MAJORITY AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

Now that the Senate has voted for cloture on the stimulus, I gotta say it’s striking how the goalposts have moved in terms of what the media consider a majority out of 100 senators. The dominant sense you’d get from following mainstream media coverage of the debate is that 61 Senators is the cut-off for a Senate majority, and if Obama’s initiatives don’t make it past that post he hasn’t garnered that much support (and he isn’t really that bipartisan). That’s not how I remember things being covered during the Bush administration, when the same talking heads did their talking about the filibuster as though it was an extreme measure.

Put differently, with a Republican in the White House the onus was on Democrats to justify why anything would be worth a filibuster; with a Democrat in the White House, the onus is on Democrats to scare up 61 votes.

When John Kerry talked about filibustering Sam Alito’s Supreme Court nomination (which, compared to the stimulus package, is also far-reaching in impact but most would agree was less time-sensitive to get done), that was covered as an antic from the fringe. But amidst the veneration of Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the starting assumption seems to be that the very most moderate members of the Senate GOP Caucus by default will filibuster the President’s bill unless they get to rewrite it.

Is this an unfair comparison? And if not, then do we blame the media, or blame the Democrats for having lacked the parliamentary-style party discipline to better control the media narrative?

That said, I don’t think there’s much evidence that the public cares terribly much about what Nancy Pelosi rightly called “process arguments” – who’s obstructing who, who’s more bipartisan, etc. And the latest polling suggests that as with the Presidential election, the GOP may be capturing media cycles without capturing voters. Another reason to hope the Conference Committee leaves the Nelson-Snowe crew with a token accomplishment or two but otherwise churns out the bill best designed to actually stimulate the economy – whose success or failure is what voters will actually remember a year from now.

DISTINGUISHING

I have to believe Frank Rich knows better than this:

Even leaving aside the Giuliani record in New York (where his judicial appointees were mostly Democrats), the more Democratic Senate likely to emerge after 2008 is a poor bet to confirm a Scalia or Alito even should a Republican president nominate one. No matter how you slice it, the Giuliani positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control remain indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s.

Look, I like to gloat as much as the next guy, but let’s not do it at the expense of reality. And Rudy Giuliani has indeed gotten more traction than many (myself included) thought he ever could, despite James Dobson et al’s significant discomfort with him. But he’s not a pro-choice candidate (he’s not a pro-gay rights or pro-gun control candidate either). He believes abortion is immoral, and he’s made it clear to anyone who’s paying attention that he’ll appoint judges who will make abortion illegal. The intermediate question of whether he has nice things to say about laws banning abortion is a detail (he’s also reversing himself on laws that make it more difficult for women to access the right to choose). While the Senate on a good day can hold back particularly crazy nominees, the only people who come their way for confirmation are the ones the president sends over. And in case you haven’t noticed, drafting strategies on how to overturn Roe isn’t enough to deny you confirmation votes from Democrats.

NOT A GOOD WEEK FOR JUSTICE

Robert Bork’s failed domination set a crucial precedent that a nominee whose jurisprudence endangers fundamental freedoms can and should be rejected by the Senate regardless of his personal competence. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats set a new one on Monday by stopping short of a filibuster on Sam Alito, a man who literally wrote the brief on how to kill Roe v. Wade, who has shown unwavering support for the power of the federal government to have its way with marginalized individuals, and who rejects that government’s responsibility and power to act in the service of the disenfranchised. Monday set a dangerous new precedent that when push comes to shove, the Senate will advise and consent only on whether the nominee is a sex offender or an incompetent. It’s a precedent Republicans can be depended on to take advantage of, to the real detriment of everyone who looks to an independent judiciary to safeguard their rights.

The Democrats’ ostensibly rebellious clapping after Bush said that Congress hadn’t enacted his plan to erode Social Security only emphasized the dark irony of the day: politicians who express their opposition through unauthorized clapping but not through the parliamentary avenues available to stop the confirmation of men who will leave us less free.

Want to put some real progressives into Congress? Here’s a good place to start.

