After Ben Nelson's announcement that he is voting for Alito, I was a bit surprised (and impressed) that moderate Democratic Senators Ken Salazar (CO) and Max Baucus (MT) answered so forcefully to the contrary. That leaves it looking like the immediate fate of the Alito nomination to the Supreme Court will rest with the five Democratic Senators from the Dakotas and Arkansas. Their votes - wrestling with the example of Tom Daschle and facing a political climate somewhat similar to Nebraska's - will set the course from here on out.
Honestly, if Nelson was going to vote for Alito anyways, I'm glad he announced early and got it out of the way. It eliminates uncertainty and gives the Party a chance to otherwise build a united front, standing boldly on Democratic principles and putting the screws to those Republicans in Democratic-friendly territory to decide whether they are willing to sell the Supreme Court and possibly their careers to the radical right's cultural agenda. Nelson's one vote hardly undermines this effort. If his one vote is joined by three or four others, it may be a different matter.
Of course, voting against Alito does not necessarily indicate willingness to engage in a filibuster. They really are different votes depending on a Senator's philosophical approach to government and the constitutional role of the presidency. Democratic leaders might be obligated to the women, labor unions, and minorities most threatened by "Associate Justice Alito" - not to mention the history books - to at least attempt a filibuster, but the moment the media's focus turns to "the gang of 14" and the nuclear option this is going to become a melee in which the message of why Samuel Alito is not right for America could well be lost.
If the message is truly what matters, do you forsake it just to make a point or do you let the votes speak for themselves? Such is the choice before the Democrats in the Senate - who may well be justified causing all sorts of ugliness to stop (or stall) Alito's nomination but might also have nothing to gain by doing so.
Regardless of what happens, it's impossible to fault those Nebraska Democrats disappointed by Nelson's failure to represent their values. Last night, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist gloatingly referred to Alito as Democrats' "worst nightmare." If that's not a warning sign that something's amiss about this nomination, I don't know what is.
Since Nelson will not heed this warning, I hope he will at least consider speaking to the principles on which he is basing his vote by condemning Frist's callous and cynical treatment of the nation's highest court like a political trophy. Nelson is uniquely positioned to deliver such a reproach in a manner that every American could appreciate and know as truth.
Seriously, Frist and the Republicans wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Beyond President Bush's often cited accolades, even the Republican National Committee has gotten in the business of hailing Nelson, literally giving him a gold star and telling Republicans to call and thank him for his leadership.
Disturbing? Yes...but also an opportunity.
And politically-speaking, what could possibly be more frustrating for the Nebraska GOP and their failed attempts at portraying Nelson as out of touch with Nebraska voters? Hell, they can't even convince their fat cat superiors in Washington D.C. of that one.