The next move on Alito
Time to take a quick look at the political equivalent of tea leaves, i.e. poll numbers. Here's what the latest Gallup poll says about the American public's views of Alito -- in so far that they have any opinion on a man so recently thrust into the public eye:
The public is evenly divided as to whether Alito probably would or would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Thirty-eight percent believe he would, and an equal percentage think he would not, with the rest offering no opinion.
If it becomes clear Alito would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade, Americans would not want the Senate to confirm him, by 53% to 37%. [LINK]Sounds good, as does the news that 50 percent of those surveyed would support a Democratic filibuster (40 percent are opposed). Then again they're equally divided over the prospect of the Republican nuclear option, i.e. eliminating the filibuster entirely. Needless to say, the results continue to split closely along partisan lines, with independents and moderates siding with the Democrats.
I've been pondering the Democrats' next move thanks to an interesting email conversation with my colleague over at ITT, Chris Hayes. Here's where I end up. There is no way the Democrats can stop Alito's nomination without resorting to a filibuster. It seems clear from Arlen Specter's remarks that the moderate Republicans are going to take any option that allows them to maintain their pro-choice credentials without pissing off the White House. So as long as Alito makes the right noises, they'll toe the party line. But as Mark Schmitt notes over on the TPM Cafe, their partisan loyalty may not extend to supporting the Nuclear Option:
The conventional wisdom seems to be that if Democrats try to filibuster Alito, the Republicans in the "Gang of 14" will consider the deal broken and vote for the Nuclear Option.
Some of them may. But to pull off the Nuclear Option banning filibusters on judicial nominations will still require an extraordinary exercise of leadership and party discipline to force Senators to do something many of them don't want to do. Frist couldn't quite pull it off five months ago, he sure can't do it now. There are plenty of Republicans who weren't part of the Gang of 14 but who did not want to have to vote for the Nuclear Option back in May and were very glad to see it go away. (Specter and Ted Stevens come to mind.) They definitely don't want to now, and Frist no longer has any leverage to make them do it. And some others might wonder why they would want to end filibusters 13 months before they risk losing control of the institution. [LINK]Schmitt's larger thesis that the GOP has lost effective control of the Senate seems a little optimistic, but I think he is right when it comes to high-risk measures like the Nuclear Option. These lemmings aren't going to jump off that cliff.
So, yes, a filibuster. But just as important is what the Dems "tell" the American people -- why did they feel such radical measures were required? Just making vague noises about Alito's extremist views isn't going to cut it. What they need is clear and compelling casus belli, so to speak.
In my opinion, they're not going to find a better reason for partisan war than abortion. Irrespective of any moral misgivings they might have, large majorities of Americans support keeping abortion legal -- a fact lost in the sound and fury of the political debate. But it is why the Bush administration is so keen on hiding the real views of its nominees. Democrats need to come out in the open and unashamedly make abortion a litmus test. This is not just the "right" thing to do, this is the smart thing to do. Those who view abortion rights as a political millstone around our neck need to remember that Americans may be uncomfortable with abortion, but they unequivocally do not want to lose their reproductive rights. And they've said so loud and clear in survey after survey.
Besides, it's time that we finally called the right's bluff on abortion -- an issue that they've used to bully Democrats for decades. It's time we demonstrate just who is extreme and out of touch with the American people.
That said, I won't pretend that making the Alito nomination about abortion is not a high-risk strategy, but then so is a filibuster. Besides, if the Democrats lose the gamble, the outcome will be the same as if they had cooperated: Roe v Wade will be history.