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Wayne Bessen

Borking Alito requires democratic agenda

Samuel Alito:
what was Bush thinking?

By nominating a man known as “Scalia-lite” for the Supreme Court, President George W. Bush may have picked a fight he is going to lose, unless the Democrats prove to be losers. The choice of Samuel A. Alito, a right-wing stalwart, to replace the moderate Sandra Day O’Connor is, at once, audaciously brazen, spit-in-the eye insulting, nakedly partisan and just plain dumb.

Bad News Bush has watched his poll numbers sink faster than New Orleans. Yet, he makes a choice of swagger, even as he staggers. With his legacy on the rocks, he chooses a right-wing rock star that is going to exacerbate his problems and derail his agenda. One look at the political landscape, and it is fair to ask, what is Bush thinking?
Lewis Libby was indicted. Karl Rove is under investigation. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-TN) stock has fallen after an unseemly stock trade. And House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was fingerprinted.

Meanwhile, Iraq is a bloody quagmire. Middle East peace is unraveling into an endless cycle of violence, with a series of Palestinian terrorist bombings, followed by Israeli retaliation. Iran’s citizens are burning American flags and their new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he wanted to “wipe Israel off the map” at the very same time he is actively pursing nuclear weapons.

If that isn’t enough, the Arctic is melting, which may be a good thing, I guess, because America’s heating bills are expected to be unaffordable, leaving many working class Americans in the cold this winter. Fortunately, the homes we will be heating are smaller because housing in most major cities in unaffordable. It is no longer enough to win the lottery to buy a family home in New York, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco or San Diego — you now have to win the Power Ball.

This avalanche of bad news is the backdrop for Alito’s confirmation battle. What is going to happen, I believe, is that the Democrats will be in a strong position to filibuster the nomination. The right will pressure a weakened Bill Frist to “go nuclear” with the GOP taking away the Democrats right to filibuster judicial nominees.
If the GOP goes down this nihilistic road, it will threaten their majority in the 2006 elections. They will, of course, try to portray the Democrats as obstructionist. But, how can they make a credible case after the Democrats supported the Supreme Court nomination of conservative John Roberts and a right-wing cabal killed the nomination of Harriet Miers? The Democrats have the high ground in this fight and if they lose the battle of public opinion, the party is in deep trouble.

The Democrats, especially Howard Dean and now Sen. Harry Reid, have done a good job of making the case that the Republicans are taking America in the wrong direction. It is now crucial for them to show why they are the party to lead us in the right direction.

There is the temptation to wait until we are closer to the 2006 mid-term elections before introducing a powerful, coherent strategy, but that would be a huge mistake. The time to do this is now, while the GOP is treading water. There is a leadership vacuum in America. Will the Democrats fill it?

Creating a popular agenda for the Democrats is never easy and has inherent challenges. The GOP can always throw their right-wing followers red meat. If the Democrats try to throw red meat to the base, about a quarter will claim to be vegetarians. It really is herding cats.

Democratic leaders, on the eve of a potentially monumental war over the Supreme Court, should lock themselves in a room and emerge only when they have created a positive, easily understood message. They should steal a page from New Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” and call their document, a “Partnership with America.” It should avoid divisive social issues, focus on ending GOP corruption, real homeland security and sensible solutions for middle class families.

Partnership with America
• Real Homeland Security:
All ports, chemical plants and other key targets will be protected.
• Restore fiscal sanity to the budget.
• Energy independence within 10 years: The goal is to lower gas prices and get us out of the Middle East.
• Competence over cronyism for appointments.
• Sunshine over secrecy in decision making.
• Halliburton rule:
Bidding on all government contracts.
• Real healthcare reform.
• Repeal tax cuts for the wealthy to strengthen Social Security.
• Raise the minimum wage.
• Terri Schiavo rule:
Less intrusive government.
Bush and the GOP are in the middle of a perfect storm. It is up to the Democrats to show that beyond the dark clouds, there is a party of light that will lead this nation.

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