Monday, January 30, 2006

The New York Times just posted an article about the Alito battle called "Two Nominee Strategies. One Worked." It says what you'd expect -- the Democrats' failed to connect while jabbing at Alito about his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton and his decision not to recuse himself in a case involving Vanguard.

But there's also this:

...Democratic aides said their party had initially expected Judge Alito to live up to his reputation as "Scalito," suggesting a conservative firebrand in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia. Failing to adjust to his meekness, Democratic aides admit they searched too hard for scandal in Judge Alito's past....

Instead of a fearsome "Scalito" whom Democrats had initially expected, Judge Alito appeared timid and bland in the face of the Democratic questions, the aides said. "Instead of some brash, confrontational figure in the mold of Robert Bork, we got a quiet, studious guy you almost felt sorry for," [Jim] Manley [a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid] said.

What is Manley saying -- that Alito's personal style was unknowable? That it was impossible to find video of him, to meet with people who know him, to draw inferences from senators' own meetings with him? The Democrats thought he'd be snappish, but they were just guessing? Even after meeting him?

And why did they assume he'd be a Bork? Very few people are as unpleasant and arrogant as Bork, and it was a safe bet that even a nominee who's naturally unpleasant and arrogant would have the rough edges sanded off by Bush administration handlers before the hearings.

I find that, outside talk radio and the blogosphere, very few Republicans lash out. Some of them just aren't the type; the rest skillfully and cynically deploy soft-spokenness, phony somberness, a cornpone gee-whiz quality, or some combination of the three to convey the sense that they're Boy Scouts and their opponents are sewer rats. Think of Dick Cheney: He never raises his voice, and he deploys sanctimoniousness brilliantly -- he always seems to be deeply pained at the nature of the Democrats. He cares about you. He cares about how horribly you'd die if Democrats had power. Cheney's a thug who cynically plays a tough but folksy grandpa on TV. Like Spiro Agnew, he's the VP as attack dog, but most of America doesn't even seem to know he's an attack dog.

Republicans are good at this. We can't get them rattled, so we have to assume that the public will never see them, personally, as monsters. That's why we need to attack them on substance. And maybe we have to learn how to seem pained and self-righteous at all times, and how not to get rattled. In other words: We need to (a) seem nicer and (b) hit harder.

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