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Oliphant and Kristol

August 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, for insight and analysis into the latest on Roberts and other political high points of the week, Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant, and Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard. Mark Shields and David Brooks are both off tonight. And we’re so glad you’re both with us. So, Bill, how important politically are all these pages of documents that have come out?

BILL KRISTOL: Well, I’ve studied, of course, all 38,000 pages.

MARGARET WARNER: Just like Jan.

BILL KRISTOL: Yes, thank God Jan is here. They don’t seem to me to have made much of a difference at all. I’ve always thought that the majority of Democrats would oppose Roberts, who will be a conservative justice, not a radically conservative justice, but a conservative justice, but Roberts will have some Democratic support and all the Republicans, and he will get through, I think.

MARGARET WARNER: Tom, do you think any votes are hanging in the balance based on what’s coming out in these papers?

TOM OLIPHANT: No, I don’t think, Margaret because I don’t think that’s what’s going here. I think the effort is to maybe go against tradition for a change and try to see how much of a portrait, an accurate portrait one can draw of someone in advance of his arrival on the Supreme Court. I do think these documents are helpful in that they show a young man in the middle of attempts at making the Reagan revolution succeed. What’s important about that is that it helps make the case for those who want to know more about what he did when he had a policy-making position in the Solicitor General’s Office a decade later. It sets the stage for what I think will be a very lively fight over access to documents involving important decisions he was involved in.

MARGARET WARNER: So you think the issue that Jan spoke about at the end, about getting those documents, you think that has legs? You think there are senators who would hold up the nomination?

TOM OLIPHANT: Well, what I find a little bit interesting, and I’m curious how Bill analyzes it, but there is a very specific request here. It is not a general fishing expedition request. Senators, particularly Leahy and Edward Kennedy, have taken this collection of material from the Reagan years and used it as the basis to request documents involving 16 cases that he worked on in the Solicitor General’s Office as the number two man and try to make a factual case that in order to know what his record truly is, the Senate deserves access to these materials.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you want to comment on that? I wanted to ask you about Leahy, too, and his– you know, when the Roberts nomination was made four weeks ago, the Democrats were incredibly cautious. Well, he sounds like a fine man; we’ll reserve judgment. This week, you had Sen. Leahy, the lead Democrat on Judiciary, calling him among the most radical on civil rights, women’s rights, privacy and so forth. What happened?

BILL KRISTOL: What happened is there was a front-page article, I think in the Washington Post, saying it looks like Roberts is going to go through pretty easily. He may get as much as 70 votes. The Democrats aren’t doing much to oppose him. And there was a huge uproar in the left-wing blogsphere, and the interest groups, and suddenly the next day Sen. Leahy makes remarks that I don’t think were previously scheduled that he’s outraged by Roberts and in fact I think says he’s going to lead the opposition to him.

I think most of the Democratic Party does not want to be on record voting for a man to go to the Supreme Court who will be a pretty conservative judge, and I think there’s enough pressure from the interest groups that a certain number of the Democratic senators will be outspoken in their opposition. I think a certain number will vote against but will be mild mannered and polite. I would say Sen. Clinton, for example, might take that tack, and then I suspect Roberts will get a dozen or so Democrats and, as I say, will make it through pretty easily.

TOM OLIPHANT: I would suspect he would get more than that. And I think he may get votes from people who will be very active in this effort to unearth his record in the Solicitor General’s Office.

MARGARET WARNER: But, Tom, address the point Bill brought up about how strong is the pressure or how deep is the tension between the Democratic activist groups and the elected Democrats in the Senate on this?

TOM OLIPHANT: Right, I think Bill had the chronology correct, but I’m not sure cause and effect was working there. I mean, politicians are used to this kind of pressure on the left and the right, and the Democrats aren’t unique in this regard. And I actually think there are different perspectives and different priorities here.

For the politicians, I think there’s an understanding that this battle is not ever going to be fought in terms of whether or not Judge Roberts goes to the Supreme Court — absent some findings — something that we don’t know about now. But rather that he not be seen before he goes on the Supreme Court as an impartial arbiter who weighs constitutional principles as if he were almost an academic; that in fact this is a person with deep roots in the political conservative movement and can be expected to follow those roots into the Supreme Court, and that if we knew more about him in the Solicitor General’s Office, you could see even more how conservative he is so that people don’t have any illusions about him ahead of time — not unlike Scalia, not unlike Anthony Kennedy. There was no doubt what these guys represented before they were voted on. I think you could say the same about Ginsberg and Breyer. It’s the difference between whether or not you’re trying to block a nomination or whether you’re trying to accurately portray what a guy is like.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way, not only is there no smoking gun in the documents, but there’s no expectation of a smoking gun, a Bork-like smoking gun?

