Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bring It On

The classic definition of chutzpah is the person who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the courts because he's an orphan.

But soon there'll be a new definition of chutzpah: the conservative Republican who derails Harriet Miers' Supreme Court nomination and then insists that the Democrats owe Bush's second nominee, Samuel Alito, an up or down vote and threatens them with the so-called nuclear option over it. Yeah, you gotta love 'em.

The Republicans have always been an interesting study in double standard politics. They're for states' rights, except when Oregon voted for an assisted suicide law. Then they wanted to federalize the issue to strike down the decision of Oregon voters. Likewise, they were for the rights of the state except when state judges upheld Michael Schiavo's right to terminate his wife's life support or when a state makes abortion easier. In other words, they're for states' rights until any individual state comes into conflict with their wacky rightwing social agenda. Just as they are for limiting government, except when it comes to a woman's right to choice or a gay couple's right to have the same legal protections as hetrosexual married people do. In fact, whenever it comes to an individual's right to privacy, the right suddenly discovers how valuable big government is. It's only their buddies in large corporations who need protection from big intrusive government, the better to price gouge and rack up obscene profits while underpaying workers and gutting pensions.

But the the conservatives' social agenda and their need to tell everybody else how to live their lives always trumps the Bill of Rights and the privacy of the individual.

Only not this time.

I don't think the Republicans can claim with a straight face that Democrats have an obligation to give Justice Alito an up or down vote. Not after the way they behaved when they felt that Harriet Miers was not ideologically pure enough for them.

To be sure, they stood on principle. And I applauded them for it.

But they also opened the door for others to do the same. And they simply can't close it again.

If Harriet Miers wasn't good enough for them because they weren't assured that she'd oppose a woman's right to choice (even though the White House did give assurances that she was pro-life), then Democrats have a right to push back and oppose a nominee who is anti-abortion. After all, senators are elected to represent their constitutents. They would be derelict in their duties if they didn't do that. And most of the Democrats in the Senate were elected because they were pro-choice.

In fact, most Americans still do support a woman's right to choose. And even among those who are ambivelent about on-demand abortion, a large majority would oppose restricting the right of a rape or incest victim or a woman whose life and health were at risk from obtaining an abortion. So it's perfectly fair to argue that Alito and his supporters are out of step with mainstream Americans.

Democrats have to make clear that this fight is not about the culture war. It's Republicans who are waging a culture war to force their religious values on everybody else. Democrats who oppose Alito are simply standing up for what they and most Americans believe. Democratic senators must cast themselves as fighting to defend the rights of the ordinary citizens they represent.

They have to point out that Justice Alito has already made rulings that most Americans wouldn't support. He has ruled that a woman seeking an abortion had to first get her husband's permission, a decision that was struck down by the Supreme Court. He also has ruled against the Family Leave Act, calling it unconsitutional. That too was overturned.

His rulings will affect not only a woman's right to choose but also the rights of workers, minorities, and those seeking justice in the courts from large corporations. He will have the power of life or death decisions in death penalty cases too. He is a hard right ideologue and if the Democrats do not oppose him, even with the filibuster, they are not doing their jobs.

As for the Republicans. Let them invoke the nuclear option. Meanwhile, let's remind people that these were the same people who took up special legislation to interfere with a grieving family's private end-of-life tragedy and intruded where they didn't belong and they are the same people who themselves derailed a Supreme Court nominee because they didn't find her ideologically pure enough. Let them have a temper tantrum that destroys the Senate's comity.

And then let the American people vote in 2006 on whether, like Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress that shut down the govenrment in 1994, this Republican Administration has gone to far in their extremism.

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