Spice Girl

Spice Girl

Spice Girl

Notes from the political sidelines.
Sept. 30 2005 1:48 PM

Spice Girl

How will the world ever learn to like America if it has to like Karen Hughes?

80_thehasbeen

Friday, Sept. 30, 2005

Socker Mom: Fred Kaplan  is right—if our goal is to change America's image in the world, could there be a worse choice on earth than Karen Hughes? She has trouble getting along with Americans.

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Karen Hughes is famous for message discipline. In the 2000 campaign, she coined the notorious slogan "Reformer with Results," which Bush slavishly repeated to overcome the real reformer in the race, John McCain.

But on her recent visit to the Middle East, the new undersecretary of public diplomacy mixed messages like a Foggy Bottom lifer. In Saudi Arabia, she stood up to the Saudis for not giving driver's licenses to women. The rest of the time, she tried to convince the Muslim world she was one of them, telling audiences over and over, "I am a mom and I love kids." As the Washington Post reports, she said in Ankara, "I love all kids. And that is something I have in common with the Turkish people—that they love children."

Give Hughes credit for using her bully pulpit to stand up for the rights of women. But she should leave herself out of it. The job of persuading other countries to like America again is uphill enough without having to convince them to like Karen Hughes. As reporters from the Bush campaign plane might point out, in Turkey, the children don't run away screaming.

So far, that seems to be the initial reaction to Hughes's trip on the Arab street. The Hughes spin: They may be running away screaming, but they're not driving.

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Red Light, Green Light: The Post runs a fascinating and creepy reaction from the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, which says that in the Arab world, the U.S. "resembles a woman of ill repute whom everyone wants to court, but only in secret." I have no idea what that means, but it doesn't sound like progress. They say America is a woman of ill repute. Hughes says America is a mom who loves kids and has a driver's license.

In interviews, Hughes sounds baffled why the president doesn't have higher ratings in the Arab world. Perhaps Americans and Arabs have more in common than we thought.

Hughes didn't make much headway this time, but she's determined to deliver a clearer message next trip. She's already come up with the new slogan: "Invader with Results."

Hanging Chavs: Hughes may not succeed in changing America's image, but the New York Times is determined to change the image of the Arab world. In a charming story about Britain's "Lotto Lout," a 22-year-old bad boy who has been to court 30 times since winning $15 million in the lottery, the Times introduces a new breed of drunk, rowdy Brits called chavs.

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According to the Times, several celebrities fit the made-for-tabloid chav profile, including soccer star David Beckham, his Spice Girl wife Victoria, and "Jordan, a former topless model who recently traveled to her own wedding in a Cinderella-style carriage shaped like a pumpkin and pulled by six white horses."

Slate is a family publication—like you, we love children!—so naturally, I was surprised to see the Times online edition provide a hyperlink for a topless model. That might be enough to change Mickey Kaus' mind about TimesSelect.

But when I clicked on the link, there were no topless photos of Cinderella. There wasn't even an overpriced archive with Times stories on Jordan's engagement and wedding. Instead, the Times link brought me to  this index of articles about Jordan, the country.

Look what Karen Hughes, master of press relations, has already accomplished in her short time on the job: The Arab press thinks the United States is a woman of ill repute. The American press thinks the nation of Jordan is a topless model.

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The hapless Times and the topless Jordan might want to consult the Web site Islam for Today, which devotes an entire page (with pictures) to the model's bad-girl exploits. "It is easy when faced with such a scenario for a Muslim to launch into a tirade about jahiliya and the evils of Western society," the site warns but counsels forgiveness and relief. "A Muslim woman need not suffer low self esteem and obsess about the contours of her body thanks to the Islamic requirement to wear modest, loose-fitting clothing leaving only the face and hands uncovered."

That gives Hughes another way to bond with the Muslim world on her next trip: "I am a mom and I love kids—and I'm not topless." ...10:46 A.M. (link)

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Thursday, Sept. 29, 2005

Et Tu, Eleanor?: It's too late now, but in her liberal advice column for Newsweek, Eleanor Clift makes the case for why John Roberts is the best a left-wing partisan could hope for. Her argument: "Roberts is a bland careerist with a fine legal mind whose heart may not be as big as his head," but he's the best bigheaded, heart-two-sizes-too-small bland careerist out there.

