What NPR’s Intellectually Lazy Brand Of Crossfire-Lite Really Says

As I hear Katrina vanden Heuvel rip Alito to shreds on NPR’s All Things Considered (as I type this!), arguing that he’ll absolutely for sure roll back decades of Civil Rights legislation, etc., etc., I’m struck by the disconnect between how the (NPR caricature of the) “Left” is portraying the nominee versus what seems like a more sensible reading of this nomination.

I think I have a new axiom: When Katrina vanden Heuvel serves “from the Left” on NPR’s brand of Crossfire-Lite, know that the issue is all about nothing . . . she very rarely sounds passionate about anything in this contrived format.

(Incidentally — and parenthetically — National Review’s Rich Lowry is on the other side right now and I tell you, he sounds a lot more believable than vanden Heuvel, who is basically phoning it in.)

So by way of prediction, I think this Alito character will be confirmed no problem, and the partisans on the “left” will waste too much political capital and/or vital oxygen on a fight not worth fighting. And just so you know, the disconnect between what partisans say and the reality on the ground is what makes Contrarians. And, yes, that’s a threat.

By way of an update, not only does Katrina vanden Heuvel make me want to read National Review but her flat, uninspired Democratic talking points make me want to follow links from the National Review, and — wouldn’t you know it? — I’m becoming more convinced that the Democrats are wrong on this one. Thanks, Katrina! You ought to work for your boyfriend Karl!

Justice Alito

The Alito nomination has but one purpose, we can all agree: appeasing the base and thereby getting the “big mo” back in Bush’s direction. Bush likes to lead, he hates to drift or follow. I’m not convinced that a big cave-in to the base is actually “leading,” of course. But that’s how it will be interpreted. It will return us all to a familiar Washington rhythm: Bush nominates extremist > Democrats are split on how to oppose > Right-wing base labels them as unpatriotic > extremist is confirmed. A rhythm as soothing as the waves breaking on a beach.

As an aside, it is disappointing that we’re down to one woman on the Supreme Court. And not because of “quotas,” or some such nonsense. The fact is, a woman’s right to choose has become the single paramount issue of the court, at least in terms of public perception. Regardless of your politics, wouldn’t you feel better if there were a few more women making that decision?

P.S.: Roe is still more or less safe for a couple of reasons. One, Chief Justice Roberts said in his confirmation hearing that Roe is settled as a precedent. That leaves us with Scalia, Thomas, and now probably Alito looking to overturn, right? So the American Taliban is still two votes short. Second, as has been mentioned often, Roe is a great mobilizer for the GOP. They wouldn’t want to lose that.

P.P.S.:I guess I should be proud that there are now two Italian-Americans on the Supreme court. We’ve come a long way from Sacco & Vanzetti. It’s a shame, of course, that they have to both be extreme conservatives. But unfortunately that’s how minorities get ahead in America: by playing against type. It’s also how Republican Hollywood actors get elected to office with such surprising consistency, but that’s a discussion for another day!

Got Scooter Fatigue? Stick With Us For A Sec!

I’m this close to succumbing to Scooter Fatigue, but before that happens, I’d like to point to this article in New York Magazine. I do this for two reasons — one, because New York Magazine is not half bad these days and two, because writer John Heilemann gets at the broad brushstrokes that make this whole scandal halfway interesting:

Over dinner the other night at the St. Regis—not far from where Judy Miller and Libby held their infamous assignation—a longtime Republican operative outlined for me, in koanlike form, the three-step program he believes Bush must now pursue: “Change the people, change the subject, and absolutely feed the base.” Helpfully, and not incidentally, the withdrawal of Harriet Miers’s nomination offers a ready avenue to achieving two of those objectives: By putting forward a barking-mad ultracon choice for the Supreme Court (one with impeccable credentials, mind you, in the mold of Scalia or Bork), Bush can shift the locus of controversy away from Fitzgerald and Plame while simultaneously appeasing the right. Yet among some Republicans there’s a palpable sense that this may not be enough—which brings us back to Cheney.

Even three months ago, talk of showing Vice the door would have been met with derisive laughter. But now there are signs, however faint and subtle, of Bush’s distancing himself from Cheney—and with them murmurings in various quarters about Condi or McCain. The case for the former is simple: Bush loves her, and it would be historic. The case for the latter is less straightforward but arguably more compelling. With McCain, Bush could legitimately claim to be cleansing the Augean stable. He’d be getting a foreign-policy expert (and one who, unlike Cheney, disapproves of torture). And, given the dynamics of the GOP, the party of primogeniture, Bush would be, in effect, selecting his successor as the Republican standard-bearer in 2008.

