."
It seems unfair that only Sam Alito should get to play this game. Couldn't somebody develop some software you could stick in your DVD and play "Senate Confirmation" at home? You'd sit on the sofa and a hologram of Joe Biden with eerily lifelike adjustable hair would hector you for hours on end for being uncooperative ''C'mon, old buddy, throw me a bone here, willya?" while your spouse bursts into tears and flees in terror.
Even smear tactics require a certain plausibility. When you damn someone as a big scary mega-troubling racist misogynist homophobe and he seems to any rational observer perfectly non-scary and non-troubling, eventually you make yourself ridiculous. The boy who cried "Wolf!" at least took the precaution of doing so when there was no alleged predator in view. If he'd stood there crying "Wolf!" while pointing at a hamster, he'd have been led away for counseling. That's the stage the Senate Democrats are at.
More "troubling" for the party, the whole scarified routine is over something of ever more doubtful political value. Throughout last week's hearings, the Democrats had five key concerns: abortion, warrantless wiretaps, abortion, abortion and abortion. Neither abortion absolutism nor constitutional protection for terrorists resonates with the broader public and, indeed, going on cable TV round the clock for a week to flaunt such peculiar fixations only makes them look ever more disconnected from reality. When Ted Kennedy & Co. were demanding that the ancient records of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton be subpoenaed, I received a fluttering of e-mails comparing the Dems to Sen. McCarthy. But Red-baiting, unlike partial-birth abortion, had the advantage of public support.
During the Roberts hearings, I compared the Senate Democrats to Lord Cardigan's poor doomed dragoons facing the Russian guns in Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade":
"Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die . . ."
The poor fellows had no choice but to sacrifice themselves on national TV at the behest of NOW and Daily Kos and the kookier parts of the base. It was said of the British Tommies in the trenches of the Great War that they were lions led by donkeys. In the Democratic Party, the old lions are now led by the grassroots donkeys, and, like some moth-eaten circus act, Ted and Pat Leahy and Dianne Feinstein are obliged to jump through ever more ludicrous hoops for the gratification of the base.
The media did their best to neutralize the impact of this pitiful spectacle, with expert commentators on hand to assure us that smart fellows like Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden were only going through the motions for the sake of all that MoveOn.org fund-raising gravy. Don't worry, Ted and Chuck and Pat are way too savvy to believe this junk. Thus democratic politics reaches a new level of circular hell: The spin is that it's only spin.
As I understand it, with the Jack Abramoff dirty-money stuff, lobby groups give big bucks to politicians to advocate various things which, pre-check-cashing, the politicians may or may not have believed in. But this last week of Senate hearings has been so absurd it may bring the whole system into disrepute: Big-time Democrats are out there dancing for dollars in a cause so obviously non-viable that their media buddies feel obliged to signal that it's merely a charade. Does that satisfy anybody? If you were one of the elderly feminists at NOW, would you take kindly to hearing that the Democrat bigshots don't believe any of this shtick, it's just a routine they have to go through to keep the little ladies happy?
Michael Barone made a characteristically sharp analysis the other day about the political impact of the Internet: "The left blogosphere has moved the Democrats off to the left, and the right blogosphere has undermined the credibility of the Republicans' adversaries in Old Media. Both changes help Bush and the Republicans." That's very well put. On the left, new media have only yoked the Dems ever more tightly to old weaknesses not least on national security and foreign policy. This November will be another bust.