20 July 2005

- Mister Roberts -

Let's start with a compliment: Whatever you might think of Roberts on the SCOTUS, you have to admit that this is a strategically brilliant nomination. First off, the timing was great, knocking the Rove affair off the front pages. Second, Roberts is 50 years old and so if the current court membership is any guide, he will be serving like forever. Third, he's a Washington insider and has cordial relations with many of the Dems.

Nevertheless, blogworld is already abuzz with reasons Roberts is unfit for the position. Of course, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that any Bush nomination would meet the same response. Really, I just don't see how such a predictable line of attack helps at all. Demonization works only so long, and the conservative political machine has long known how to effectively parry these attacks. Besides, since Roberts does strike me as eminently well-qualified, it also seems that this response simply imposes a "litmus test." Are we to be as vile as our opponents? Come on, folks, we can do better than this!

Still this does not mean that we roll over. I agree with Prof. B that it is time to fight. I just think we need to start our fight from a recognition that unless something terribly egregious turns up about Roberts we have very little chance of winning this particular battle. So we need to fight strategically, not to win the battle per se but, if you pardon me putting it this way, to put us in the best position to win the war.

So I just don't think scorched earth tactics are the way to go in this particular instance. Even if we win this battle, which is unlikely, it puts us in a horrible position in the larger war: there is, after all, an endless supply of conservative candidates for the position and the nominees are likely only to get worse rather than better.

Yet I think we do need to mount real resistance. As I said, we can't simply roll over. The question is: what should that resistance look like? I think maybe rather than going after Roberts ad hominem it might be more productive to use this as an opportunity ro remind the public over and over of what's at stake in any SCOTUS appointment. That is, it seems to me that it might be politically more effective to use this nomination not to mobilize the base but rather to secure political ground with the general public that can be used later. Really, it's the political ground that counts, since the only way to reverse the situation is for the left to take command of the political discourse and for the left to start winning elections. We have to remember that.

With that in mind, we also need to keep this nomination from distracting us from the issues that will continue to damage Bush and the conservative agenda: hammering Rove, Bolten, Iraq, the Downing Street Memo, Tom Delay, and so forth. Those are the issues that have sent Bush's and the GOPs numbers downward, and those, rather than this particular nomination, are the issues that will likely to continue to erode support. So we have to be careful not to let go of them at the moment they are really starting to inflict significant damage. It's much better, I think, to use this nomination to underscore the political stakes, the high social costs we'll pay by letting the conservative agenda to go forward. Pay attention to the nomination, then, but don't obsess over it to the exclusion of everything else.

Essentially, the nomination gives us another opportunity to pose the question: is this the vision of America that We the People really want to embrace?