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Clift goes on to predict that in 10 years, Roberts will grow bored with the court and follow in Charles Evans Hughes' footsteps by running for president. Her source: the musings of former NBC Washington bureau chief Sid Davis. Not exactly Deep Throat, but he's the best bland source a left-wing partisan could hope for.

At first glance, the prospect that Roberts will use the court as a launching pad to the White House might seem a strange way to persuade Democrats to support his nomination. It's hard to imagine Chuck Schumer rushing to the Senate floor to inform his colleagues, "On second thought, while I still have no idea what kind of Chief Justice John Roberts will be, I have decided to support his nomination in hopes that he might one day leave the court and run for president."

Then again, maybe that's a reason Democrats should all have voted to confirm Roberts. With Bill Frist's candidacy in trouble, we can't count on the Republicans to produce a generation of bland careerists for us to run against.

Another reason to hope Clift is right: If Roberts has presidential ambitions, he might turn out to be a much better chief justice. The biggest whopper in Roberts's Supreme Court campaign was his claim that the court has nothing to do with politics, as long as justices reread the Constitution long enough.

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In truth, even judicially restrained justices have to cast up-or-down votes, often on issues for which precedent and the Constitution provide little guidance. The robe can't hide the fact that because of the power the Constitution gives the judicial branch, it's a political job with political consequences.

Bland Leading the Bland: If the Supreme Court is just his latest bland career ladder, Chief Justice Roberts may keep his word not to rock the boat. Even his young clerk consultants will know enough to warn Roberts that overturning Roe v. Wade would doom him in the general.

Unfortunately, just as we know so little about what kind of justice Roberts will be, we have no idea what kind of presidential candidate he'll be, either. His memos from the Reagan days suggest that he might run the wrong way: as the best bland careerist right-wing partisans could hope for.

That's a dangerous temptation for a calculating young chief justice. The Republican primaries would be a cakewalk for a candidate who can modestly say, "For years, politicians gave speeches promising you they'd do away with Roe v. Wade. I'm the one who got the job done."

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Either way, it's worth pumping up Roberts' presidential ambitions, just to picture his candidacy. He'll have to pick a slogan: "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!" or "E Pluribus Unum." He'll need a gimmick for his stump speech: Bob Dole's old trick of pulling out the 10th Amendment, or a Bush-like, "I raise my right hand and promise never to be an activist president, because chief executives don't legislate, they execute."

Best of all, imagine candidate Roberts in the debates: "It would be inappropriate for me to answer your question on that topic, or any other issue that might come before me as president." It's a shame Peter Sellers won't be alive to see it. ...  10:09 A.M. (link)

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Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2005

Leader Leave: Any propeller head can call for an immediate, mandatory evacuation of Congress. It took a grand jury in Texas to figure out how to make it stick.

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If Washington were the kind of town that took delight in other's troubles, the celebration over Tom DeLay's indictment would show the country that Mardi Gras is back. Democrats now have the perfect poster child for the Golden Age of political corruption. The press corps has a scandal that can lead the front page for months.

Even other villains have reason to smile again. Jack Abramoff can sing to his heart's content. On Letterman and Leno, Michael Brown can yield the balance of his time to the distinguished gentleman from Texas.

The Republican establishment is sure to attack the grand jury as politically motivated. As the Moose next door points out, that's rich with irony.

More important, it's a mistake. If House Republicans are smart, they'll offer up their dearly departed Majority Leader as the first trophy of Operation Offset.

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Republicans of every stripe should be thrilled to see him go. DeLay has consistently betrayed the fiscal conservatives with his penchant for pork. He betrayed the libertarians and the states-rights crowd by trying to send federal troops to save Terri Schiavo. He betrayed the anti-Washington wing by going native and selling his caucus's soul to the highest bidder.

DeLay is counting on the base to save him, but outside Washington, there can't be much of a base left for a corrupt, big-spending, Congress-as-usual leader.

Reform Party: While Republicans should be celebrating, Democrats need to keep their eyes on the prize, which isn't getting rid of DeLay, but getting rid of DeLayism. Gingrich didn't take back the Congress by bringing down Jim Wright. He led Republicans to victory by making the broader case that Washington was broken, and in desperate need of reform.

