With most movies today worth about one-twentieth of the $7.50 that theater owners charge -- had to get that off my chest, sorry -- few Americans will know the good old phrase "put a shot across her bow," once familiar to all who patronized the good old "fighting sail" movies no one makes anymore.
A "short across the bow," Matey, meant, pull over, someone bigger than you was taking charge. In these circumstances, you were supposed to "strike your colors," awaiting the pleasure of the better-armed vessel, which otherwise would "send you to Davy Jones' locker."
Across George Bush's bow, just as Congress adjourned, went a ball sped by the Democratic-controlled Senate Commerce Committee as it defeated the nomination of Mary Sheila Gall to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Well, you say, what was wrong with Gall? She'd been on the commission since the first Bush administration. She was reappointed by Bill Clinton. She was a woman. Try and feature a Republican-controlled committee turning down the nomination of a woman -- an excess permitted Democrats only because of their labors in behalf of a "woman's right to choose." Down went Gall, on the theory advanced by Democratic Sen. John Edwards, the North Carolina trial lawyer now exploring a presidential bid: "Instead of trying to make products safer, she blames consumers, parents and caregivers."
She's reluctant to regulate. That would be another way of putting it. But the philosophical substance of this matter doesn't bear scrutiny. The committee's business was only in a marginal sense the defeat of a regulatory skeptic. The larger business at hand was the signal to George Bush -- pull over, strike your colors, await the pleasure of those who control process in the U.S. Senate.
Bush, after some notable success with the House of Representatives, went home last week to Texas for R & R. The House passed a compromise "patient's rights" bill -- bad enough in its own way but better (i.e., less governmentally intrusive) than it started out. The Bush energy plan advanced with passage of an energy bill encouraging development of Alaskan lands.
Still, as everyone knows, the duplicity of "Republican" Sen. Jim Jeffords, put the Senate in Democratic hands; so that Democratic-controlled committees now enjoy, among other attributes of power, the ability to throttle Republican nominations. This power they already are using -- as with the nominations of John Negroponte as ambassador to the United Nations and Elliott Abrams for a State Department policy post. Both men, in the '80s, got on the wrong side of Democratic Latin American policy, which insisted that communist activity in Central America was nothing to get worked up about.
More to the point, Democrats want to let the Bush administration know that any judicial "conservatives" it recommends for federal judgeships will come to a bad end.
Democrats and Republicans alike understand that, contrary to any notions we might have picked up in the fifth grade, non-elected federal judges rule the country, deciding principles of "justice" on which nobody else ever gets to vote. Judges have come to outrank congressmen and senators, not to mention presidents.
Thus, it matters deeply to Democrats that only the "right" kind of judge gets on the bench -- the kind likely to smile on measures that expand federal power. Give us that kind, the Senate Democrats say -- in part via the assassination of Mary Sheila Gall -- or stand by to repel boarders (another favorite phrase from the "fighting sail" movies).
The president should get plenty of rest during this, his summer break. A pretty good run George W. Bush has had so far, but from the look of things, he needs one more election, and the resumption of Senate control, to wrap things up. It comes to this: Senate Democrats really don't like him. They hope to mess up as much of his agenda as is humanly -- or unhumanly -- possible.