Sound and Fury
Do the Democrats fight it out over Alito, or just pretend to fight? Do they go all out and filibuster the nomination, or do they put on a serious face and hold an inquisition on the Judiciary Committee to satisfy their base and make it easier to let them down when they don't go all out?
Do they fight knowing they could lose, and knowing that the ultimate price of that loss would be the death of the judicial filibuster as a weapon? I get the feeling that we won't know the answer to that question and neither will they until the hearings have gotten under way and they see how Judge Alito handles himself.
Many Democrats are itching for a fight and the issue groups on the left will be stridently opposed to the nomination, if nothing else for fundraising purposes. This goes double for the feminists groups which are a core Democrat constituency. Then there is the radical "moonbat" types that have taken over the organizational structure of the party. The Deaniacs and the MoveOn.org crowd all supported by even more radical elements in the blogosphere.
The reality is that the Democrat leadership is caught in the grip of the extreme left wing of their party and they will have to make an effort to mollify them. The liberal leaders in the Senate such as Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy will be sure to grill Alito incessantly during the judiciary committee hearings, probing for a wedge issue to peal off moderate Democrats and Republicans and to trip up Alito.
What the Democrats did this past week by forcing the Senate into a closed session was an attempt to change the subject from the Alito nomination, not so much with the American people, but with their own base constituency. They did this by focusing on something the base is even more frothy about than the Court the war in Iraq. This was political theatre of the highest order.
While defeat may be a reality, or at least a strategic option for Democrats, it is not an option for Republicans. After being disappointed once with the Miers nomination, the Republican base will not tolerate being disappointed again, meaning anyone who steps out of line and doesn't support invoking a rules change to overcome a filibuster will be toast. That being the case, I would suspect that any Republican so inclined would take refuge behind open opposition to Alito based on some other issue, such as abortion. Keep your eye on Chaffee, Snowe and Collins in this regard.
Given that Lindsey Graham and Mike DeWine have said that they would not support a filibuster against Alito and would support a rules change if necessary, the GOP would seem to be holding all the cards. Which would seem to leave the Democrats with little alternative but to engage in an all out verbal assault on Alito and then go down swinging just short of a fight over the rules. In other words, make noise to satisfy the base, but don't give the Republicans the opportunity to deep six the judicial filibuster.
Columnists Michael Barone raised an interesting point recently, noting that no northern Democrat wants to vote against an Italian American for the high court, given the Italian populations of those states. Such inclinations though are probably not as strong as in the past and probably overshadowed by the rabid nature of the party base, not to mention the ideological changes that Alito would bring to the court.
This does beg the question though of how far they are willing to go for appearances sake in their opposition. Do they oppose the filibuster, but vote no on the nomination? Or do they go the whole nine yards? The there's the red-state Democrats in the Senate who voted for Roberts, do they oppose Alito? Do they support a filibuster? Nebraska's Ben Nelson and North Dakota's Conrad face the voters next year in states carried heavily by Bush.
At the end of the day, the GOP has the votes, but what happens between now and then? Sure, the Democrats could tie the Senate up in knots, but the political consequences would be high. Their 2006 election strategy revolves around the war, supposed GOP corruption and accusing the Republican leadership of being "do nothings". Their intransigence would risk overshadowing the issues they wish to highlight.
Baring any meltdown by Alito during the hearings, it would seem that such considerations will complicate the already tight arithmetic of attempting to obstruct the nomination and in the end we're likely to witness a lot of noise but no serious opposition. Just sound and fury.