If by some bizarre twist of fate the Senate fails to confirm Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, I have a suggestion for President Bush's next pick: Ted Kennedy.
After all, if some Democrats can make a federal case out of Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton -- target on his inclusion of that membership in a resume he submitted 20 years ago and present failure to remember being in the group -- then I'd like to see how they tackle Chappaquiddick.
(For you kids, the Massachusetts senator drove a car into the drink in Chappaquiddick in 1969. Kennedy swam away, passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, drowned. The accident was tragic. Kennedy's behavior afterward, however, was criminal. Rather than rushing to police after the 11:15 p.m. accident so that they could try to rescue Kopechne, Kennedy went back to his hotel. He did not call police until the next morning. Kennedy said he delayed because he panicked and was in shock. Many suspect he spent those hours trying to construct an alibi. After an investigation probably less intense than the Democrats' vetting of Alito's resumes, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. A judge sentenced Kennedy to two months, suspended.)
I've never understood what senators were thinking in allowing Kennedy on the Judiciary Committee in the first place. While Kennedy seems to consider himself a champion for the little guy, he is a walking tribute to a system that, in its low moments, allows the rich and powerful to get away with crimes that would put others behind bars. He is a discredit to the system.
In 1991, Kennedy had to scrunch down in his seat when his colleagues accused now-Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
On Wednesday, Kennedy seemed like a crazy man when he suggested that the committee subpoena records relating to Alito and the Princeton alumni club. I know some people who don't buy Alito's "no specific recollection of that organization" answer. For my part, the older I get, the more credible I find it when other people claim lapses of memories.
In the end, this is all about smear. Some Democratic senators, like Dianne Feinstein, are ready to stick to the issues. I respect her questions. Alas, others -- like Kennedy -- dive deep into the sewer to make Alito look bad. They put what he did or said decades ago under a microscope. If they can't make Alito seem racist or sexist, they dig for some association, no matter how negligible, with a racist/sexist group. If Alito says he wasn't aware of how insidious the group was, he's lying -- or, critics intone with knowing cynicism, it's fishy.
For years, I've heard Kennedy fans say that it's a cheap shot to dredge up Chappaquiddick. Forgive and forget about Kopechne, they say-- but not the Concerned Alumni of Princeton.
That's why Bush should nominate Kennedy if Alito doesn't make it. There is no such thing as a cheap shot on the Senate Judiciary Committee.