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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Friday, September 23, 2005

the Roberts nomination and the Democrats

There have been some interesting, intelligent pieces written on the Roberts vote in the Senate.

  • LarryNYC cleared some of the fire and smoke of the initial blog response to make this nuanced speculation into what was and wasn't going through various Senators minds. (presidential prospects, future use of the filibuster, comity, the gang of 14, politics)
  • AnthonySF did yeoman work on an up to date list of who is voting which way.
  • New Direction added a heavy devil's advocate pov to the mix. It's worth a look.

  • The emerging conventional wisdom nod goes to a "we lost this one in 2000, '02 and '04" take...which is an analysis that may or may not lead to David Sirota's bracing:
    "As pathetic and braindead as the media is in only being able to see their narrow, insulated little playground of Washington, D.C. in terms of inaccurate stereotypes that reflect nothing of the actual real world, the current state of Democratic Party affairs is more pathetic. And it is time for all of us to let them know it, or the party will never change, and never win another national election."

    My own point of view is different. It involves taking a step back.

    Bush v. Gore and the 2000 election were a moment for Democrats to define a course of principled opposition to the GOP that included a strategy for tackling the inevitable Bush Supreme Court nominations. All was not lost in January of 2000, but even though we'd really won, and the press was focused on a "nation divided", we sure as hell acted like all was lost, as if we were a minority in this nation...and it is our response to 2000 that has defined our party for the last four and one half years, and left us ill-prepared to mount a cohesive response to the GOP. I'm not so much concerned with Al Gore here, though if you follow that link to a great New Yorker profile from last year...it will all come back to you...as I am about two things:

  • The Democrats abandoned the labor/African-American coalition that had "surprised the world" in the waning days of the Gore campaign. We abandoned the very folks who delivered our popular vote win, the folks who'd help us win our majority.
  • Further, to use Donna Brazile's words, in "kicking Al Gore to the curb" the Democrats fell back on our "Congressional leadership" as the locus for opposing Bush and the GOP. Al Gore was not just down after the 2000 election, he was kicked out...and instead of unity from Congress, what we got was positioning. It killed us in 2002, and it's killing us today.

  • Simply put, you cannot oppose the GOP if you don't define majority positions in clear terms. Congressional Democrats, especially Senators who are jockeying for Presidential runs, are poor instruments to do that. Further, in American politics of the 21st Century, Democrats cannot build our majority by ignoring organized labor and the Black and the Latino vote. That, however is exactly what Congressional Democrats and our party leadership have done. We hear from the Congressional Black Caucus in segregated press conferences...why?. The Latino vote in California has swung more conservative these last years and the Democratic party has done little to counter that trend...or act like it cares. Ask yourself, do Boxer, Feinstein and Pelosi give the impression of being "down" with or reaching out to Latino Californians and their hybrid liberal/conservative concerns?

    In order to oppose Roberts, or any nominee, we needed to build majority positions on issues like Choice, like Privacy, like the Patriot Act...and bring every one of our coalition members on board. We need to build support for our positions in a broad-based way so that any nominee who is not clearly acceptable to our side is branded as running against the clear majority view in this country. It's about creating a political climate before any name is announced. Congressional Democratic leaders aren't doing that. The DNC, even under Howard Dean, has not done that. We all know that you can't define a majority in this country with white middle-class Democrats, but the Democratic party acts like we can...and we lose.

    Our response to 2000, to Bush v. Gore, to Al Gore's banishment should have been to go straight back to the coalition that won us the popular vote. We didn't. We didn't push for election reform after Florida, and we haven't pushed for it seriously after Ohio, even though election reform is so important to our credibility in communities of color. As it stands, organized labor is in a crisis (or, if you choose to see it that way, rebirth) and the Democratic party, and our blogs, treat Labor like it's some small interest group instead of the backbone of our coalition. Majorities are won, they are defined, they don't magically appear when you need them, and facing a GOP Supreme Court nominee, we most certainly need them.

    Is it any surprise that the GOP runs roughshod over Congressional Democrats? If we can't bother to build our coaltion and get the phones ringing...we will, indeed, never win. It's not about, as David Sirota writes, simply what goes on inside the beltway, though that is relevant...is also about something we turned our back on when we rejected Al Gore in early 2001. We have a majority coalition. Or...we had one.



    • Senator Barack Obama has made a statement intending to vote no.

      It's an extremely worthwhile read. Here's the core statement:

      "The problem I face -- a problem that has been voiced by some of my other colleagues, both those who are voting for Mr. Roberts and those who are voting against Mr. Roberts -- is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases -- what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.

      In those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point. The language of the statute will not be perfectly clear. Legal process alone will not lead you to a rule of decision. In those circumstances, your decisions about whether affirmative action is an appropriate response to the history of discrimination in this country or whether a general right of privacy encompasses a more specific right of women to control their reproductive decisions or whether the commerce clause empowers Congress to speak on those issues of broad national concern that may be only tangentially related to what is easily defined as interstate commerce, whether a person who is disabled has the right to be accommodated so they can work alongside those who are nondisabled -- in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart.

      I talked to Judge Roberts about this. Judge Roberts confessed that, unlike maybe professional politicians, it is not easy for him to talk about his values and his deeper feelings. That is not how he is trained. He did say he doesn't like bullies and has always viewed the law as a way of evening out the playing field between the strong and the weak.

      I was impressed with that statement because I view the law in much the same way. The problem I had is that when I examined Judge Roberts' record and history of public service, it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak. In his work in the White House and the Solicitor General's Office, he seemed to have consistently sided with those who were dismissive of efforts to eradicate the remnants of racial discrimination in our political process. In these same positions, he seemed dismissive of the concerns that it is harder to make it in this world and in this economy when you are a woman rather than a man.

      I want to take Judge Roberts at his word that he doesn't like bullies and he sees the law and the Court as a means of evening the playing field between the strong and the weak. But given the gravity of the position to which he will undoubtedly ascend and the gravity of the decisions in which he will undoubtedly participate during his tenure on the Court, I ultimately have to give more weight to his deeds and the overarching political philosophy that he appears to have shared with those in power than to the assuring words that he provided me in our meeting.

      The bottom line is this: I will be voting against John Roberts' nomination."

      By Blogger kid oakland, at 5:33 PM  

    • Thx for that link to Sen. Obama's remarks, he has a way with words (and delivery).

      By Blogger Man Eegee, at 7:13 PM  

    • Excellent post, ko.

      By Blogger wg, at 7:50 PM  

    • great post, ko.

      and i agree with you that

      By Blogger grinnellian, at 1:14 PM  

    • whoops...

      and i agree with you that the dem congressional leadership has been seriously lacking. but one of the problems confronting the party is that there is no standard bearer. the repugs have bush. we have nobody. one of the reasons dems seem so divided is because we actually are. there is no common voice because there is no common speaker.

      what shall we do? wait til '08???

      By Blogger grinnellian, at 1:16 PM  

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