Friday, January 27, 2006

Advise and Consent

Well, it looks like some of the Democrats are going to attempt a filibuster against Samuel Alito's nomination.

The move has been roundly mocked by the Republicans and the media that parrots their point of view. (I heard CNN anchor Betty Nguyen mock Kerry this afternoon, smirking and referring to the Republican response as "giggling" at him, for instance.) True, I doubt the Democrats have the numbers to maintain the filibuster and keep Alito off the bench.

But then again, I don't think they need to do that in order to gain something from the filibuster. Ultimately, I see this not as a battle over the Supreme Court, but a battle over the Senate.

First, a filibuster of Alito would help draw attention to the position of moderate Republican Senators in the Northeast -- like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and especially Lincoln Chafee. Chafee's getting pressed from both sides on the matter of abortion rights back home, and forcing him to take a high-profile stance on Alito -- no matter which side he came down on -- would pretty much doom his re-election chances. If he stands against Alito, the Republican primary voters will go to the challenger on his right and that candidate would likely lose in the general election. Or if he stands with Alito, he'd make it to the general election but once more voters would side with the Democratic choice. Either way, the Republicans lose the seat.

Second, in general, it would be nice to show the American people that the Democrats actually do have principles, and that they'll go down swinging to defend them. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings did little to illuminate all that's wrong with Alito, and the Democrats can use the spotlight of the filibuster to make those matters clear. It would not only help demonstrate all that's wrong with the Bush vision of executive power, but also show that the Democrats can be an effective counterweight to it -- if only they had greater numbers.

Third, and most important, the filibuster would go a long way to reminding the Senate Democrats -- and the public in general -- that the Senate really does have an oversight function. That role's been largely forgotten in recent years, with Senate Republicans serving as a proxy for the president and Senate Democrats hiding from their own shadow. It's time to reassert their proper role and push back against the "unitary executive theory" nonsense that's turning this country into a elected dictatorship.

President Bush seems to think that the phrase "advise and consent" means nothing more than rubber-stamping his edicts. Funny, but just this week I watched the 1962 Otto Preminger film Advise and Consent and was reminded that Congress used to be a fully-developed organism capable of breathing and acting on its own. If you haven't seen the film, it's a great political thriller with strong performances by Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton and Walter Pidgeon. (Interestingly, Preminger had tried to cast Martin Luther King, Jr., as "Senator King" from Georgia. King considered it, but turned him down. Still, Betty White makes an appearance as a senator from Kansas, so I guess it's a wash.)

The political machinations in the movie are fascinating, but what's striking today is something taken for granted by the film's creators and original audience -- the Senate is not only allowed to have a say in presidential appointments, but they're supposed to make it difficult. It's a little thing called "checks and balances," and it worked in this country for more than two centuries. Until King George IV came along, at least.

So, yes, let's filibuster. It may not succeed in keeping Alito out of the Supreme Court, but it'll help keep Alito's ideas about unchecked executive power out of the Senate.

Update: It's looking like the filibuster drive is gaining speed. Check out firedoglake and Daily Kos for tips on how to reach your senators to urge them to join the filibuster movement.

This isn't a quixotic cause, no matter what the media and Scott McClellan might say. Sen. Feinstein was brought back from the brink, and that means anyone can be, too.


Studiodave said...

I think this will all hinge on exactly how Alito will fall on abortion. If it is still "safe, legal, and rare", I don't think there will be much backlash for the popular vote. For example, he could reverse things like parental consent for under 18, state and federal funded abortions, and various rights of the father.

Should he make the procedure illegal altogether, then the middle American vote will stir as you describe.

Until then, I, personally, don't think this Kerry move gets them much other then more fundraising opportunities from the more liberal side of the Dems.

Otto Man said...

We won't know the impact on Roe for a long time, but I think the Democrats need to get on the record now as saying he sucks so when he does, in fact, suck, it's clear we told 'em so. (I apologize if that was too highbrow a phrasing.)

But ultimately, I still think the simple act of taking a stand benefits the party. Matt Yglesias has a piece up at TAPPED which quotes a poll about attitudes on Congress:

Just 36% expressed a favorable opinion of congressional Democrats, whereas 45% viewed them unfavorably. That's statistically the same as the showing for congressional Republicans, who were viewed favorably by 38% and unfavorably by 44%.

"I was watching the news … and I heard nothing from the Democrats," said Dez Jackson, 20, a cashier in Greenville, S.C., who was sharply critical of the president in the survey. "What are they, afraid to speak up?"

My point exactly. People will start listening to the Democrats again as soon as they think that the Democrats care enough about this stuff themselves to take a stand.

Pooh said...

Am I the only one, or does the fact that prominent GOPers going on record mocking the filibuster attempt make it seem like a better idea for us? If they were actually happy about it, they'd shut up, crush it, then crow, but the fact that the spin merchants are out says something yes?

Otto Man said...

I was just watching CNN thinking the same thing, Pooh. If they were so convinced this was a bad idea, why not shut up and let Kerry kill himself? It seems like whistling past the graveyard.

This is clearly an aftereffect of watching the Preminger flick, but part of me wonders if the Dems actually do have the votes to support the filibuster and they're just going through the motions like it's a futile gesture, lowering expectations in the media and catching the GOP off guard. Can you imagine that? A surprise filibuster the day of Bush's SOTU?

I know, I know. I'm dreaming.

Pooh said...

Althouse thinks it's futile, so I know we're on the right track now.

Otto Man said...

I like the lone dissent in the comments. I'll reproduce it here since it's on a conservative blog and probably won't last:

am not sure what you are upset with.

Are you upset that he went to Davos?

Are you upset that he made a phone call from Davos indicating his support for a filibuster?

Are you upset that to lead the fight for a filibuster that he is coming home from Davos?

Could Kerry have done anything that you would not have griped about?

verification word: whiNg

Heh. Whining, indeed.

Otto Man said...

Can you imagine that? A surprise filibuster the day of Bush's SOTU?

Looks like I'm not the only one pining for that scenario. Will Bunch has the same thoughts, though in his scenario Reid gets all 43 to buck up and filibuster for one day, just to spite the preznit.