Liberal Street Fighter

Samuel Alito, a man manifestly outside the political and social mainstream of American life, is facing the Senate Judiciary panel all this week. Like most rightwing extremists in the modern Republican party, this man is completely unable to straightforwardly express what he believes. He bobs, he weaves, he spins out mealy-mouthed strings of blather:

LEAHY: Well, let’s go into one of those specifics. Do you believe the president has the constitutional authority as commander in chief to override laws enacted by Congress and immunize people under his command from prosecutions that they violate, these laws passed by Congress?

ALITO: Well, if we were in — if a question came up of that nature, then I think you’d be in — where the president is exercising executive power in the face of a contrary expression of congressional will through a statute or even an implicit expression of congressional will, you’d be in what Justice Jackson called the twilight zone, where the president’s power is at its lowest point.

ALITO: And I think you’d have to look at the specifics of the situation. These are the gravest sort of constitutional questions that come up. And very often there they don’t make their way to the judiciary or they’re not resolved by the judiciary; they’re resolved by the other branches of the government.

Yesterday he said “no one is above the law, no one is below the law” … today this careful parsing of legalese worthy of John Yoo. One would think that this man, who’s written so much against Roe v. Wade, who thinks it’s okay to shoot fifteen year olds in the back for fleeing a simple robbery and peachy keen to shred the Fourth Amendment’s guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure, would be manifestly easy to shoot down.

Too bad that the Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee are so damned deferential, so damned unwilling to bloody their knuckles, to ask hard questions … FIGHT. For every good thread of questioning that starts, two peter out, letting this extremist off the hook.  

Perhaps they don’t fight because we don’t demand it.
Lets face the truth of what we face here. Alito is just another drone in a movement that has been advancing steadily toward total domination of our government. A movement that stands for things that most Americans reject, a movement who’s leaders and political infighters have made an art of lying, obfuscating, spinning and soundbiting. A real political party, one that actually stood for something and wanted to fight for it, would demogogue their lies. Point out that Alito is too much of a coward to actually stand by what he really believes.

Sadly, though, that cowardice doesn’t infect just the party, but also the activist groups on the left. A conference call this evening with Nancy Keenan, Ralph Neas and Joe Trippi sought to sum up the first two days of the hearings, and to discuss ways to press forward the idea that Alito is an extremist, a freeper, a movement conservative with a frightening deference to Executive power. So I wondered, when it came my time to ask a question … what were NARAL and PFAW willing to do to punish the Dems if they sell us out again? Mr. Neas had left for an interview on Air America, so Ms. Keenan was left to field the question. Both had indicated in their earlier remarks that they wished the Dems had been more coherent in their questions. Still, that leaves my question … since they AREN’T coherant, because they still refuse to go for the jugular, what will activist organizations do to drive home how important it is to fight harder?

Well, talk to them, I guess. To her credit, Ms. Keenan wanted to concentrate on a positive outcome, to continue to help press home how extreme Alito is and to give the Senators a chance to build their case. That’s all so, but I’m a firm believer that it’s important to highlight that there are consequences for failure. Adding Alito to Roberts, Scalia and Thomas on the bench puts privacy rights and women’s autonomy at great risk. Perhaps the Senators don’t press very hard because they think those are issues that don’t matter. Perhaps they think that failing to protect these rights won’t have any fallout for their ability to sit in their big comfy chairs on the Hill.

If they fail us again, some of them need to pay. Something, if only to have a strong primary or third party challenge, BACKED BY ACTIVIST GROUPS. That’s how the Republicans were dragged to the far right over the last thirty years. It’s time to drag back, so I pressed the issue. Since choice and access to birth control (an issue that was highlighted wonderfully by another questioner, an issue that speaks across class and political lines) were of such importance, why then was the party not facing more vocal resistance over candidates like Casey in Pennsylvania. Ms. Keenan replied, “I wish someone else was running”, after assuring us that Senator Schumer, head of the DSCC, heard how displeased NARAL was. There’s only one problem with this answer. Someone IS running against Casey, Chuck Pennachio.

Every six years, the Democratic Party seeks the perfect Senate candidate – a combination of name recognition, ideology and fundraising skill. In 44 years this formula has produced 14 consecutive full-term election defeats. Chuck’s winning background and determination to fight for all Pennsylvanians make him the only credible Democrat to break that losing streak. Chuck knows how to win United States Senate races.

Everyone agrees that defeating Rick Santorum is a top priority for 2006, but to win we must provide a sharp contrast to his right wing agenda. Chuck’s clear and unwavering positions, grassroots org- anization skills, and winning track record give us the best chance to win. We will get the Democratic Party and the country we’re willing to work for. Help us revive our state, our party and our country.

Sounds like a candidate who deserves some support from the left against a candidate who’s very NAME screams “overturn Roe v. Wade“. Casey, who’s father was Governor of Pennsylvania, the Governor who championed a very repressive law seeking to limit Roe. In fact, the very case in which Judge Alito, when it appeared on appeal before him, held that a woman SHOULD have to inform her husband regarding HER choice about what to do with HER body. Life is a series of connections, no? Dr. Pennachio is a firm supporter of women’s autonomy, of choice and access to women’s healthcare. One would think that such a candidate might be a good person to support, to drive home to our ineffective Democratic Party leadership that it’s time for them to start fighting FOR something for a change.

Too bad an activist so closely connected with choice and with fighting this terrible nominee for the highest court never heard of this challenger to Mr. Casey.

Some would say that I’m being a bomb-thrower, that we should fight one battle at a time. Yet this is all the same battle. It’s the same problem, over and over and over again. We face a rabid extreme rightwing that lies and bullies. How do you stop a bully? Any kid who’s survived grade school knows the answer to that question. You fight back, something that neither the party, nor our “single interest groups”, seem willing to do. It is all of a piece. Alito is a terrible nominee, every bit as bad as Bork was, but Bork faced a Democratic Party that would still fight, if only to protect it’s place as the then-majority party. Now, sadly, they seem resigned to being handmaidens, a role they will share with many activists. Handmaidens in Bush’s America.  

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