Doing the Alito Shuffle By MAUREEN DOWD
January 11, 2006Op-Ed ColumnistWASHINGTON
You've got to like a man who knows how to juggle.Samuel Alito picked up the skill on a summer vacation a decade ago, and his juggling talent was on full display yesterday as he tried to balance the old Sam, who was eager to impress Reagan revolutionaries with his zeal, with the new Sam, who is eager to impress a bipartisan Senate panel with his open-mindedness.It was a tale of two Sams.Is he the old Sam, who devised ways to upend Roe v. Wade and crimp abortion rights? Or the new Sam, who has great respect for precedent and an "open mind" about abortion cases?Is he the old Sam, who plotted ways to tip the balance of power to the executive branch? Or the new Sam, who states that "no person in this country is above the law, and that includes the president"?Is he the old Sam, who said Robert Bork "was one of the most outstanding nominees of this century" and "a man of unequaled ability"? Or the new Sam, who shrugged off that statement as the dutiful support of one Reagan appointee for another?Is he the old Sam, who cited membership in a Princeton alumni club that resisted the admission of women and minorities when he was seeking a promotion in the very white Reagan old boys' club? Or the new Sam, who has "no specific recollection of that organization," unless, of course, he innocently joined it to support R.O.T.C. on campus, and who says he's been shaped partly by his hopes for his 17-year-old daughter, Laura, and by his sister's experiences "as a trial lawyer in a profession that has traditionally been dominated by men"?Is he the old Sam, who thoughtlessly blew off a pledge to recuse himself from cases involving Vanguard, where he has a six-figure mutual fund? Or the new Sam, who admits that the problem was not "a computer glitch," as he had suggested, and humbly says, "If I had to do it over again, there are things that I would have done differently"? The judge didn't deign to say what he thought of illegal wiretaps - which you'd think would be an easy one.About the judge's memory lapses, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, drolly noted, "And I hope you'll understand if any of us come before a court and we can't remember Abramoff, you'll tend to believe us."Some of his answers, Senator Joe Biden complained to Chris Matthews, did not "ring a chord of sincerity." (The National Review Web site says the voluble Biden got in 3,673 words and held Judge Alito to 1,013.)You don't have to know the difference between horizontal and vertical stare decisis, or between emanations and penumbras, to see that the man who could take Sandra Day O'Connor's seat and yank back women's rights was, in a word, shifty.Or in three words, shifty, sapless and sighing. To offset his reputation on women's rights, he even played the henpecked husband. When Republican senators used the expression "When did you stop beating your wife?" about Democratic questions, Judge Alito riposted, "I wasn't asked whether she had stopped beating me."His basic defense to Democrats boiled down to: "I was just saying what my boss wanted to hear at the time." Haven't we had enough yes-men mangling government for the last five years? Heck of a job, Sammy.I understand why the president is drawn to the judge. Mr. Alito is dubbed "Scalito" - a conservative senator, John Cornyn, accidentally blurted out the nickname - because he's so much like Antonin Scalia. And W. loves Nino.Judge Alito has supported imperial powers for the presidency, not strong checks and balances; he approved the strip search of a 10-year-old girl but is not probing too deeply into what the executive branch is doing. That's W.'s philosophy, too - a pre-emptive right to secretly do everything from war to torture to snooping.Like the president, the judge loves baseball. Mr. Alito once vacationed at a fantasy baseball camp (O.K. fielder, hopeless hitter), wearing the red and white Phillies uniform. W. has spent five years in fantasyland on Iraq, on occasion donning military costumes.His fingers in his ears, W. didn't want to hear that we had too few troops in Iraq - ignoring advice from Viceroy Paul Bremer and Gen. Eric Shinseki - or that the troops didn't have enough armor. But the president continues to fling blame outward. In a speech yesterday before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he warned the Democrats that they should take care not to bring "comfort to our adversaries."Judge Alito was evasive, disingenuous and deferential. He fits the Bush era like a baseball glove.