Gingrich was right that the political system is broken. But Tom DeLay's troubles won't bring Democrats any lasting joy until we show Americans how we'll deliver on the promise of reform. That means closing the revolving door,  cleaning out the hacks, and giving up the pork.

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It's not enough to swat the bugs away. This time, we have to drain the swamp.  ... 1:38 P.M. (link)

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Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2005

Vicious and Unprovoked Attacks: Mickey Kaus spent the past week on my case for half a sentence chiding the administration over using Katrina to advance conservative hobby-horses like suspending prevailing wage laws. The truth is, most conservatives got bored and fell off that horse a long time ago. But as longtime Kausphiles know, Mickey has never been one to look a gift hobby-horse in the mouth.

My point actually had nothing to do with prevailing wage laws or the morass of government procurement. In a detailed rebuttal to Mickey, Matthew Yglesias spoke for most people on both sides of that debate when he refreshingly admitted, "I don't really know anything about it."

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My beef is with the President's reflexive willingness to call out the hobby-horse cavalry in time of crisis. The nation has two imperatives in a crisis: first, stop the bleeding, and second, learn the right lessons from the experience.

A parade of hobby-horses from left, right, and center only tramples on both imperatives. For the past five years, this administration has honed what was already one of Washington's greatest skills: the ability to use dramatic changes as an excuse to follow exactly the same course it was on before.

A leader's job in a crisis is to rise above blind, reflexive, impenetrable debates that are a luxury even in calmer times. The Bush administration didn't waive prevailing wage law because they wanted to save the government some money. On the contrary, they can't write blank checks fast enough. They waived it because a group of conservative members of Congress saw a convenient opening to drive liberal members crazy.

Something Borrowed: It's not even a new reflex: Bush's father waived the law indefinitely after Hurricane Andrew in Florida. In Mississippi and Louisiana, the percentage of union workers is so small that the prevailing wages are non-union.

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Republicans attack the law as a vestige of the New Deal; Democrats defend it for the same reason. Some wouldn't know what to do if they found out that the 1931 law was actually written by a three-time Republican Secretary of Labor and signed by Herbert Hoover in response to fears about immigrant wages during the Great Depression. So much for the last conservative war on poverty.

Mickey Kaus is against prevailing wages because he wants a massive public jobs program, and thinks he can't sell it at that price. Matt Yglesias is for prevailing wages because he wants a strong labor movement, and thinks he can't have it without prevailing wage laws. The trouble for them both is that winning the argument over prevailing wages won't do much to help them get what they're really after. And like many debates in Washington, this is an argument that will never be won.

In the wake of an historic crisis like Katrina, the nation deserves new debates, not old ones. Rampant unionism in Louisiana and Mississippi seems lower on that list than the rampant incompetence in Washington and rampant poverty in New Orleans that the nation watched on television.

The Work Society: Three cheers to those on both sides, like John Edwards and Jack Kemp, who want to force a new debate on work and poverty. If the political world could suspend its reflexes long enough to learn something, Katrina offers ideal conditions for a genuine national consensus around a vision that John Edwards and Mickey Kaus share: that the best way to change the conditions and culture of poverty is to make work the central organizing principle of social policy.

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Like Jacob Weisberg, I would love to see a full-fledged conservative war on poverty. This President has been a rich man's LBJ – his view of policy is that if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it.

But if we're going to have a contest of ideas, let's have a real race, not a hobby-horse one. After all this time, surely conservatives can come up with more interesting ideas on poverty than a tired debate about repealing the idea they had 75 years ago. ... 2:28 P.M. (link)

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Monday, Sept. 26, 2005

Blame Game: Sources say that Rafael Palmeiro may never play baseball again, after revelations that he blamed his positive steroid test on an innocent teammate, Miguel "Miggy" Tejada. Palmeiro reportedly told an appeals panel that steroids entered his system through a vitamin B-12 shot Tejada had given him.

The B-12 shot tested negative for steroids, which is more than can be said for Palmeiro. Now he's a marked man in every clubhouse in baseball. Raffy can retire the steroids Triple Crown as the No. 1 liar, user, and narc.

