Thursday, January 12, 2006

Beyond Confirmation

If Sam Alito wins Senate confirmation, which seems likely, the first thing he should do is rush up to the Court and thank his soon-to-be fellow Justices (including Sandra Day O’Conner).  It was their action in Bush v Gore that ultimately will have put him and the new Chief on that bench.  Perhaps Judge Alito doesn’t consider Roe settled law, but you can bet that he has a special place in his heart for the settlement in that landmark case.  When the Supremes made their decision breaking the deadlock in 2000, many Democrats, while infuriated, naively felt that the new president would not be able to do much harm given the closeness of his disputed victory.  That notion was quickly put to rest by his aggressive executive orders and religiously-based tilt to the right within days of his inauguration.  Now comes Alito, whose future decisions can’t be guaranteed, but who will likely be more doctrinaire (Scalia-like) than his predecessor’s.  Whatever the case, who sits in the White House and who rules Congress and the Court (the majority appointed by Republicans) makes a difference.  As John McCain put it in a recent interview and Lindsay Graham intoned during the first day’s hearing, “elections have consequences.”  They do.  President Bush’s polls are down and his administration is surrounded by ineptitude and scandal.  We’re still waiting for the shoe to drop on Karl Rove and the fallout from Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff et al.  But make no mistake, Bush still holds the executive pen and will for the next three years.  As Mrs. Loman’s said, “Attention must be paid.”

The life-threatening illness of Ariel Sharon which has almost certainly ended his career is yet another reminder of the leadership vacuum faced in so many countries including our own, most especially in the Democratic Party.  Admire him or not, Ronald Reagan brought something to the political landscape that set in motion years of Republican domination.  It is hard to see who on our side has that kind of crowd appeal. Leadership is important and, while Republican say ideas count (which they certainly do), charisma matters greatly. In all honesty, while we may have thought that Gore won in 2000, he ran a lousy campaign. He had a strong economy and a healthy surplus behind him not to mention a general feeling of hope about our technology-driven future. He simply blew it.  So too did John Kerry who caught George Bush with his WMD pants down in Iraq and economic anxiety at home. He should by all accounts have walked away with that election and didn’t. His campaign was haphazard to say the least and he let the Rove disinformation machine get the best of him early on, never recovering from or responding to those Swift Boat lies.

So here we are with an assumptive Justice Sam Alito who will be sitting on the Court for perhaps three decades to come. The recently economically secure United States is a big time debtor. The recently all powerful United States is in fact unable to respond to the threat of a nuclear North Korea or Iran in any meaningful way – a tiger without teeth. We are unquestionably less safe than we were before these guys came to power. We’re losing our edge in technology (Intel’s newest chips are being designed in Israel) and we aren’t developing nearly enough talent at home to compete in the next generation. The world no longer looks up to us, and don’t think their reassessment is limited to the Bush gang. We’re no longer seen as special, or at the very least are on our way toward that sad definition. Sure much can be blamed on those in power, but perhaps even more to those who have allowed them to take it. As Sean Connery’s character in the Untouchables challenged Eliot Ness, “what are you going to do about it?” Yes, what are we going to do about it and when?

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