Sunday, January 29, 2006

Democrats and Alito

On Thursday, the Rockefeller Center was pleased to welcome Nan Aron, President of the Alliance for Justice to speak about "The Politics of Judicial Selection and the Future of the Supreme Court." With the Alito hearings concluded but the vote not yet taken, we timed this one right. (See this article in The Dartmouth for news coverage.) It was a pleasure to meet her and to hear her ideas. As much as I disagree with most of them, I certainly respect the influence she has in the judicial nomination and confirmation process. She's a fine example for our students of entrepreneurship in the public sector.

As I listened to her presentation, I couldn't help but be reminded of the old quote about the 1972 election, in which a McGovern supporter says, "I can't believe Nixon won. I don't know anyone who voted for him." Her assertions that the people of the country would prefer that Alito not be confirmed just don't square with the observations we can make about the process:

  1. Judge Alito fits the profile of the nominee that we expect from President Bush.

  2. John Kerry did not win the 2004 election.

  3. Polling data suggest support for Alito's confirmation that is in keeping with the 2004 election results.

  4. Democratic Senators in states that could go either way in the next elections are voting for Alito's confirmation, like Byrd (WV), Johnson (SD), Nelson (NE).

(h/t to Powerline for the links in the last two points)

Wisely, I think, she did not advise the Democrats to filibuster. We leave that for those Democrats who don't expect to face strong competition for re-election. And it's fine for them, but it will be rough on their fellow Democrats if they go ahead with it. I cannot say it any better (and I certainly say it with less credibility) than Andrew Seal, writing at The Little Green Blog:
Just when will it be ok to say that the liberals from the generation of the 1960s have no idea what they're doing and never did?

When can it be said that Democrats are the minority party because we never tried to be the majority, post-New Deal? We did everything to win short of convince 50.1% of America that our ideals are worth voting for. And now we wonder why they don't.

When can it be said that some of the ways we fought for the liberties we now strive to protect created the very attacks we now attempt to repel?

When can it be said that a NASCAR dad can be trusted as much as a college professor to know what's good for himself?

When can it be said that if we do not have faith in the American people, we cannot expect or demand their faith in us?

When can it be said with conviction that America will overcome the challenges and threats—domestic and foreign—that it faces, as it always has? That Americans as citizens have an unshakeable bedrock of civic commitment and democratic ideals that we, as Democrats, can and must rely on rather than try to circumvent?

The second point is particularly important--in electoral politics, all that matters is winning a majority in a majority of the contests. The Senators contemplating a filibuster would do well to remember that they could elevate their station from "Ranking Minority Member" of their committees if they made it easier for enough of their fellow Democrats to win their Senate elections, too.


Arun Khanna said...

Statements by democrats about Judge Alito are simply posturing for the democratic primaries and attempts to rally the liberal left activists who are key players in the Democratic Party. I tend to discount such events as politics as usual since Republicans do somewhat similar things in pandering to Christian conservatives.
The difference between the parties is that the average democrat columnist or activist thinks people who vote Republican are stupid. Given that Republicans control the White House and both Houses of Congress; this statement is pretty darn close to saying a majority of Americans are stupid!
That is the underlying problem with democrats; shamelessly 'hugging' fundamentalist Muslim votes would be the other problem.

muckdog said...

I think most of the posturing is done to polarize the public for the 2006 elections. The Democrats are desperately searching for an issue. Any issue.

Bibamus said...

I think this post is silly. There is much more direct evidence to support her assertion that the people of this country would prefer that Alito not be confirmed. Let's take one (salient) example:

1. Alito is demonstrably anti-Roe
2. A majority of Americans do not support the confirmation of a justice who will overturn Roe. (See the recent CNN poll.)

Put it this way: if nominating a justice like Alito really commanded majority support, the White House and the Republican leadership would be issuing daily press releases outlining in detail his popular and majoritarian views. President Bush would be giving his next speech in front of a backdrop that had "save the fetuses" repeated over and over in large type. Senators would hold daily press conferences rallying the majority of Americans who supported them in their quest to overturn Roe. Every American not living in a cave would know that Alito favored overturning Roe.

That, in reality, his views on this issue (among others) were deliberately obscured suggests that maybe, just maybe, his supporters in the White House and the Congress understand that his is in fact a minority viewpoint with little support, and thus worth hiding.

Anonymous said...

I think Bibamus' comment is silly. Most Americans do not know what Roe does, its reasoning, its role in a federal system, etc. And polls about Roe and abortion always shake out depending on the phrasing of the questions (for example, polls about Roe that first inform the respondent that overturn of Roe would not make abortion illegal in the U.S. have very different results than polls which do no such thing).

The most consistent result from polls is that Americans support reasonable restrictions on abortion (look at the polls that came out when the partial-birth abortion issue was hot) and Alito's views, assuming they are as "bibamus" represents (indeed, it is far from clear that Alito is "demonstrably anti-Roe" -- saying a decision should be overturned 12 years after it was handed down is not the same once the decision's been in place for another 20 years), are in no way inconsistent with that.

Finally, it's just silly to say that if Alito's views on abortion were mainstream, the administration would be trumpeting them. As one article recently (I forget where) pointed out, a judge who expressed specific views about any controversial topic, no matter what those views were, would be unconfirmable because of how the confirmation process works.

Bibamus said...

Shorter anonymous:

"Bibamus supports his point with polling data, but polling data are unreliable. Now please consider these polling data that support my point."


Look, all I am saying is that there is evidence that contradicts the thesis of the original blog post. And the assumptions I am making are far less heroic than those made in the original post. To believe that the results of the last presidential election are tantamount to support for this particular nominee means making huge leaps as to the rationality, foresight, and information set of voting public. This is before we even get into a discussion about how appropriate it is to extrapolate preferences about a single issue from a presidential contest that encompasses multple, sometimes competing, issues.

Andrew Samwick said...

I do not believe, nor did I write, that "the results of the last presidential election are tantamount to support for this particular nominee." The first two points reflect this piece of evidence. The remaining points were not incidental--preference for Alito was resembling preference for Bush, and Senators in contested areas were announcing for confirmation.

Tom C said...

Bibamus' general point is arguable, but more along the lines of, "Bush ran and won on anti-terrorism; that's the only place where he can show any majority authority." Arguable, but still wrong.

The republican majority in Congress is simply doing what we taught them to do: stack the court and everything you want to promise your hard-line constituencies (but could never get passed as law) can come true! We are reaping what we sowed...we became dependent upon the easy path (Supreme Court) instead of the hard path of public opinion and law-making. So, I think the original post was essentially correct on this point.