Monday, January 30, 2006

It wasn't today's vote. We blew our best chances to stop Alito weeks ago.

As I predicted, not with enthusiasm, but with a realistic outlook, Samuel Alito will be confirmed.

I suspect that Republicans would have been able to push it through no matter what, but today's filibuster vote (only 25 in favor) is the culmination of a series of strategic blunders that scuttled any chance we as Democrats had of derailing this.

Start with the Harriet Miers nomination. Though I had my misgivings about Ms. Miers, I suggested that as Democrats we should support her. She actually had a number of positions when she was a city councilwoman which made her seem like someone who could be reasonable. And the fact is, a lot of Democrats may have enjoyed watching the President get his wings singed by the far right in the GOP (and with the coup de grace administered by Democrat Chuck Schumer), but we shouldn't have been watching. We should have pushed ahead with the process. It is likely that the half of the Senate Republicans who remained loyal to the President together with Senate Democrats could have gotten her confirmed. And she would have been a centrist, much the same as O'Connor. But not wanting to fight the same fight twice, it became inevitable when she withdrew that the President would choose someone from the far right (I predicted that too, before it happened.) And if, God forbid, there is another vacancy on the court, you can be sure that the President will take the road he has walked successfully, and choose another bleak conservative, likely Michael Luttig or Edith Jones.

Time tested political advice: If your opponent makes a mistake, jump on it. We let it go by, waiting for... what?

Then, a number of further strategic mistakes were made in how we went about opposing the Alito nomination. Democrats could have avoided the whole 'party of no' label easily enough, by pointing out that half the Democrats in the Senate supported Roberts, and that we were prepared to support Miers. Therefore, a full frontal attack in the press and in ads on Alito would have carried some weight. But early on, our representatives were much too timid, allowing attitudes about him to gel pretty much as the right wanted them to. If Democrats in the Senate had decided to go for a filibuster, the time to begin putting the pieces in place for that was in the early days after the nomination was announced. But because little was done, people on the whole either ignored Alito or decided that he wasn't so bad (remember we on the left can see the problems with him, but the majority of people are not so political in the first place, and need specifics before they can be induced to support us.) Trying to put together a last minute filibuster was bound to fail. Our opponents were organized, and we were not. A dozen phone calls at the last minute are less effective than one on the first day. Trying to put together a filibuster in two days is like trying to stop a train when it is already pulling out of the station. Most likely outcome: you get run over by the train.

This was a party wide failure. Our leaders should have made a decision early on whether to filibuster and stuck with it. If they were not going to, then they should have made the decision to go public in a major way and try to turn the tide of public opinion. But they did not do that either. So in the end, it was only a question of how to play out a losing hand.

What can we do now? First, work to make sure that Democrats take control of the Senate. Second, begin educating people now about how the conservatives are one vote short of the five they need to support the right of the government to interfere in people's lives in every way one can conceive of. Then, if there is another vacancy, we will have already laid the ground work to prevail in the court of public opinion.


Lily said...

Well I felt that it was counter-intuitive and paradoxical to prefer Harriet to an 'unknown next selection'-but at the time it seemed that what made her so woefully inadequate also gave her some slight potential to 'grow on the bench'. This was not an ideal scenario by any stretch but I think that incompetence and inexperience held more promise than Alito's more 'tested' record.
We can often accuse the Dems of 'too little too late' and when the time is right for much needed criticism they seem to pause for far too long to gather their druthers...

dorsano said...

I'm not sure what a successful opposition to Alito would have acomplished. Democrats can't filibuster until a new president is elected.

I would like to see the nomination process change and have some real advice solicited from the senate by the president before a nominee is chosen

but I suppose that there's no chance in hell of that ever happening.

EAPrez said...

Face it. The issue of abortion has forever bastardized the nomination process and the court itself. The court will forever be politicized over this one issue and because there is one segment of society who feels their moral or relgious position trumps the other segments moral and religious position. I fear there is no way to turn the clock back on this. It has been forever tainted to the detriment of what this country used to stand for.

Eli Blake said...


The best way to end the whole abortion issue is to work to make the 'morning after' pill as available as possible. Once it is being quietly dispensed in pharmacies instead of happening in abortion clinics in nearly all cases, abortion as an issue will largely go away.