What if …

The High Gods of Beltway punditry have announced that the confirmation of Alito is all but certain. And too many progressives seem to have internalized the claim.

The only hope of blocking this truly frightening character is through a filibuster. If they don't filibuster Alito, which looks to be the case, one has to wonder who they would filibuster (Dick Durbin (D-ILL) has held out the possibility). The New York Times called Alito a "radical," and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said he represented a "threat to our fundamental rights." Obviously all the civil rights, labor and reproductive rights groups are against him.

Now, there's lots of blame to be borne by the Senate Dems and the media. That's clear from the polling: a majority of Americans said they'd oppose Alito if he was likely to vote to overturn Roe, but an equal number say that they support his nomination. Given that his opinion of Roe isn't really a mystery, Alito's opponents have done a poor job and the media has been as sleepy as usual.

But it's too easy to sit back and blame what passes for the "progressive establishment" for falling down on Alito. The grassroots and the netroots have also done a terrible job communicating a cohesive message on Alito, and a worse job getting ordinary citizens to express their outrage at a man who looks like he'll be on of the great activist judges of all time (See Elizabeth De La Vega's excellent Nation piece about how the "unitary executive theory" seems to have been invented in the past couple of months).

I don't want to be an alarmist, but I for one am absolutely terrified about what the consequences of that failure might be for an entire generation. Sam Alito is 55 years old.

Which brings me to my "What if?" If the polls are right, something in the neighborhood of 65 million Americans oppose Alito. What if one in thirty had taken five minutes to write a letter to their Senators saying just how frightened they were of his appointment?

A Democratic Senate staffer once told me how they tally the feedback they get from the public: a phone call has the same value as two e-mails, a letter is worth two phone calls, etc. If Senate Dems and the moderate Republicans in the "Gang of Fourteen" had gotten a couple of million letters, we'd be looking at a filibuster. It's that simple.

As it is, there's no price to be paid by Senate Dems for not filibustering Alito. Figuring out how to hold their feet to the fire is progressives' job #1.

The right's most powerful tool-- far more valuable then their infrastructure and their adroit framing - is the public's complacency. It's been a long, hard struggle, but they've managed to convince a great number of Americans that they're powerless - that there's not a thing they can do to influence the course of events.

How do you reverse that? I guess that's the $64 dollar question.

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