Given Bush’s grasping attachment to Cheney, no sensible person would bet the rent on his doing any such thing. And yet one can’t help but wonder if their relationship will ever be quite the same. For the past six years, Bush has heard ad nauseam that Cheney is indispensable to him: that without Cheney’s counsel, his skill at playing the Washington game, and, most of all, his competence, Bush and his administration would be lost. Yet now it emerges that the myth of Cheney was more than a little overblown. The man, it turns out, wasn’t even competent enough to run a decent black-bag operation, let alone transform Iraq. We hear endlessly that Bush’s most deeply ingrained trait is his bedrock sense of loyalty. But sticking with Cheney is no longer about loyalty. It’s about sheer desperation.

So, yeah, Heilemann hedges his bets — it’s Condi or McCain except for if it’s still Cheney! — but this morning’s news about the Scalia-esque Samuel Alito makes him look pretty smart, no?

Dirty Hands

Via Seattle Monorail Blog, an Interesting op-ed in the Seattle PI on why voting for the monorail is the least bad option. Bottom line: you can’t just keep opposing things. We need answers, and the monorail is the only one that’s been proposed, planned, and vetted:

In the four years since the Nisqually earthquake, anybody with doubts about the monorail has had an open floor and a ready audience for other ideas. Too bad the podium’s been empty.

Say what you will about the SMP — and I could say a lot — they got their hands dirty. They spent 8 years (and nearly $200 million) hammering out a plan. The plan is far from perfect, but they’re getting there. The SM Blog also notes that the new plan has cut costs by 64%: from $11B to $3.9B. And they’re still going to get 80% of the ridership: 57,000 daily vs. 69,000. And, at 10.6 miles, 78% of the original plan.

Isn’t that a pretty good deal?

2008 and Withdrawals

Maybe it’s just Friday, and I can’t think straight, but I’m puzzled. There’s all this talk about the various Democratic senators’ evolving positions on the Iraq war will position them for a Presidential run in ’08. Hillary and Biden say “stay the course,” but otherwise keep their mouth shut. Feingold (and now Kerry) argue for a phased withdrawal by the end of 2006.

Two obvious questions:

1. Why are we even debating this when the military generals on the ground agree that we’ll be mostly gone by the end of ’06? Given the logistical issues of extracting nearly a quarter-million military and support personnel, the difference between “staying the course” and “cutting and running” seems to amount to whether the last troop will leave in late November or early December of next year.

2. Given that, why are these guys even bothering to get this specific? They won’t have to start campaigning in earnest until early- to mid-2007, so why even stake out a position and get bogged down in a quagmire? My gut says that this is what Hillary’s more or less decided to do. See how events play out, and don’t go on record with too many criticisms. I understand that there’s early left-wing support to be had by speaking out, and that may be a prime motivator. But we all know Kerry’s going to run again in ’08, so he really doesn’t have anything to prove. So why not just sit back, let events unfold, and play it as it lies?

At The Helm

Yesterday, I posited that Hollywood’s closeted atmosphere made it inherently conservative and wondered when the world will know and accept an openly gay leading man. Today, my prayers have been answered:

George Takei, who as helmsman Sulu steered the Starship Enterprise through three television seasons and six movies, has come out as a homosexual in the current issue of Frontiers, a biweekly gay and lesbian Los Angeles magazine.

Takei told The Associated Press yesterday that his new onstage role as psychologist Martin Dysart in “Equus” helped inspire him to publicly discuss his sexuality.

The 68-year-old actor said he and his partner, Brad Altman, have been together for 18 years.

Takei, a Japanese-American who lived in a U.S. internment camp from age 4 to 8, said he grew up feeling ashamed of his ethnicity and sexuality. He likened prejudice against gays to racial segregation.

“It’s against basic decency and what American values stand for,” he said.

Takei joined the “Star Trek” cast in 1966 as Hikaru Sulu, a character he played for three seasons on television and in six subsequent films. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1986.

Thank you, Sulu! (And thank you, Peter Shaffer, while we’re at it!)

See also: Official Website of George Takei.

Miered

Harriet Miers has withdrawn her name. Who will replace her? Does anyone even want the job?

Her official reason is that she wanted to prevent the Senate from seeing White House papers she (and the president) considered confidential:

Mr. Bush issued a statement in which he accepted Ms. Miers’s decision with regret, praised her “extraordinarily legal experience” and her character and said he agreed that senators were intent on gaining access to internal White House documents about her service. Surrendering such paperwork would undercut any president’s ability to get frank and unfettered advice from key aides, Mr. Bush said.