When the Palmeiro scandal first broke, I wondered whether he was supplying his old friend President Bush with steroids. Now it looks like Palmeiro may have an even more prominent role: supplying Bush with political advice.

Over the years, almost every time Bush has gotten into trouble, he has pulled a Palmeiro and blamed his problems on Bill Clinton, even though—like Tejada—Clinton was the one with MVP numbers. When the president was asked at a press conference to admit a mistake, he pulled a Palmeiro and said he couldn't think of one.

Every political professional in America, including Karl Rove, could have told the president that being handed the chance to come clean about a mistake is a fat pitch to hit out of the park, not a time for the take sign. The one professional capable of giving advice that bad is an ex-Ranger who always takes the Fifth, Rafael Palmeiro.

The Inside Skinny: With his gutless finger-pointing, Palmeiro managed to look even worse than the other star to flame out over drugs last week: Kate Moss, the human being least likely ever to test positive for steroids. When London tabloids published photos of Moss allegedly snorting cocaine, she didn't issue finger-wagging denials or try to blame Twiggy. She took "full responsibility" and apologized for letting the public down.

Burberry and Chanel fired her anyway. Too bad Moss doesn't play for Peter Angelos.

According to MSNBC, the Church of Scientology offered to help Moss kick the habit. One British columnist wrote that it would be bigger news if a supermodel had snorted donuts.

But Fleet Street is still feasting on reports of Moss's "three-in-a-bed lesbian orgies," proving yet again that Palmeiro is wrong: It's possible to win the tabloid Triple Crown without steroids or Viagra.

The Shots Heard Round the World: The Palmeiro flap raises another question: How should we feel about B-12 injections?

Nobody told Kate Moss, but B-12 shots appear to be quite the rage in Britain. This month, a London Times reporter tried them with a couple of Type-A Brits who have become regular B-12 users. The threesome concluded that they had found the miracle cure for every ailment from fatigue to hangovers: "A week later we all reported the same outcomes: increased energy levels, better sleep and a feeling of sharpness."

The Has-Been does not endorse vitamin experimentation, especially with needles. Readers should be wary of any advice column that begins and ends with, "Drop your trousers." If you're not careful, you could end up in the Daily Mirror.

But, like Viagra, B-12 shots have an extremely well-known, if not quite as thoroughly discredited, proponent: Margaret Thatcher. According to her longtime aide, Cynthia "Crawfie" Crawford, Thatcher tried everything to extend her career: electric baths, whiskey, and vitamin B-12 injections in what the highbrow British press delicately calls her "Prime Ministerial posterior."

Some journalists credit the injections with giving Thatcher the fortitude to overcome sex discrimination as Britain's first woman prime minister. Crawfie claims she gave the injections to Maggie herself, just as Raffy claimed he got one from Miggy.

A Cautionary Tail: It's bad enough that when Barry Bond's majestic 460-foot homer landed a few rows away from us at RFK last Tuesday, we couldn't applaud as loudly as we wanted because of nagging doubts about steroids. Now, every time Tejada hits one out, parents will have to decide which moral lesson to teach their children: Never go near needles, or always take your vitamins—by whatever means necessary.

If Palmeiro is advising George Bush, was Tejada advising Margaret Thatcher? Tejada might well have wanted to dissuade her from invading his native Dominican Republic the way she had attacked the Falkland Islands. He could have sought her influence with Ronald Reagan to make sure the D.R. didn't go the way of Grenada. One possible catch: Tejada was only 14 when Thatcher left office.

Nonetheless, the two B-12 users share remarkable strength and stamina. Tejada remains a force to be reckoned with and has played in more than 900 consecutive games, the longest streak among active players and the sixth longest in history, behind Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig, "The Iron Horse."

Thatcher was the longest serving British prime minister since Lord Liverpool in the early 1800s and will always be remembered as "the Iron Lady." Or better yet, "the B-12 Plus Iron Lady."

Make Love and War: But the big question isn't about Miggy, it's about Maggie. Tejada's stamina is no surprise—he's only 29. Thatcher was 65 when she received her last official injection. At that age, it takes more than vitamins to extend your shelf life.

