Thursday, August 18, 2005

What To Do About Roberts?

It's conventional wisdom by now that John Roberts will be confirmed as the next Associate Justice of The Supreme Court. By nominating a somewhat reasonable candidate (at least on paper), Bush has in a way called the Democrats' bluff: you can't reasonably obstruct him but the activist wing of the party won't allow you to just confirm him without some fight. Which is exactly how it's playing out.

You know all those e-mails from MoveOn and People For The American Way that go on and on about Roberts's conservative views? Not even they think a defeat of Roberts is a real option, but what they do hope to accomplish was suggested last night on Hannity and Colmes by Newsweek's Eleanor Clift: they want to reduce the number of votes Roberts gets because if he is confirmed with a huge majority of Democratic votes and does become liberals' worst nightmare (anti-privacy, anti-environment, pro-corporation, etc.) the Democrats will have less credibility opposing a conservative justice in the future because the bar for what's acceptable to Democrats will have been moved so far to the right.

So the liberal activist groups have been demanding a fight and this week Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) obliged by making statements declaring Roberts well outside the mainstream. And as a result, articles such as Roberts Battle Adds to Democrats' Divide appear in the Washington Post.

The public tug of war among Democrats this week over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. underscores the conflicting pressures facing Democratic leaders as they try to satisfy a growing cadre of activists anxious to battle President Bush while avoiding the appearance of being captives of their most vocal constituencies.

The debate over what to do about Roberts is the latest in a series of disagreements over the past three years pitting the party's Washington-based leaders against traditional liberal advocacy groups or the newer world of grass-roots activists stitched together through e-mail and Web logs.

Ah yes, there goes the old liberal media again back to one of its favorite story lines about the fractured Democratic Party. But the problem is it's not untrue. While I heartily support the activism of and People For The American Way, I think Democrats would do well to take a page out of the Republican play book. When George W. Bush was essentially annointed the nominee for the 2000 election, the far right wing of the party shut the hell up for the greater good and have since been more than generously rewarded for their cooperation. It might be too much to expect the Democrats to coalesce around a certain candidate in 2008 but the benefits of the appearance of a unified party over the next 3 years could seriously outweigh the potential costs of fighting for every issue our activist wing is passionate about.


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