After the debacle nominating his old personal lawyer Harriet Miers to the Court, President Bush has chosen Judge Samuel Alito, a leading light among conservative legal thinkers. The operative question now is: Will this be "Armageddon," as some political analysts claim, the most knock-down, drag-out, knee-to-the-groin, multi-million-dollar alley fight in modern confirmation politics? Or will it be peaceful, more decorous, like the hearings and vote for Chief Justice John Roberts?
Liberals and Democrats have insisted that unless Bush's choice was soothingly squishy and moderate, there would be war. But that didn't happen with Roberts, and it might not happen with Alito, perhaps because early polls showed Alito's nomination was greeted favorably by the people. But that's quite a contrast with the picture being drawn by the press. Let's review some of the tactics the media already have employed:
1. Labeling mania. Reporters can't just describe him as conservative once, but conservative twice or three times. He is "staunchly conservative," "deeply conservative," and "solidly conservative." ABC's Jessica Yellin used the C-word five times in 50 seconds. CBS's John Roberts complained he would "wipe out the swing seat" of Sandra O'Connor on the court.
So what, you ask. He is a conservative, isn't he? True enough, but it points to an outrageous and continuing media double standard. When President Clinton nominated liberal feminist Ruth Ginsburg, a veteran of the ACLU, in 1993, she wasn't "staunchly liberal," "deeply liberal," or "solidly liberal." She was not described as "wiping out the swing seat" of Byron White, one of the two lonely votes against Roe v. Wade in 1973. Ginsburg was instead declared to be "moderate," "centrist," a "consensus builder." ABC legal expert Arthur Miller predicted she would be quite moderate, and he was utterly wrong. She is part of a solidly liberal bloc, voting for socially liberal results like invalidating the sodomy laws and sending the "gay marriage" debate into fast-forward.
2. Questioning the Catholics. AP religion writer Rachel Zoll set off alarm bells with a report reading "Alito Would Tip Court to Catholics," as if now America's laws would be reviewed in Rome by Pope Benedict. Zoll listed the Alito family's activities in their New Jersey churches -- he's been a lector, the wife teaches religious education -- as if they're danger signs of theocracy on the march. Another sign of the Vast Roman Conspiracy: Zoll noted that Justices Scalia and Thomas have been sighted "walking together to the court after attending Mass on holy days of obligation." Horrors! Reporters could do a little less of the scare-the-secular shuffle.
3. Nerdy Sports Worries. Snarky Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank, fresh from a profound analysis counting how many times the president blinked in an NBC interview, found it necessary to alert readers that Alito's shoe was untied at a recent Senate sit-down. Milbank's general thesis was that Alito's nomination was a revenge of the "nerds." The evidence, according to Milbank, was that Alito wore a baseball uniform as a Little League coach, had a picture of Phillies great Mike Schmidt on his wall, and went to baseball fantasy camp. "Are these not the marks of a nerd?" Leave it to a liberal newspaper reporter to totally miss the point. Coaching Little League and loving baseball makes you an appealing all-American -- unlike geeky liberal reporters who spend their Saturday mornings Wi-Fi-ing at Starbucks.
4. Intentional Distortions. Reporters constantly suggest judges vote like congressmen rather than judge. They pretend judges vote like congressmen. So Sam Alito voted against regulating machine guns, reporters say. No, he ruled that the interstate-commerce clause is hard to apply to gun sales entirely within one state, or to a gun converted from semi-automatic to automatic. Or Sam Alito voted that husbands had to be notified before their wives had abortions. (The cad!) No, he ruled that the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania could enact that law if the legislature voted for it, that it did not represent an "undue burden" for women to say, "Honey, I'm off to have an abortion."
ABC's Diane Sawyer breathlessly announced that on this decision, Sandra Day O'Connor said Alito "reflects a repugnant view of marriage. Women do not lose their constitutional rights because they're married." But O'Connor overstated the case, calling it a "veto," when the law only asked for notification, not consent. A majority of people supported this in Pennsylvania. A majority in America would say it's a repugnant view of marriage that a mother would make life-ending decisions about babies without notifying the baby's father.
We're still in the early stages of the game. Look for this one to heat up soon, with the media in the thick of things.