Alas, even the in-house newsletter of the capital establishment, The Washington Post, seems to recognize the absurd, circus-like aspect of last week’s nomination hearings for Judge John Roberts.
The Post wisely assigned writer Dana Milbank to serve as its eyes and ears inside the hearing room and his unflinchingly honest pieces made entertaining reading.
Rather than go blithely along with the solemn charade, Milbank covered it as an entertainment event, wryly skewering the play-acting and pomposity.
Milbank noted, for instance, some “historic firsts” during the opening hearing, including the fact that “Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., made 49 first-person references in a 10-minute opening statement that was, ostensibly, not about himself.” We doubt that’s a record, for Schumer or any other senator, but it shows that the hearings are not really about the nominee, but about the egomaniacs on the committee.
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma “showed exceptional emotional versatility, working a crossword puzzle during the hearing and then choking back a sob during a prosaic statement about partisanship,” according to Milbank. “It was the biggest Senate choke-up since Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) cried while opposing the nomination of the ambassador to the United Nations (John Bolton) — and Coburn has to get through three more days of hearings.”
Nominee Roberts, Milbank noted, “delivered what may have been the shortest opening statement by a modern Supreme Court nominee — less than seven minutes, including the thank-yous and two baseball metaphors.”
Perhaps fearing they were being upstaged by Mother Nature, senators adroitly worked Hurricane Katrina into their sound bites. Milbank reported how committee Democrats, including Sens. Patrick Leahy and Ted Kennedy, shamelessly used the catastrophe to drive home their points.
Leahy told Roberts the storm was “a tragic reminder of why we have a federal government” — a tragic reminder, too, of why we can’t count on it, in our view.
And Kennedy said, in one of three references, that “Katrina tore away the mask that has hidden from public view the many Americans who are left out and left behind” — suggesting, presumably, that it’s a Supreme Court justice’s job to help right such wrongs.
The subtext of Milbank’s reporting is clear: Such hearings are a heavily scripted, tiresome and largely pointless exercise. The reporter at one point noted that Roberts sat behind “a folding table dressed up with red felt” — which serves as a perfect metaphor not only for the hearings, but for the Senate itself.