Thursday, January 26, 2006

Democrats growing a pair?

Between Sen. Kerry calling for a fillibuster of Alito and the passionate attack on the current administration Gore delivered last week, it seems like Democratic scientists may have made some progress in their decade-long attempt to grow a pair for at least one representative. Is this just the standard rumbling of the opposition prior to the State of the Union? Or is this a trend where the opposition party is actually starting to realize that they actually have to, you know, explain to the American people why they oppose something? I sure hope it's the latter, not because I necessarily agree with the Dems, but because I find it incredibly unhealthy to allow any party to run Washington unchecked for a decade.

Of course, this is a party that managed to find a way to lose the 2000 election despite the biggest and longest peace-time economic expansion in generations and that couldn't find a way to market a decorated veteran during a war against an incumbant with a "spotty" military record who had presided over a substantial economic recession in 2004. They also seem to have decided to oppose Alito at the 11th hour, without bothering to lay the framework of their objections far enough in advance to have any hope of persuading the American people, which I suspect is going to turn into a matter of "too little, too late". At least they're starting to wake up.


Blogger Mwal said...

This may indicate Kerry "growing a pair." But for the Democrats' congressional leadership, it looks more like weakness and lack of strategy.

In general, what filibuster effort there is has been carried out very poorly. There's no coherent plan. I haven't seen any kind of unified or clear message from the filibuster-fans to the general TV-watching public.

The CAP business -- which had been a TV highlight of the hearings -- has been discarded. Instead, Kerry and Kennedy (I think) focus on Alito's view of the role of the executive in the Constitution. To me this is a more serious concern than the CAP thing. But this needs much more time to be explained than has been taken, and the objections seem to rely almost entirely a few memos from the early 1980s. (At least, as far as I can tell.)

As for party leadership, it seems that there might as well be none. Reid didn't advocate a filibuster or a party-line vote, presumably in an effort to protect his red-state Senators. But apparently he didn't forbid a filibuster either -- most likely fearing the reaction from the lefty grassroots and abortion-rights organizations. So there is no central direction; no plan; the falcon cannot hear the falconer; and so on.

These confirmation battles are all something of a sideshow anyway. They are important enough in themselves, but they really don't excite the vast majority of voters. What the Democrats need to do is to develop some plan for 2006 and 2008. 2006 is the natural opportunity to make gains, as it's a midterm election, so they should be careful not to blow it.

If the Democrats gain control of a chamber of Congress in 2006, this would make a big difference for their long-term prospects.

On the other hand, if they somehow manage to lose even more seats in 2006 (unlikely as this would be)... well, it's probably better not to speculate about it.

1/27/2006 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

The CAP thing was a debacle and a total waste of confirmation hearing time. Short of Alito completely losing it and saying something horrifically offensive, there just wasn't anything there that would remotely disqualify him from service.

The current objection to his embrace of the unitary executive had the potential to be interesting, but the Democrats needed to lay the groundwork on that issue a month ago. No one outside a few Constitutional Law nerds had ever heard the term before, let alone knew what it meant. Like "states' rights", it also seems to mean different things to different people, which makes it easy to have a very abstract discussion that will appeal to a dozen policy wonks and mean nothing to 99% of the populace. The Democrats needed to do some legwork ahead of the hearings to introduce the term to voters (using the definition and implications that would favor the Democratic position) so that the coverage of those hearings would bring that issue front and center. That could have excited at least enough voters to make this showdown interesting. As it stands now, I don't see how the fillibuster will be anything but a meaningless gesture that appeals to a couple of hard-core Democratic party operatives. I see very little here that would pressure some moderate Republicans to break with their party.

As for the timing and coordination of strategy, I have to ask why on Earth Kerry was out of the freaking country for this. It's hardly a shock that the Alito fight would be heating up now, if there was a chance of a fillibuster, Kerry ought to have been in the country to call it, he and every other senior Democrat with any mainstream appeal (i.e. those not named Kennedy) ought to have been campaigning vigorously against the nomination. They ought to have been booking themselves on every political talk show they could find to tell people why they should fear the "unitary executive". Instead, we have a whimpered objection and a last minute attempt to marshall enough support to avoid making this an embarassment.

I really fail to understand why senators that have some idea of making a run in 2008 haven't been front-and-center in this, even if the leadership wasn't taking the reigns. This seems like an issue that would have made a lot of points with the base without risking alienating the moderates-- can anyone imagine a scenario where opposition to a SCOTUS candidate in '06 is an issue in the '08 election for undecideds? Kerry gets some points for eventually being the face of this, but where the heck has he been for the past month?

1/27/2006 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger Vincent said...

Kerry must realize that he has no chance of the nomination in 2008. Contrary to popular belief, there's no shortage of good candidates on the Democratic side. Maybe the party will anoint Hillary. Maybe they'll choose a principled leftist fighter (Feingold) or centrist fighter (Schweitzer). Maybe they'll choose a governor in a key region (Warner, Richardson). Maybe they'll pick someone with a strong military record (Clark). But Kerry was so ineffective as a candidate in 2008 that the Democratic party won't make that mistake again.

Then again, perhaps my optimism is undue. The Democrats could easily have made the case against Alito based on his view of the powers of the executive branch, but they didn't. They could easily be making the case that wiretapping anyone the government wants without any oversight is an unconstitutional erosion of American rights, but opinion polls show they're failing. Why is it so hard to get a unified voice from the party on basic American principles?

1/27/2006 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I don't think Kerry getting the nomination in 2008 is nearly the long-shot you make it out to be. I seriously doubt Clark has a shot since he got trounced by the field in the last go-round. Hillary has the inside track on the nomination, but I don't see her beating the Republican nominee unless the Republicans nominate a nut job. I'd be overjoyed if Feingold ran, let alone won the nomination, but he'd probably lose a general election more decisively than Mondale. If they're smart, they'll nominate one of the governors, but the party hasn't shown a lot of smarts in the past decade.

I'm not even asking for a unified voice. I'd settle for any sort of voice. Five senators, some help from the groups that were ramping up to put on commercials to oppose Bush's SCOTUS nominees (where have they been, by the way), and a bit of marketing could have made the Alito vote a heck of a lot closer if not a flat out defeat. They didn't need complete party unity, they didn't need something from the Senate leadership, they just needed a freaking backbone and they couldn't find one.

1/28/2006 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

Well, looks like the fillibuster failed and the nomination was successful 58-42. 4 Democrats voted to confirm, 1 Republican voted against.

I have to ask, though, how the holy heck can the Democrats give Bush, whose approval rating is stuck around 40%, a victory in the SCOTUS confirmation hearing on the day of the State of the Union? They couldn't have used a touch of party loyalty to compel those 4 to vote against Alito? Robert freaking Byrd voted for Alito for heaven's sake, the man that has probably introduced legislation to name his Senate seat after himself, and has almost run out of stuff to name in West Virginia. I understand that West Virginia has gone for Bush the past two elections, and Byrd is likely to face an actual challenger in 2006, but if Byrd can't beat a 2-time electoral loser for a seat he's held since the first session of Congress, in an off-year election during the second term of an unpopular president, I have a hard time believing that this vote is going to change that.

If the Democrats were unified, that would have ade it 54-46. That would have pressured some of the other moderate New England Republicans to join Chafee in defecting, which gets you really close to defeating the nomination. At least you ensure that the story going into the State of the Union is that Alito would have been confirmed with record little support.

1/31/2006 08:32:00 PM  

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