Monday, January 30, 2006

Polls Left Alito Filibuster Wide Open to Democrats

We have watched in dismay over the weekend as too many Democrats remained unwilling to heed Senator John Kerry’s call to filibuster the Samuel Alito Supreme Court nomination. And we know that such political cowardice certainly can’t be the fear of going up against George W. Bush and what the public-relations hit might be from doing that.

A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll released Friday shows Bush’s national approval rating still in the cellar at 43 percent and no amount of the president saying “war on terror” and “September 11” over and over seems to be changing that. Bush doesn’t look to me like someone the opposition party should be afraid to mess with.

So I decided to look at some polling numbers on the Alito nomination and the Supreme Court, hoping that the exercise might shed some light on why many Democrats won’t show any spine in blocking Bush’s ultraconservative nominee.

What I found left me even more perplexed and angry.

A Fox News poll taken last week shows that 53 percent of Americans believe either that Alito should not be confirmed (32 percent) or have no opinion (21 percent).

In a CBS News/New York Times poll, taken January 20-25, 16 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of Alito. But most people didn’t have much of an opinion at all, with 23 percent undecided and one-third of all Americans saying they hadn’t heard enough to have an opinion. (But I’d wager a month’s pay that this same 33 percent has very firm opinions on the Natalee Holloway disappearance or the breakup of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt.)

The same poll asked whether Alito should be confirmed by the Senate and, true to non-committal form, 49 percent responded saying they are “unsure” or “can’t say.”

And the rubber really meets the road with questions like this one asked in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken 10 days ago: "Suppose all or most of the Democrats in the Senate oppose Alito's nomination. Do you think they would be justified or not justified in using Senate procedures, such as the filibuster, to prevent an up-or-down vote on his nomination?"

That question showed us that 53 percent of Americans either flat-out support a filibuster or are unsure.

In early January, the same poll asked respondents what they thought of the political philosophy of the current Supreme Court. Only six percent said they thought the Court was “too liberal” while 29 percent said it’s too conservative. But, as with most issues surrounding Alito and the Supreme Court in general, there was mostly an open mind, with half saying the philosophy of the high court was “about right” or declaring themselves “unsure.”

Finally, a CBS News poll in early 2006 showed that 61 percent of Americans believe Senators voting on a Supreme Court Justice should “...also consider that nominee's personal views on major issues the Supreme Court decides."

No matter what public-opinion survey you look at over the last two months, they all lead to the same fundamental conclusion: That the American people are woefully uninformed about the judicial branch of government and can generally be convinced one way or the other on issues involving the Supreme Court.

What does that mean right now? It means that Senate Democrats sitting on the fence since Friday about filibustering the Alito nomination have missed the boat on a major opportunity to do the right thing for our country and achieve a major political victory at the same time.

One assumes the Democratic leadership has staff paid to look at numbers like I easily uncovered and to make recommendations like I would have made to their bosses – that they get out there, as publicly as possible, and make the case to the American people that Samuel Alito will tilt a judiciary that only a tiny percentage of the country believes is too liberal even farther in the opposite direction.

They should have been told – or had the political sense to see it themselves – that an easy case could have been made that this is yet another example of an arrogant president, drunk with unearned power, once again breaking his old campaign pledge to be a “uniter and not a divider.”

And they certainly could have prepared better to make those arguments in the public forum of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, so that blocking the destructive effect that Alito will have on our country would not have come down to a frenzied, last-minute effort.

That could have happened. But I guess it just all sounded like too damn much work.