BILL KRISTOL: I’m sure the groups have their hopes. They’ve tried to make John Roberts’ lawyer’s joke a great offense against feminists and I am sure there will be more than that. Look, I think what’s happening here is the liberal groups want to rough up Roberts as much as they can to try to say to say to the president, when you get your next appointment, presumably to replace the Chief Justice, you can’t appoint someone more conservative than Roberts. Even Roberts, let’s say there are 35 votes against — so, please, stay moderate. Move even more moderate. Don’t appoint Michael Rudick or Mike McConnell, that’s what’s really going on here. And I think the liberal groups are intelligent in that respect. They are right to do as much as they can not to block Roberts but to get votes against Roberts to try to persuade the White House– I don’t know if it will work– that the White House can’t afford a really tough fight for an even more outspokenly conservative judge.

MARGARET WARNER: I’m going to switch us to the politics of Iraq. Tom, what do you make of the Cindy Sheehan phenomenon, the mother of the slain American soldier who, until yesterday, was camped at President Bush’s ranch, outside it, and there have been more than 1500 antiwar vigils spurred by her? What’s going on here?

TOM OLIPHANT: Well, of course, we don’t know yet whether or not the situation may be frozen because of her abrupt departure from the scene last night because her mother is extremely ill in California. To answer your question, I think it makes sense to suggest that America’s about to meet another woman. Her name is Patricia Roberts, and she comes from Georgia, and her son was the first kid from Georgia to die during the invasion. And she’s been active in opposition to the American involvement in Iraq since her son died two years ago. And she apparently is on her way to Texas to fill in for Cindy Sheehan. I don’t think this has anything to do broadly with antiwar sentiment or even bring the troops home. I think, through an odd confluence of events, Cindy Sheehan became a metaphor for America’s impatience, frustration, and ambivalence about the continuing American involvement. It’s much bigger than her. And I don’t think it has anything to do with antiwar sentiment, per se. That’s involved, but that doesn’t account for the phenomena.

BILL KRISTOL: I think it’s grotesque. I think the left has found a new weapon to oppose the president and the war, and that weapon is martyrdom, and they are using the death of a soldier in this case and the mother’s grief over that death to try to, obviously, rally support, as Mrs. Sheehan has made perfectly clear to get the troops out of Iraq. Her complaint isn’t that we aren’t grieving enough over these young men and women who have died; it’s that President Bush isn’t following her preferred policy alternative. Tom mentions this woman from Georgia whose son died. We’ll see how much attention the media pays to Linda Ryan, the mother of a Marine who died, who’s very offended by what Mrs. Sheehan is saying. Are we going to now pull out competing mothers, competing widows? I think — it’s just grotesque, I think.

TOM OLIPHANT: Believe me, I appreciate Bill’s frustration with this because in many ways, the phenomenon has gone beyond Mrs. Sheehan, and will go beyond Ms. Roberts because of what she evoked as an American reaction not to the war itself but to President Bush’s problems in talking about the war, in explaining what’s going on and telling us how much it’s going to cost and telling us what’s going to happen next. There is a disconnect in the dialogue between the government and the people on the war. And just for the record, Mrs. Sheehan went down to Texas with a relative and a lawn chair on her own dime. And the groups came out after she arrived.

BILL KRISTOL: That’s not true. Mrs. Sheehan has been active in antiwar activities for a year. She’s a member of an antiwar group. She was on Nightline eight months ago arguing against the war in Iraq.

TOM OLIPHANT: That is entirely correct, but what I’m saying is that she went to Crawford. Moveon.org did not go to Crawford, and the media’s handling of this is itself an interesting phenomenon, Bill. And President Bush, who has enjoyed fawning coverage when his poll numbers were high, is about to experience the other side of that and that is that your press coverage tends to be lousy when your poll numbers are lousy.

MARGARET WARNER: Bill, do you think whether her phenomena is connected to the broader antiwar movement or not do, you think this is another case where pressure is being put on some of the Democrats in Congress by the grassroots wing of the party?

BILL KRISTOL: Yeah, two points. The war isn’t going well, and the president has troubles in Iraq, and I think he should do a better job of executing the policy, which I happen to support. But that’s one issue. The second issue is whether Mrs. Sheehan will help the antiwar movement, and I don’t think so. I think she’s going to be tough for the Democratic Party. She’s going to– she and her supporters– and there are many, and if you read the liberal blogs and they are really enthused by her, she’s the leader of the antiwar movement now. There will be pressure on Democratic senators and congressmen to support her position, which is withdrawal from Iraq. And I think that’s a tough– I’m not sure that’s a position that the leaders in the Democratic Party want to be in. We’ll see what people like Sen. Clinton and others, how they handle this.

MARGARET WARNER: Brief final comment for you on that point about Democratic politicians. Sen. Feingold this week –

TOM OLIPHANT: There is exactly one Democratic senator who is even in favor of setting a date. There are a handful of Republicans and Democrats in the House who are in favor. This is not an antiwar movement. It is a frustration movement.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. We’ll leave it there. Tom and Bill, thank you both.