Jewish World Review April 24, 2002 / 13 Iyar, 5762
Medal of diss-honor
One place Democrats and Republicans fail to find common ground is the exact whereabouts of America's cultural "mainstream." Is it, as Democrats claim, a locale where abortion rights, gay rights, multiculturalism and affirmative action are celebrated landmarks? Or is it, as Republicans believe, a quota-free zone where fetal rights, heterosexual marriage, and Western culture are revered? This dispute, brought to a nearly perfect mathematical stalemate by the 2000 election, has been largely overshadowed since Sept. 11, but that doesn't mean it has gone away. The battle of the mainstream rages on, hotter than ever, on the frontline 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 it's a good bet that it's not Patrick Leahy -- and not just because of his judicial philosophy. This hunch boils down to something more basic: the sheer, jaw-dropping grumpiness that drove Leahy to nix legislation awarding the nearly 400 police and firemen who gave their lives on Sept. 11 the first recipients of a new public-safety medal for valor that was created last May. According to a recent story in the New York Post, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman has refused for five months to bring a House medals-for-heroes measure to a committee vote -- "effectively killing it," as the newspaper reported. Looks like it isn't just conservative judicial nominees who suffer at Leahy's obstructionist hands.
But why the inexplicable and, dare we say, out-of-the-mainstream churlishness? In a statement to the newspaper, the Vermont senator explained that proper protocol hadn't been followed in parceling out the awards: 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.) According to the Post, Leahy aides also said that under the legislation creating the medal, "a maximum of only five per year are supposed to be doled out." Does that mean that either Leahy or his aides believe that there was "a maximum" of only five heroes on Sept. 11?
In the end, it turns out there was nothing here that a lot of bad publicity couldn't fix. After Leahy's "DISS-HONOR" of the heroes of 9/11 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 Bush's judicial nominees have to go through to get similar
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2001, Diana West