Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Democrats Can't Let Republicans Control "Language Spin" on Confirmation Process

It's happening again.

The Republicans and the Religious Right making up a phrase, defining its meaning and knowing that it will then be parroted ad nauseam by the mainstream media.

In the case of Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court – and John Roberts before him – I'm referring to the constant references to a "dignified process" in the Senate's examination of Alito's record.

Dictionary.com defines "dignified" as "having or expressing dignity," which is in turn (dignity) defined as "the quality or state of being worthy of esteem or respect" or "the respect and honor associated with an important position."

I can go along with that. Supreme Court appointments affect the course of our nation's history – you can't get much more important than that – and that vital role should indeed be treated with respect and very careful consideration.

But to the Republican party and the Religious Right, that's not what it means at all.

When the likes of Tony Perkins of the ultra-conservative Family Research Council or James Dobson of the far-right Focus on the Family call for a "dignified process" in Senate confirmation of Alito, we need to make clear exactly what they mean by that.

To them, a dignified process means one where the Senate's true advice-and-consent role – one of those dandy devices put in place at our country's creation to keep it from ever becoming a dictatorship – is redefined to be a rubber stamp for whomever the potentate-in-chief should happen to select. But these are not stupid people; They know full well that the Senate's role is to carefully scrutinize a president's nominees and, as the representatives of the people, decide definitively whether or not our leader has made a wise choice.

It's the same thing when Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) cheers about Bush's choice and says “what we guarantee you is a dignified process here..." He's absolutely not talking about a careful examination of Alito's record and the extent to which his views conform to the norm in America.

According to the textbook definition of the Senate's role, "The Constitution provides that the President can make certain appointments only with the 'advice and consent' of the Senate. Officials whose appointments require the Senate's approval include members of the Cabinet, heads of federal executive agencies, ambassadors, Justices of the Supreme Court, and other federal judges."

As the media repeats and confers legitimacy on the conservative definition of "dignified process," we need to speak loudly and clearly about the framer's intent that, like we all learned as schoolchildren, the Senate's constitutional role is as the final approver of a president's choices – not the people who simply nod their heads up and down and follow blindly.

Likewise, when the Republican National Committee immediately starts an online petition, on which conservative sheep can sign their names and urge their senators to "fulfill your Constitutional obligations and confirm Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court," there's a serious attempt to skew the dialog on what the process is actually suppose to look like.

It's stuff like this that actually leads the average Republican to believe it truly is the Senate's role to "confirm" and not examine Bush's choice.

And, when the likes of Tony Perkins write that "consulting the minority members of the Senate must not mean giving them a veto of the President's constitutional duty to select the next justice," we expect them to twist the fact that such a Senate "veto" is not only a right of our Senators, but a serious responsibility.

But we can't allow them to get away with it.

We already know that for all their fake patriotism and crowing about the meaning of our country, the average Republican – and certainly those on the Religious Right – care little about the true legislative and judicial balance intended by our Constitution. We need to be strongly on message in the coming months to define on our terms the process by which a Supreme Court Justice is chosen – in other words, the correct terms -- and not allow the Right to win this spin war and permit the media to repeat it without correction.

Let's nip this battle about the language of judicial confirmation in the bud – now.