A Filibuster: Should They or Shouldn't They?

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Filibuster: Should They or Shouldn't They?

This weekend, an article in the Washington Post noted that several liberal blogs are urging Senate Democrats to filibuster the Alito SCOTUS nomination:
Democrats are getting an early glimpse of an intraparty rift that could complicate efforts to win back the White House: fiery liberals raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups vs. elected officials trying to appeal to a much broader audience.

These activists -- spearheaded by battle-ready bloggers and making their influence felt through relentless e-mail campaigns -- have denounced what they regard as a flaccid Democratic response to the Supreme Court fight, President Bush's upcoming State of the Union address and the Iraq war.

... Liberal activists seemed to have slightly more influence with their campaign to persuade Senate Democrats to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. Despite several polls showing that the public opposes the effort, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) on Thursday strongly advocated the filibuster plan -- and wrote about his choice on the Daily Kos ...
I'm as opposed to the Alito nomination as most of these bloggers, but I think Democrats and liberals need to remember that the odds of a filibuster succeeding are probably very small.

Even if an Alito filibuster were to "succeed," the success would be short-lived. President Bush would have the power to frame the debate by making yet another nomination. And don't expect him to nominate someone as weak as Harriet Miers the 3rd time around.

I understand the frustration of liberals as they watch the balance of power on the court shift to the right. But the public seems to largely defer to the president's preference on court appointments, and a filibuster isn't going to change that view. The only way to start changing this public perception is with a long-term strategy that educates the American people about the federal courts and starts to build coalitions that win elections.

The seeds for the conservative majority that now exists were planted in the 1960s and 1970s. Conservatives' persistence has paid off. If liberals want to prevent a full-scale conservative takeover of the courts, they must build a grassroots movement of voters and activists who engage and educate their friends and neighbors. We cannot expect a few dozen Democratic senators to accomplish this in a handful of days by filibustering.

Even worse, filibustering plays right into the hands of Karl Rove who would love to shift the debate away from Abramoff-style corruption (and a handful of photos the White House is holding), Iraq, and other issues that clearly put Bush and the GOP on the defensive.

Did John Kerry and other Senate Dems miss the Saturday morning newspaper headlines announcing that the 4th quarter GDP grew at the weakest rate in 3 years?

With several issues working against Bush, the White House would welcome a filibuster that refocuses the debate on a different subject.

Falling on your sword may seem noble, but noble acts aren't going to stop Alito's confirmation nor please anyone but the party's liberal base. Honestly, we lost the Alito battle 14 months ago when Bush was narrowly re-elected. Filibustering Alito may provide a cathartic release for the most liberal Dems, but, to most Americans, Senate Democrats would look like frustrated partisans.

Let's focus on issues we can really win on, issues that appeal to independent voters, and then build toward a successful November election.

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