This week, Barack Obama named his first nominee to the Supreme Court, then headed west to Las Vegas and Los Angeles to raise money for Democrats in the 2010 midterms. Taken together, these two seemingly disparate acts mark the end of a certain period of innocence in the Obama administration: The "blame Bush" phase of the Obama administration is over, and the prolonged honeymoon that the president has enjoyed with the country and the media will soon come to an end as well.
Senate Democrats' overwhelming rejection of the White House plan to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay marks the official beginning of the 2010 election season, in which some Democrats will find it necessary to separate themselves from the popular president. Terrified of looking weak to the electorate, Democrats reverted to their natural state of panicked defensiveness when confronted with GOP criticism on issues of national security.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney recently appeared on the CBS news show Face the Nation, where he discussed his legacy. (AP Photo/CBS, Karin Cooper)
Before Dick Cheney was Dick Cheney -- the horns, the tail, the breath on fire and all that -- he was just another Washington inside player who had mastered all the important aspects of the capital city game. He made friends in the right places; he schmoozed the right reporters. He struck most people as a respectable conservative who respected the processes and institutions of American government -- people found him funny, and they liked him. It's almost impossible to imagine now, but Cheney the congressman once chastised Army colonel and conservative hero Oliver North for trying to stiff-arm Congress during its probe of President Ronald Reagan's Iran Contra scandal.
Somewhere deep in the psyche of Washington, hope exists that Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nomination will not return us to the rancor and bitterness unleashed by past judicial-appointment processes. It is a foolish and futile hope, but it speaks to the depth of the idealism inspired by Obama in a very fundamental way. And, frankly, there are logical reasons to be hopeful. But logic is not the currency of Supreme Court nomination fights, and this appointment process will not provide an exception.
The dramatic party-switch by Pennsylvania bulldog Sen. Arlen Specter can be read as a final denouement in the slow, steady collapse of the Republican Party. Though the decline was triggered by the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, it was the decision by congressional Republicans to so fully and uncritically embrace the Bush agenda and the president's arrogance that cost the GOP so dearly.