Came by to talk to the editorial writers. I...


April 04, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

JANET RENO came by to talk to the editorial writers. I personally expected bad chemistry, because she is too much a root-causes-of-crime person and not enough of a lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key person.

Nothing wrong with her perspective -- but not in the chief law enforcement officer of the nation! With crime rampant, destroying cities, my idea of an attorney general is more in the Ed Meese mold, prowling the streets at night in a car with both the police radio and a sidearm on.

Also, as a newspaperman, I hate officials who answer questions aloofly, "yes," "no," "I don't know." She does that more than any official I've ever observed -- in televised interviews and in her regular weekly news conference.

I wasn't the only one expecting bad chemistry. Several of my colleagues have criticized her even more strongly than I in meetings and editorials. The consensus view after 45 minutes of fully answered questions, however, was "wow!' She was both responsive and pleasant.

She may have won us over in part because she comes from a newspaper family and said some nice things about newspaper journalism as compared to television journalism. Newspaper folk are pushovers for stuff like that.

But I think she won us over more on her presence. She is an attractive personality. Hillary Clinton is often compared to Eleanor Roosevelt. I think Reno is more an ER type. Plain six-footers with winning, toothy smiles and an aura of seriousness and dedication to society's weakest victims.

But I'd still be more comfortable if she were the secretary of Health and Human Services rather than the attorney general.

Before you say that's just a sexist response to the nation's first woman attorney general, before you accuse me of being old-fashioned and thinking there are women's jobs and men's job in government, let me say that I would be very comfortable with Baltimore County's Sandra O'Connor, who has the job in the county that Reno had in Dade County, Fla., as A.G. She's the toughest state's attorney in Maryland, both in winning death penalties and insisting on mandatory lengthy sentences for chronic violent criminals.

* * * *

The other Sandra O'Connor, the Supreme Court justice, made news last week. She rebuked Associate Justice Ruth Ginsburg during oral arguments -- not for her judicial philosophy but for her judicial manners. This was on Tuesday. Just as a lawyer finished answering a question from Justice O'Connor, Justice Ginsburg began one. "Excuse me! Just let me finish if I may!" said an obviously irritated O'Connor.

Ginsburg kept quiet the rest of the day, but was back at it on Wednesday, causing Justice Anthony Kennedy to do the "excuse me!" routine when he was interrupted.

I'm with Ginsburg on this one. She's the only Democrat on the court, the first one named to it in 27 years. She's entitled.

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