Monday, January 09, 2006

In Search of LAUGHTER at the Alito Hearing: Day One

According to the Washington Post transcript of the Alito confirmation hearing, the proceedings were interrupted by laughter 14 times. Were these Senatorial quips actually funny or were the observers so bored that they jumped on anything remotely resembling a witticism with robust laughter (known to students of comedy as the Prairie Home Companion Effect)? Let’s take a closer look at today’s 14 laugh lines:

ALITO: And when I had my confirmation hearing for the Court of Appeals, Philip was 3 years old. And when I was called up to the chair he took it upon himself to run up and sit next to me in case any hard questions came up.

Not a bad quip, but he did have a couple of months to come up with something witty for his opening statement.

GRASSLEY (Speaking immediately after Senator Kennedy’s opening statement): I have a much more positive view of Judge Alito.

Grassley shows good instincts by taking a jab at Kennedy, but it could have used more zing. Next time try something like this:
I have a much more positive view of Judge Alito – what’s your problem Teddy? Couldn’t you find a case where he gave the defendant a slap on the wrist after he drove his secretary off a bridge?

SPECTER: And then we're going to take a 15-minute break. We will have concluded the opening statements of 12 of our 18 Judiciary Committee members. That will leave us four more.
And then Senator Lautenberg and Governor Whitman to make the formal presentation of Judge Alito. And then Judge Alito's opening statement. So, at this time, we will adjourn and we will reconvene at 2:10.
Pardon me. We're going to proceed with you, Senator Feingold.

FEINGOLD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I think.
SPECTER: This is called the potted plant routine, Russ.

FEINGOLD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SPECTER: I was so anxious for the recess, I jumped the gun a little.


Definitely an example of low expectations laughter. I half expected Specter to go into a Powdermilk Biscuits commercial.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And welcome back, Judge. I'd hate for you to miss my opening statement.


GRAHAM: The question is: Are you a mainstream conservative?
Well, the question I have for my colleagues is: Who would you ask to find out? Would you ask Senator Kennedy? Probably not.
If you asked me who a mainstream liberal is, I would be the worst person to pick, because I do not hang out over there.


I think it’s great that Republican Senators are taking shots at Senator Kennedy, but it looks like they need a remedial course:
Ted Kennedy Humor 101 – Work in a reference to one or more of the following:
1) Chappaquiddick (or his driving/swimming skills)
2) Ted’s heavy drinking
3) Ted’s philandering
4) Ted’s Weight

LAUTENBERG: Judge Alito's accomplishments in life are the embodiment of the American dream. I'm honored today to introduce him to the committee.
He's a young man. If the Senate confirms him for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, he could serve for three decades or even longer, especially judging it from my point of view.


I think Lautenberg is taking a self-deprecating jab at his advanced age, but I’m not sure.

SPECTER: Senator Lautenberg, do you care to make a recommendation on the nominee?

You probably had to be there.

SPECTER: Thank you very much, Governor Whitman. Without objection, the statement of Senator Corzine will be made a part of the record.
We appreciate your coming, Senator Lautenberg.
We appreciate your coming, Governor Whitman.
And now, Judge Alito, if you will resume center stage.
We now come to the -- you can remain standing. We've come to the formal swearing in of a nominee. I count 41 cameras in the well.

And, just behind you, a grouping of cameras of seven in number. And I see three more, so you're well up to 50, which exceeds the number present, only 28 for Chief Justice Roberts, so that may be an omen.
I'm stalling for time a little bit here to allow the photographers to position themselves.

SPECTER: They have sat patiently -- impatiently all day.
We may move the swearing in to the beginning of the ceremony in the future so they can all go out and do something productive.


Thank you, thank you very much. I’ll be chairing the committee all week. Don’t forget to tip your Senators and Senatorettes.

ALITO: And, of course, I have been shaped for the last 15 years by my experiences as a judge of the court of appeals.
During that time, I have sat on thousands of cases -- somebody mentioned the exact figure this morning; I don't know what the exact figure is, but it is way up into the thousands -- and I have written hundreds of opinions.
And the members of this committee and the members of their staff, who have had the job of reviewing all of those opinions, really have my sympathy.

I think that may have constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Clearly Alito held his own day one. Will he be able to keep the laughs coming all week?

Laugh Toteboard (after day one)
Chairman Specter 7
Judge Alito 3
Senator Graham 2
Senator Grassley 1
Senator Lautenberg 1


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