Saturday, January 21, 2006

Nelson the ONLY Democrat for Alito?

by Kyle Michaelis
So far, at any rate.

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.


Blogger Erich said...

Kyle - I must say that after the response you gave to my post on the NDP Blog that I am a little surprised to see this opinion from you here on your Blog. Since the revelation this weekend that several states are already preparing their challenges to Roe v. Wade in anticipation of Alito's confirmation, I believe that it is even MORE imperitive that Sen. Nelson does all within his power to stop this confirmation. If that is not enough, another serious red flag should be Mr. Alito's belief in the "Unitary Executive Theory" whose adherents belive in the total and unimpeachable power of the Presidency. I believe it to be unwise to give an administration that has already abused the power that it has even more power, don't you? What was the point Sen. Nelson working to preserve the filibuster if he refuses to use it in a case this extreme and important to the future of our republic that I know we both hold so dear?

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

There's no cause for surprise. I've been consistent and quite vociferous in my insistence that Alito is not right for America. Alas, Ben Nelson is not yours or my own private Senator. He represents THE VOTERS of Nebraska, while standing on HIS principles - not yours or mine.

In the confirmation of judges, Nelson has been consistent and open about his expectations. I may not like the conclusions he has come to or agree with his undeservedly extending Alito the benefit of the doubt - but raging against what is, at the end of the day, a judgment call that in no way contradicts the leadership he's demonstrated over 15 years in Nebraska's political spotlight is nothing but short-sighted sour grapes.

Democracy does not function as a war between opposing ideologies - when that's what it becomes, progress will always lose out to hate and fear. Principled compromise is what the people want and deserve. There are many paths to it but none include name-calling and impugning a man's character for no crime but a political disagreement.

Democracy should be an exercise in reasonable and responsible decision-making. Voting is a balancing act. Candidates are choices and, unless you've put your name on the ballot, it's foolish to expect anyone else to represent you completely. Ben Nelson does not need to speak for me. I have a voice, and with it I do what I can to reach the people and change their minds because that's where the real power of democracy lies (if I can't put some faith in that, none of this matters anyways).

Win the people back and the politicians will follow suit. Gripe all you want about their votes, but it's not doing a damn thing to change the ones that truly matter.

You vote as your conscience dictates and your hopes prevail, as do I. Nelson deserves and has earned the same right. You don't have to like his votes. You don't have to accept them. But, be careful that your politics not become entirely enslaved to your passions. Even the highest principles unguided by reason will inevitably lead to disaster.

"Choose wisely" is all that representative democracy asks...and sometimes all that it allows.


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