Could it be that the Iron Lady owes her legacy to more than whiskey and B-12? Is it possible that modern conservatism isn't a philosophy, but a drug protocol? Maybe Fleet Street is missing the real story: Margaret Thatcher is the one who hooked conservatives on steroids in the first place.

Coming Soon: Photos from the Daily Mirror's 'roid raid on Maggie Thatcher's three-in-a-bed lesbian orgies. Plus: Andrew Sullivan on "The New Conservative Synthesis." ... 6:57 A.M.(link)

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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005

The Wages of Sin: At first, like most Americans, I was appalled by the television images of irresponsible behavior and rampant looting. How could this happen—in America! But with the passage of time, I have come to understand, if not forgive. Dennis Hastert is right: Those members of Congress couldn't help themselves, and if you don't want to see their looting and reckless acts of desperation, don't watch C-SPAN.

Yesterday, House conservatives announced a project to repent of their wanton ways. "Operation Offset" outlines $100 billion in potential federal savings that could help counter the soaring relief costs of Katrina. As John Dickerson has noted, these fiscal conservatives are lonely, desperate people—and likely to stay that way.

The GOP plan is hardly a serious blueprint for deficit reduction. House members ruled out the most obvious routes back to fiscal responsibility—such as reconsidering the Bush tax cuts—in favor of such conservative standbys as auditing poor people and cutting Medicaid, teen family-planning, and public television. In a lovely piece of palace intrigue, House Republican budgeters even proposed a symbolic cut in staff funding for their counterparts down the street at OMB.

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But the most interesting aspect of Operation Offset is that it's like a rewind button for the last few years of Republican rule in Washington. It calls for delaying the Medicare prescription-drug bill, repealing the pork in this latest highway bill, and cutting homeland security funding for communities that are unlikely terrorist targets. Conservatives also would dump Bush's 2003 hydrogen-fuel initiative and scrap the moon mission the administration proposed just this week.

In fact, the list makes a convincing case that when it comes to destroying fiscal responsibility, natural disasters aren't the problem—Congress is the problem. The new motto for members of this Congress: Stop Me Before I Spend Again.

The Has-Been applauds the leaders of Operation Offset for these individual acts of courage and repentance. All of us can sit back in the comfort of our own homes and condemn what members have done in the past. But walk a mile in their shoes and ask yourself: Amid that atmosphere of chaos and moral breakdown, who among us would not have grabbed every scrap for our district that we could?

Compassion for Conservatism: In the new spirit of Operation Offset, the next Katrina package should include a good Samaritan provision to guarantee members who decide to oppose pork they once supported full immunity from charges of hypocrisy and flip-flopping. As the Good Book says, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the repeal of an earmark to go through committee.

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How could looting go on in the most indebted country on earth? Instead of condemning desperate individuals, we should lay blame where it belongs: on the failure of local leaders who should have known better.

Even now, those leaders are refusing to take responsibility or change their ways. Tom DeLay—whose performance, most would agree, has been a disappointment from the outset—warned that reopening the highway bill to cut pork would invite others to put still more pork back in.

That is our deepest fear: that the looting will happen again. Too many of the greatest offenders don't even consider it looting—they call it "borrowing."

Never Again: While we commend this new effort to learn from past mistakes, the most important lesson is to take all necessary steps to prevent disaster in the first place. This time, leaders must be willing to take the drastic measure that some experts have urged for years: an immediate, mandatory evacuation of Congress before it's too late.

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A complete evacuation will not be easy. Some members cannot afford transportation. Some will need money to get by. Force may be necessary for those who insist on staying put.

Yet we can no longer turn our back on this crisis, not in America. For too long, America has ignored the hard truth that we have "Two Congresses"—one that preaches endlessly about fiscal responsibility, the other that spends like drunken sailors. Many members live in one Congress, but are just a press release or subcommittee vote away from falling into the other.

This Congress cannot endure, half rich and half broke. If we don't do our best to get them out of there, we'll have to live with it the rest of our lives. ... 10:29 A.M. (link)

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Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005

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Oyez, Oyez: With the deadline looming for a vote on John Roberts, the Has-Been has spent the past 72 hours squirreled away with legal experts. A ruling is expected shortly.

