Tuesday, January 17, 2006


DT in the Wall Street Journal

What follows is the text of an op-ed I had published in this morning's Wall Street Journal reflecting on the Alito hearings. As is often the case, some of the nuance of the piece got squeezed out for space reasons. So I plan on elaborating on a few points in this space later in the day.

Base Dogma
January 17, 2006; Page A16

It's hard not to listen to the reviews of the Democrats' performance in the Alito hearings and come away thinking that much of our party is living in a parallel universe.

Most of the political establishment has concluded that the Democrats were: (a) ineffectual; (b) egomaniacal; (c) desperately grasping at straws; (d) downright offensive; or (e) some combination of the above. The American people, outside of those living in deep-blue enclaves, either were not paying attention or concluded that Sam Alito seemed like a pretty decent guy who was more than qualified. And if they saw anything about it on TV, they couldn't figure out why those pompous Democratic senators were trying to slam Judge Alito for being racist (and making his wife cry).

Yet the liberal blogosphere is agog at the way the Democrats let Judge Alito off the hook. And they're stupefied as to why the Senate Democrats are signaling that they won't risk triggering a nuclear confrontation with a filibuster. Postings on Daily Kos were typical. First, this comment from Georgia10: "Don't tell me a filibuster isn't warranted when 56% of this nation says Alito SHOULD be blocked if he'll overturn Roe. . . . I keep hearing . . . [t]hat we need 'angry' Dems, we need Dems with courage. We need Dems with courage. Well guess what -- we HAVE angry Dems, we HAVE courageous Dems. Look in the damn mirror, people. WE are the party. WE are the Democrats. We're angry, we spit fire, and our time has come."

Then there was this response from one DHinMI: "Alito is a judicial radical and far from the national mainstream on numerous issues. . . And with his anemic numbers, [Bush] wouldn't be able to count on much support from the country in ramming through the nomination."

There are many problems with this analysis. The most immediate is that even if you accept that the activist base's concerns are valid -- that Judge Alito may in fact be a "judicial radical" -- the Democrats simply didn't prove it. They certainly could not justify their absurd insinuations that he was a closet bigot. Their only sliver of evidence was his peripheral membership in a conservative Princeton alum group that opposed affirmative action and that he never was active in. That was it: no pattern of behavior, no Trent Lott-like public statements, no red flags. Beyond being reprehensible, this line of attack was degrading. It reinforced the leftover perception from pre-Clinton days that our party cries wolf on race when it can't win on the merits, and thereby lowered our credibility one rung more in challenging legitimate incidences of discrimination. Those who suggested to Ted Kennedy et al. that this was a winning play should have their strategists' licenses revoked.

Nor could the Democrats back up their central claim that Judge Alito would bring to the court a wild-eyed conservative agenda bent on taking away our rights, especially those of women. Maybe he'll vote to overturn Roe, but there's no way a disinterested observer could come away from these hearings convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he would. Indeed, I am an interested, pro-choice observer, and I couldn't say for sure how he'll rule based on the hearings. Yes, he indicated two decades ago that he thought Roe was wrongly decided (as have many other respected constitutional experts); but he was writing as a legal advisor to a pro-life administration, not as a judge. Far more recently, and relevantly, he has said he would not prejudge cases before they came to the court and that he would give great weight to precedent. It's little wonder that an ambivalent country that has twice elected a pro-life president and accepted pro-life leadership in Congress didn't flip its lid over the case against Judge Alito on abortion.

And that's the heart of the problem with our party and its angry activist base. It's not so much that we're living in a parallel universe, but that we have dueling conceptions of what's mainstream, especially on abortion and other values-based issues, and our side is losing. We think that if we simply call someone conservative, anti-choice and anti-civil rights, that's enough to scare people to our side. But that tired dogma won't hunt in today's electorate, which is far more independent-thinking and complex in its views on values than our side presumes.

That point was driven home in an incontrovertible analysis of the 2004 election results by Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck. They found that the American polity has undergone a great shaking out, where conservatives now vote almost universally for Republicans and liberals for Democrats, and that Republicans have won the presidency twice in a row because they're doing a better job of pulling moderates/independents their way -- in particular married women and white Catholics who are uncomfortable with the Democrats on values issues. Judging from the dreadful tack our party took in the Alito process, it's clear that we haven't yet internalized these political realities -- most likely because our anger at George Bush continues to blind us to them. Many Democrats just don't want to acknowledge that he's president and is going to pick conservative justices -- let alone that the two we got, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, are about as good as we could hope for.

This episode shows we don't have any leader in power who will tell our base that we're not going to become a majority party again by telling the majority they're out of the mainstream. We do badly need leaders with courage -- the courage, that is, to push our party (to borrow a phrase) to move on, to accept that we can't win with the same lame ideological arguments in post-9/11 America, and that we must develop an alternative affirmative agenda that shows we can keep the country safer, make the economy stronger, and govern straighter than the ethically challenged Republicans. Then we can worry about picking the nominees instead of fighting them.

Mr. Gerstein is a former communications director for Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Speak the truth brother Dan. There are many of us wandering in the political wilderness. The Democrats are dying... And when I am challenged as to my doubts, I often respond that I am not leaving the Party, the Party is leaving me. Gone is the Party of JFK, FDR, and Harry Truman. I just discovered your blog. I will check in regularly. All the best of luck.
Your rationale is why Repugs keep winning. You seem to be arguing that we roll over and take what they give us. Heck NO! Don't blame the base because the Democrats on the Judiciary were unorganized. Don't blame us for John Kerry's lack of a spine and don't blame us because Joementum and Al Gore didn't fight for themselves either. The real problems with the Democratic party are with the so called Leaders Like Liberman--who don't fight for themselves. Americans will forgive mistakes, but they won't forgive a lack of guts. What we need is not to change into "Repug Lite" like Joe, what we need is to stick to our beliefs, organize and rid ourselves of folks like Joe and the other Joe (Biden), who don't have the guts to call the Republicans the Crooks and Liars that they are!