STOP MY PARENTS BEFORE THEY VITIATE PRINCETON’S ALUMNI BODY AGAIN

If you didn’t know better, you might be concerned to learn that Samuel Alito touts his membership in a group which, based on its literature, seems to see the entrance of women and minority students into the academy as a threat to the university – at least if the university is Princeton:

“Currently alumni children comprise 14 percent of each entering class, compared with an 11 percent quota for blacks and Hispanics,” [Concerned Alumni of Princeton] wrote in a 1985 fund-raising letter sent to all Princeton graduates…”Is the issue the percentage of alumni children admitted or the percentage of minorities?” Jonathan Morgan, a conservative undergraduate working with the group, asked its board members that fall in an internal memorandum. “I don’t see the relevance in comparing the two, except in a racist context (i.e. why do we let in so many minorities and not alumni children?),” he continued.

…the group announced in an early fund-raising pamphlet that its goals included a less-liberal faculty and “a more traditional undergraduate population.” A pamphlet for parents suggested that “racial tensions” and loose oversight of campus social life were contributing to a spike in campus crime. A brochure for Princeton alumni warned, “The unannounced goal of the administration, now achieved, of a student population of approximately 40 percent women and minorities will largely vitiate the alumni body of the future.”…When the administration proposed a new system of residential colleges with their own dining halls, Prospect denounced the idea as a potential threat to the system of eating clubs. The magazine charged that, like affirmative action, the plan was “intended to create racial harmony.”

One might be taken aback that in applying for a promotion in the Reagan Administration, Alito offered as a conservative credential his membership in a group which see students from group traditionally excluded from Princeton (like my parents) as “vitiating” the “alumni body.” But lucky for Sam Alito, former Concerned Alumni of Princeton starlet turned conservative superstar Laura Ingraham is on hand to reassure us that any good conservative would see an influx of Blacks, Jews, and women as a threat to higher learning:

“Stop the presses!” she said. “Sam Alito, a conservative, was once a member of a conservative Princeton alumni group.”

Feel better yet?

BORROW AT WILL

Faced with the prospect of having to cover something substantive, like Judge Alito’s long record of anti-worker jurisprudence, which Nathan Newman documented and Sherrod Brown wrote a letter about to Mike DeWine, the Cleveland Plain Dealer decided that the more interesting story was Brown’s use of Nathan’s work without attribution. As Nathan himself writes:

Were they deceived that Brown got on LEXIS, did the legal research himself, and wrote every word of the letter he sent Mike DeWine himself? This is the comparison to academic plagiarism, but the difference between students (and I teach two classes) and politicians is that we expect students to do their own research. Politicians have speech writers and use other peoples ideas without attribution all the time.

So the problem isn’t using other people’s ideas, but that somehow the American people assumed that Brown paid good money to staff for these unattributed ideas and the fact that he got them for free from a blogger is a scandal. Now, if I was a volunteer on the Brown campaign, and not a paid staff person, would all these conservatives beating their breasts over plagiarism still see a problem? I doubt they could do so with a straight face. So is the problem that I am an independent political activist offering my ideas to all progressive comers, without working for Brown specifically?

As Nathan notes, he posted the piece not only on his own website but on DailyKos, every page of which bears the disclaimer:

Site content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified.

But in case any intrepid Senate campaign staffers are out there looking to lift writing from a (less talented, younger, unmarried) blogger, let me offer an additional disclaimer of my own for Little Wild Bouquet:

Take whatever you want (as long as you don’t re-write it to mean the opposite). Please. Take it all. Have at it. No, really. This means you. You know you want it.

Please?

Anybody?

NOT DOING US ANY FAVORS

Howard Dean was doing a decent job on Hardball reminding Chris Matthews that it was the White House, and not the Democratic Party, that first declared Samuel Alito’s record as a prosecutor to be relevant to the merits of his nomination. But then Matthews brought up Alito’s far-right position on spousal notification and instead of hitting out of the park the question of whether a woman should need a permission slip from her husband to decide what happens to her body, Dean got dragged into a losing fight over whether it was accurate to describe the Democrats as a “pro-choice party.” Dean shied away from the characterization, even though it describes a plurality of Americans, on the grounds that calling the party pro-choice suggests that people with the party’s position are not “pro-life.”

That would be the problem with the term “pro-life,” not the term “pro-choice.”

Dean fumbled back and forth between describing his position as one supporting a woman’s right to choose and one supporting a family’s right to choose, and insisted that the Democratic party’s position was not an “abortion rights” one. If the idea was to communicate that the party was open to abortion opponents, it’s not clear what Dean accomplished towards that end. But for those looking to the Democratic party in hopes of figuring out what it stands for, it clear what the costs are of bristling and hedging over whether you should be called “pro-choice.”