Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kagan Wrap-Up 2

Odds and ends from two days of hearings...

1.  The GOP, or at least a significant portion of it, really does appear to be becoming the party of McCoughey.  The hallmark of the McCoughey method was to read the fine print in legislation, grab something out of context, and make the strongest possible claim against it.  Such things are rather easily debunked...but they prove to be remarkably difficult to stay debunked, especially within closed media loops.  That seems to be the case, according to a nice Greg Sargent explanation, of the "veggie clip" that's being circulated by conservatives to "prove" that Elena Kagan is a totalitarian or something like that.  I think, although I don't have the patience to track it down, that the same was true about the abortion material the Republicans were pushing on the second day of questioning.  The thing is that the combination of open government and the internet really has enabled a whole army of Betsy McCougheys to have access to full bill text, hearing transcripts, and even as in the case of this nominee memos and emails stretching back years.  Of course, with all those people looking at all that material, of course they'll "find" something.  I don't want to exaggerate the dangers of this -- health care reform, after all, passed despite the "death panels."  Still, it's something to be aware of, and it'll be interesting to see how pols in general choose to either embrace or resist the garbage that's gonna be out there. 

(Just to be clear: a certain amount of hype and rhetorical overkill strikes me as benign, and even in some cases beneficial.  To say that someone who in fact supports affirmative action is for quotas or to say that an actual pro-lifer is for back-alley abortions and throwing doctors and women into jail....well, those are exaggerated consequences derived from real policy positions.  What I'm talking about here goes well beyond that, however).

2.  Rumor had it that a big liberal counterattack was coming from Senators Franken and Whitehouse.  Their questions seemed fine to me, but hardly dramatic.  Guess not.

3.  The idea of "give us our country back" continues to be rather difficult for pols to turn into useful rhetoric, as seen in the incredibly silly "thirty years ago" question from Senator Coburn.  As I had some fun tweeting, Coburn's 30 year cutoff falls awkwardly, for him, right at the beginning of Ronald Reagan's presidency.   This had the presumably unintended effect of casting Coburn as the celebrator of all things late-1970s, with the American paradise of the Jimmy Carter years apparently undermined by Reagan and the Rehnquist Court.  The problem for conservatives is that there's no good place for them to set the "X years ago" date without either looking like raging racists (if X brings them back before 1965), or, if they want to move things way up, as indifferent to the Bush recession.  Senator Klobuchar's Senate-centric protestations notwithstanding, 1980 probably does the trick of avoiding too much bigotry (at least against African Americans and women, Coburn presumably less concerned about gays and lesbians), but as I said it's just silly for Coburn to use 1980 as the date of The Fall.  Of course, this is because the whole idea that "we remember growing up in a freer America" is nonsense of one sort or another, no matter how well it may play with various conservative constituencies.

4.  I've suggested that a better way of conducting these things would be to pick two Senators  from each party as lead questioners.  As a blogger, and as a live tweeter of the proceedings, I obviously have a personal preference for Senators Sessions and Coburn because they're easiest to play off of, but if we want relatively informative hearings, I'd nominate Hatch and Graham from the GOP, and Schumer and Cardin from the Dems...others who I think would be up to it on the Dem side would be Feinstein and Durbin, and I think the junior Senators on the committee -- Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Kaufman, and Franken -- are all very capable.  It's a bit hard to tell with the Senators at the end of the line, because all the best questions have already been asked, but Kaufman and Klobuchar, I thought, did quite well.

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