Most people are saying this is B.S., and that the real reason she withdrew is that the Republican base didn’t like her. But part of me is tempted to believe that there’s more to this “documents” angle than would appear. The President’s top aides might be indicted on criminal charges any day. The White House has had to deal with all manner of uncertain legal cases since 9/11, from eavesdropping to torture to enemy combatants. Is this really the right time to give the White House’s own lawyer — who we have to assume was knee-deep in all of this — this kind of exposure?

Update: Rich Lowry agrees with me. Let that be the last time I utter that sentence.

Be A Man!

If the White Sox hadn’t won last night, if the heads of Satans Incarnate weren’t on the chopping block, if the hurricane season of the century wasn’t underway and if deaths in Iraq hadn’t reached a somber, media-friendly round number, would we have paid more attention to the fact that a major sports figure has come out of the closet? Isn’t that a big deal? Isn’t that a step forward towards society’s ultimate recognition that homosexuality is and always has been a normal part of life? My only disappointment is that the sports figure wasn’t a man but rather WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes:

The only thing that outshines the exquisite diamond on Sheryl Swoopes’ left ring finger is the glow on her face as she discusses the love of her life.

It’s a love that the WNBA superstar has kept hidden for more than seven years. On Wednesday she “quit pretending,” disclosing that she is gay and in a committed relationship.

“I feel like I’ve been living a lie,” the Houston Comets’ star said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m at a place in my life right now where I’m very happy, very content. I’m finally OK with the idea of who I love, who I want to be with.”

Swoopes said she currently lives with her partner, former Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott.

The story was first reported in ESPN the Magazine, which hit newsstands Wednesday. She also announced an endorsement deal with Olivia, a lesbian cruise line.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out — and I think it will have a positive impact — because not only is Swoopes African-American but she’s also from a small conservative town in Texas:

While piling up accolades and accomplishments, the 34-year-old Swoopes said she dreamed about the day when she could attend an awards banquet with Scott on her arm.

“We have had to celebrate behind closed doors,” she said. “I don’t want to have to hide from the world anymore.”

But that’s not to say that she isn’t concerned about repercussions from her admission. She worries about her mother Louise, who has known for five years, but “doesn’t think it’s right.”

“She’ll probably never accept it,” Swoopes said. “But she’s dealing with it.”

And she is nervous about the response from her hometown of Brownfield, Texas, about 600 miles northwest of Houston, where cotton is king and Swoopes reigns as queen.

Not to mention what people will think right down the road in Lubbock, where she brought Texas Tech it’s only national championship in basketball by scoring 47 points in the final game in 1993.

“I worry about the reaction throughout the country, but I really worry about Brownfield and Lubbock,” she said. “Because they’re both small towns and Sheryl Swoopes is a local hero. Now what? I hope it doesn’t change. It’s important to me.”

Swoopes is perhaps the highest profile team-sport athlete to come out and follows two other WNBA players. Shortly before she retired in 2002, New York Liberty player Sue Wicks became the first active WNBA player to open up about her sexuality.

“I’m happy for Sheryl,” Wicks said. “I think all people deserve to be able to live their lives openly and honestly, and I applaud Sheryl for her courage.”

Former Minnesota Lynx player Michele Van Gorp, who no longer plays in the WNBA, also came out while an active player in July 2004.

(I think the key detail here is she’s a “team-sport athlete,” but I’m not sure why — Professor, perhaps some help here!)

But let’s get back to business — what if this was a man we were reading about? That would be really something — or not:

No man has ever come out while still active in the major leagues of football, baseball, basketball or hockey. If an NBA ever player did, commissioner David Stern said, there’d only be one question:

“How many points? How many rebounds? I think that it’s a non-issue.”

Which is what I was thinking the other day, actually. I was picturing a “Take Me Out” scenario in which the most-talented star on a baseball team is gay — and the news generally was well received (well, except for a key plot point . . . er, never mind). And wouldn’t it be that way because isn’t sports the closest thing we have to a meritocracy? What difference does it make if the star catcher or the star shortstop is gay if they’re hitting .320? (Sponsorship opportunities aside, that is, which is perhaps why in this big money era of sports it hasn’t happened yet.)

Come out, come out! There have to be other gay sports stars, right?

I was thinking about all of this because some colleagues and I were gossiping about certain Hollywood stars who may or may not be gay and refuse to come out of the closet. In the course of which, I made a prediction: a major male sports figure will come out of the closet before a leading man in Hollywood will because, owing to the large amounts of money invested in films and how producers probably think they must anticipate what middle America will tolerate, ironically, Hollywood is a much more conservative place.

Homosexuality in our culture will be acceptable when the film industry accepts a gay leading man. And that’s not because they’re homophobic but rather because they think the market is . . . or so they say . . .