Ron Russell
San Francisco
Ironically, I'm a old traditional conservative republican and I didn't see that way. However, from what I saw is that the Republican party left me. Many conservatives I knew felt the same way I felt about today's Republican party.

And then you told the 'leftists' to roll over and let the Radical Right wackos walk all over non-Radical Republicans, 'leftists' or in this matter, Americans? I foresee in the future that the Radical Right is the 'last straw on the camel's back' that cause the downfall of America. I'm more than glad to bet you a few hundred dollars because I will win -- eventually. Guaranteed.

Sorry, but I don't buy your hypebole at all.
As an angry Democrat I have no desire for the Dems to abandon mainstream America. My anger with the Democrats in power is that they have allowed the Republicans to determine what will or will not be considered mainstream without much of a fight.

The Republicans have changed the way politics are played in this country and the Democrats don't seem to have figured that out. The Republicans cheat, they lie, they break the law, they manipulate the media, and they usually don't apologize when they get caught.

On the other hand we have the Democrats who can't even stand together on an issue like choice. Polls say most Americans still believe in choice. Even if it isn't considered the most important issue in this country, it isn't anti-mainstream. This may just change after a couple more years of Dems giving way while Repubs fight hard.

It doesn't matter what Alito did or didn't say in those hearings. Just like every other Bush appointee he had absolutely no intention of revealing anything honest about his beliefs. I didn't see the Democrats do anything to expose this Republican tactic. I doubt most mainstream Americans could tell you anything that was said at the hearings. What mattered was the way in which the entire process played out in mainstream media. The Republicans get that. The Democrats still seem to think that the details matter in American politics.

Once again the Republicans acted in unison while the Democrats individually tried to figure out what they were going to do. The message I saw presented in the short clips that played on my local news showed the Republicans firmly supporting Alito and Democrats that were either on opposite sides or didn't seem to know what to think.

Until they can figure out how to work together and present a unified message it doesn't matter where their positions fall in comparison to mainstream America, they're going to continue to lose elections. Meanwhile the Republicans will continue their organized push to move the mainstream further and further to the right.

THAT is what makes me angry.
that's all fine and dandy, but, essentially, does anyone think this is even remotlely helpful? to anyone? let's see, "we can't win with the same lame ideological arguments in post-9/11 America, and that we must develop an alternative affirmative agenda that shows we can keep the country safer, make the economy stronger, and govern straighter than the ethically challenged Republicans." oooookaaaaaaay. what a shocker. sounds like cookie cutter boiler plate that took, perhaps, 30 seconds, to think up (or cut and paste). and what might that "alternative affirmative agenda" be? presumably the purpose of having a party is because there are at least a few things its members collectively believe in and would like to see happen. so what is it that you are proposing other than a few canned slogans that will appeal to just about no one?
Let me see if I understand this...

If you have a strongly held conviction that happens to be at variance with, say, 55% of the electorate, you should stifle that conviction in order not to risk the chance of losing an election?

And these guys wonder why they keep losing?

The electorate doesn't want candidates who will tailor their message to what 55% of them say they want.

They want someone who will convince them that what the candidate believes is what they should believe.

Republicans use polls to figure out how to sell their ideas to the public.

Democrats use polls to figure out what ideas to sell to the public.

Guess who is winning?
This is just more of same old hackneyed spin of the DLC. I am a former Republican consultant who left the GOP in the mid 90's because they were becoming more and more radical, especially with their kowtowing to their religious right base. I became a Democrat because I wanted to be a member of a party that believed in the American ideals of freedom, liberty and equality. Yet what I have gotten over the past several years is Republican Lite, a party lacking both a spine and a set of testicles.
I, like many other folks in my age bracket (18-35), want a party that stands for something. We are sick of "leaders" who meekly accept whatever scraps the GOP leaves for us. We are tired of a party that lacks the guts to go on the offensive against the GOP and their rightward lurch.

Polls are quite clear that the American people do not want a justice who will overturn Roe. This is precisely the right moment for Dems to reassert their spine and balls. Let the GOP go nuclear, it doesn't matter. If we had real leaders they would understand that the American people would support us if we made the case that Alito would not support Roe (as he refused to state that Roe was settled law of the land, it ought not be too difficult), and that the GOP is willing to change longstanding Senate rules just to appeal to their narrow religious base.

But then, we probably can't expect that level of competence from Joementum or Joe "MBNA" Biden, can we? It's these type of spineless bastards who have ruined the fighting spirit of the Democratic Party. And people like you, Mr. Gerstein, are merely their enablers. Good job! I am sure Karl Rove has a special place in his heart for folks like you.
Great idea, let's just let them roll over us. Aren't you aware we are half the country, yet we deserve no representation in these matter to block the most objectionable. The democrats are doing exactly what they are supposed to do: read through his record and find out where he stands, in other words intelligence gathering. This nominee is well out of the mainstream. BASED UPON HIS RECORD he will give unprecedented power to the president, will support big corporations over little ones and individuals and support conservative christians all the time. His argument that he rules based upon the law is the equivalent to saying I was just following orders. We don't need it.

As far as values goes, how exactly did they come to be abortion, gay rights and school prayer? As far as I know, Jesus never said a word about any of those things. It's about time you started to act like a democrat instead of republican lite.
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