Because Roberts' confirmation has never been in doubt, Democrats are having the usual trouble deciding how best to throw away our vote. Our motto: Give us two minutes, and we'll be of two minds.

Even the rather-fight-than-switch crowd has been slow to do either. In yesterday's Boston Globe, my famously pugnacious friend Paul Begala explained that Democrats running in the 2008 primaries will look weak if they vote for Roberts, while Democrats from swing states will look unreasonable if they vote against them. That means a Democrat from a swing state who runs in 2008 has the potential to look weak and unreasonable—leaving nowhere for the Frist campaign to go.

The Has-Been is prepared to rule on the political aspects of this case and finds in favor of the voters, who have too many other worries to care how Democrats vote on Roberts.

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Another heated debate within the Democratic caucus, as the New York Times noted Sunday, is how this vote will affect the next one. Some Democrats say a strong showing against Roberts will increase pressure on Bush to choose a reasonable nominee for the O'Connor seat. Others say that if they vote for this nominee, Bush will know they are free to vote against the next one.

On these tactical matters, the Has-Been rules that Democrats lack standing, because (like the voters) the president doesn't much care what Democrats think about Roberts. Whatever the margin in the Senate, Bush will strive to nominate another Roberts, preferably one who isn't white or at least has worn a dress since high school.

I've Looked at Clouds From Both Sides Now: So, the question of whether John Roberts should head the Supreme Court for the next half century will have to be decided on the merits. H-B will now hear from both sides.

Those in favor of Roberts, such as David Broder, make two basic arguments. First, Roberts is a lawyer's lawyer, with the résumé we all dreamed we'd have at 50. In a political era defined by Michael Brown and on a court defined by Antonin Scalia, supporters insist, Roberts' brilliance and modesty could help preserve our system of hacks and balances.

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Second, Roberts supporters contend that he's "not so bad." If you want someone better, they say, try winning the White House. He's too humble to be another Scalia or Thomas. Besides, how could anyone who speaks French and Latin embrace the right's agenda?

The case opponents make against Roberts is simpler: He hasn't made the case. Roberts used the hearings more like a gifted politician than a gifted jurist, ducking hard questions and deliberately leaving both sides in doubt as to what kind of justice he'll be. The Judiciary Committee should have adjourned the hearings midway through the first morning and announced that they had no further questions if Roberts had no further answers.

Snap, Crackle, or Pop: The Has-Been watched enough Perry Mason to know that when a witness like Roberts keeps pleading the Fifth, we're supposed to wait a moment before jumping to the obvious conclusion: He's guilty! Indeed, Roberts raised even more questions than Has-Been readers.

Is Roberts hiding his beliefs, or does he think it would be inappropriate to have some? Is he an ambitious young Reaganite, or an ump who calls them as he sees them? Is he a Scalia posing as a Rehnquist, a Rehnquist posing as a Souter, a Souter posing as an O'Connor, or an O'Connor posing as a Breyer? Or vice versa?

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Maybe Roberts will turn out to be a great chief justice; maybe he'll be a disappointment. Either way, he's not telling.

Roberts might have redeemed himself if he had offered a view on Bush v. Gore, the iron test between judicial restraint and activism. As his inquisitors pointed out, that case will never come before the court again—in fact, the court explicitly said it was not intended as a precedent. Every American alive in 2000 has an opinion on that case. By dodging that question, Roberts proved that whether he's a hack or a Holmes, he is trying to pull one over on somebody.

In the end, the trouble with the Roberts nomination is precisely why it has been such a political success: It was designed to be a leap of faith for both parties and even for all sides in both parties. Yet an administration that has been one leap of faith after another has lost its leap and run short of faith. It is hard to give the president the benefit of the doubt, when doubt is meant to be the benefit.

The Has-Been's final ruling: Oppose the Roberts nomination on the grounds that his refusal to answer questions does the one thing Roberts has said he would never want us to doset a dangerous precedent.

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Humble Tie: As a gesture of good faith, however, here's a last-ditch compromise that could win H-B's support. In return for a unanimous vote for Roberts, the White House should agree not to fill the remaining ninth seat on the court.

