Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Crunch Time For Senate Democrats

There wasn’t much that the outnumbered Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee could do to keep Judge Samuel Alito from advancing to the full Senate for a vote this week. While they certainly could have made Alito’s days under the committee’s direct examination more daunting – notwithstanding the melodramatic tears of Alito’s wife – Democrats live with minority-party status right now, which means that the Republicans can largely rubber stamp anything sent their way by George W. Bush.

And that’s exactly what happened yesterday, with all 10 Republicans voting in favor of Alito and the committee’s 8 Democrats voting against.

So what happens now?

Well, if the Democratic leadership truly has the guts to take a run at being the majority party again in November, they’ll reject Alito faster than Shaquille O’Neal could smack down a junior-high point guard.

Even those of us who recoiled at the compromise agreed to by the Democratic side of the “gang of 14” last year – the bipartisan group of Senate centrists who agreed to let Bush’s handful of judicial nominees through if the GOP would not permanently kill the filibuster – assumed they might have had their eyes on the larger prize of reserving that move for a Supreme Court nominee as far from the mainstream as Alito.

Now is that time. Democrats chose to let John Roberts Jr. pass based primarily on his testimony before the Judiciary Committee, where he agreed that Roe v. Wade was “settled law” and thus bound by precedent.

Alito refused to make such a statement. Between that, and his record indicating that he would vote to overturn Roe in a heartbeat, the time has come for a blockade of Bush’s appointment.

What are we saving it for, the next Supreme Court pick Bush gets? The one after that?

While this country is as divided as it's been in my lifetime, one thing that’s common across all ideological lines is that Americans like people with backbone, who stand up for what they believe in. Now is the time for Senate Democrats to do exactly that.

Is Bush too popular to mess with? Hardly. No matter how he spins the Iraq war and regardless of how many times he chants “September 11,” his approval ratings stay lower than the proverbial snake’s belly. His policies are unpopular across the board, Americans roundly rejected his Wall Street enrichment scheme to privatize Social Security and even conservative red-state voters watched in shock as his team thoroughly botched the response to Hurricane Katrina.

So what’s the big risk here?

Here it is: That Democrats do nothing. That Alito is confirmed by a vote of 56-44 – Super Weasel Ben Nelson (DINO-NE) has already said he’s voting to confirm – and we all then write about our dismay, complete with quotes from Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy saying how awful the Supreme Court now looks. We then lose big in November because our party base is utterly demoralized and our total lack of conviction will have emboldened and strengthened the people on the other side of the aisle.

I’m convinced that more than 50 percent of the American people have had it with the Bush administration and a loud and long filibuster may be just the galvanizing force that hardens public sentiment against this right-wing crew of misfits. And, yes, we should make abortion rights an issue – but not the issue. We must also emphasize the Democratic effort to protect the Founding Fathers’ concept of checks and balances and the rule of law, while painting the GOP as the party after dictatorial powers for an extremely unpopular president.

Politics, like life, is full of risks. But in this case, it is inaction that carries all the risk, not circling the wagons on Alito and fighting back.