An evenly divided court is a dream come true for advocates of judicial modesty. If every vote is 4-4, the court will not only be unable to overturn settled legal precedents, it will be unable to establish any new ones.

The empty chair would serve as a silent reminder to the other justices that on the Roberts Court, their job is to interpret the law, not to legislate. If Roberts is a true champion of judicial restraint, he'll welcome the opportunity to bring the Supreme Court into a kinder, humbler era. ... 1:13 P.M. (link)

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Monday, Sept. 19, 2005

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Executive Training: Throughout the Katrina disaster, Americans have scratched their heads, wondering how the first president to graduate from business school and the first vice president to head a Fortune 500 company could do such a lousy job of running the government. Former Bush aides have found the answer: It's good for business.

Give conservatives credit: They're right to marvel at the power of the profit motive. Compare how Joe Allbaugh and Michael Brown, the former-roommates-turned-former-FEMA directors, responded to Katrina. Brown dithered enough to become the poster child for hack government. Disaster-chaser Allbaugh rushed to the scene, running the meter while his clients landed multimillion-dollar contracts.

Iraq offers the same comparison. Vice President Cheney has been roundly criticized for failing to plan for the post-war in Iraq. Yet the company he used to head responded with such dispatch that Pentagon auditors can't believe it could charge so much so quickly. With help from Allbaugh, Halliburton has been just as nimble in the aftermath of Katrina.

It's almost enough to make the Has-Been reach for a napkin and outline a supply-side theory of fiascos: Reducing the level of competence required to serve in government generates a huge increase in the amount of economic activity linked to bureaucratic incompetence.

Case Study: As it happens, a group of ex-administration hacks has just formed a new consulting firm to test this theory. On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that former Education Secretary Rod Paige and his top aides are launching a firm "to offer high-dollar advice on policies they helped create and later enforced."

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"It is not unusual for Washington officials to become consultants after leaving government," the AP notes, with wry understatement. "But this venture involves virtually an entire leadership team from President Bush's first term."

Other administrations might wince at the revolving door swallowing a whole department. This one may tout it as testament to the president's firm belief in vouchers.

Paige is a perfect test case of whether the private sector can improve a hack's performance. Long before anyone ever heard of Michael Brown, Rod Paige had retired the title of least-competent member of the Bush Cabinet.

On Paige's watch, the Education Department paid conservative columnist Armstrong Williams $240,000 to shill for its agenda. Paige denounced the National Education Association as a "terrorist organization," then issued a written apology attacking their "obstructionist scare tactics." He caused such a bureaucratic backlash with the department's tone-deaf implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act that even conservative states like Utah rebelled.

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Paige proves the Washington adage: Those who can, do. Those who can't, consult. The AP story suggests that while Paige and his team "did not have a reputation in office for showing the flexibility that many potential clients may want," they'll probably make a fortune off their connections, anyway. They used to be intractable bureaucratic hacks. Now they're the ones with an inside track to the intractable bureaucratic hacks who took their place.

The new firm's CEO, John Danielson, who was Paige's chief of staff, told the AP that the company will go after companies, states, and "even countries seeking American education as a model." This confirms H-B's longstanding belief that the quickest way to help American students do better against foreign students would be to convince more countries to adopt our educational methods.

If we can persuade China, India, and other competitors to scrap their rigorous systems in favor of the American model, our students will reap a double benefit. Saddled with our lax standards, long summer vacations, and mediocre schools of education, other nations will watch helplessly as their test scores plummet. Meanwhile, the more time America's education consultants spend abroad, the less damage they can do our students here at home.

Red, Blue, and Green: Of course, Republicans are not alone in profiting from their time in government; the revolving door has been far too good to plenty of Democrats as well. The major difference seems to be how much more Republicans seem to enjoy it.

As one Democratic lobbyist recently put it, most Democratic hacks view their time on K Street as a necessary evil to pay the bills between jobs in government, while most Republican hacks tend to see public service as a necessary evil on the road to private riches. Allbaugh and Paige are proof that while we may have seen the peak of the housing bubble, the Has-Been Bubble has just begun.

Last week, I recommended setting aside one backwater agency as a safe place to dump loyal, mediocre people. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has already found an official dumping ground for hacks: It's called the private sector. ... 1:49 P.M. (link)