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Posted by on Jul 22, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Roberts Defuses The Political Fury

Are we heading — for one brief, shining moment — towards a major political battle where the slash-and-burn, take-no-prisoners, the best defense is an good offense politics of the early 21st century may take backseat to a different style?

The style: a political battle more akin to many battles in the 20th century where people could greatly — adamantly — differ because each side believes so much is at stake but the hate factor is minimal. In other words: back to a political style that more reflects the sometimes ugly clash of conflicting ideas that create political decisions and away from a style that reflects often-empty-headed, lock-step demonization as practiced by perpetually angry talk show hosts.

There are signs — initial ones, mind you — that we’re seeing this right now in the case of Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts.

Democrats had prepared for a fire-and-brimestone conservative nominee, or at least one with a paper trail as long as Jay Leno’s chin. They expected an intellectual or political Darth Vader but instead they got what E. J. Dionne Jr. calls “Antonin Scalia with a Washington Establishment smile.” And to Dionne, therein lies the danger to progressives:

He is almost certainly a William Rehnquist for the 21st century. And he is David Souter turned on his head — a stealth candidate whose winning personality disguises intense conservatism, not moderation.

The LA Times notes that opposition to Roberts is quite thin so far — a far cry to what had been expected, no matter who had gotten George Bush’s nod:

What happens when an army prepares for World War III — and ends up in a border skirmish?

That question looms for liberal groups that have been collecting millions of dollars and preparing for years for a scorched-earth battle over President Bush’s first Supreme Court nominee.

That means abortion rights advocates and other liberal groups lobbying against Roberts may first have to fire up their allies if they are to have any hope of blocking the nomination.

The challenge facing the interest groups grew larger Thursday when several moderate Democrats said they had not yet seen anything in Roberts’ background to justify blocking him with a filibuster. The Democrats are part of the so-called Gang of 14, a bipartisan group that banded together earlier this year to thwart a showdown over use of the filibuster against judicial nominees.

Some Senate Democrats say their low-key, wait-and-see response to Roberts’ nomination results in part from the relatively thin record of information about his judicial philosophy, given that he has been an appeals court judge for only two years.

But it also reflects a calculation that Democrats would have more to lose than to gain by quickly opposing a nomination that so far appears hard to beat. Such a move would probably fuel Republicans’ efforts to portray Democrats as knee-jerk opponents of anything Bush wants.

No: it’s more than that.

It’s that the bottom line fact is that so far Roberts appears to be a conservative, but not an ideolgue. And Bush had talked ad naseum during two campaigns and beyond about appointing conservatives to the court.

Bush appointing a conservative should have been no big surprise. Who did the Democrats expect Bush to appoint? Alan Dershowitz?

What Bush did was rather than nominate someone who’d rub salt in the wound, he nominated someone who’d say sympathetically how bad the wound was, while opening it up a bit more. All with a winning smile.

So far at least — and this saga is only in its opening stages — Bush pulled off a highly skillful political appointment that pleased both wings of his party (let’s not mention Ann Coulter who has her own wings — like on a bat), brought a cautious “I can live with that” from Democratic centrists and Democratic realists (you must pick battles you think you can either win or that will bring you political benefits) and surprised those on the Democratic left who had expected an angrier, more ideological nominee.

Douglas Kmiec writes:

John G. Roberts Jr. is an inspired choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, so much so that the highly touted and heavily funded opposition is genuinely flummoxed…..

….Of course, no nominee can be expected to sail through a confirmation without some objection. So who opposes the Roberts nomination? Frankly, those on the right or left who expect policy outcomes to emanate from the court, as if it were some junior varsity Congress.

But all is not sweet-smelling roses in Supreme Court Battleland.

A sticking point with Roberts is his actual positions. And some are demanding answers. We wrote about that here (and immediately it was said it was “liberal” to expect Roberts to answer questions about his positions). But Democratic centrist blogger Bull Moose says it best in this post that must be read in full. A small part 4 U:

John Roberts is considered a smart nominee because he lacks a record. Yes, he has served in two Republican Administrations and has built a four-star legal career with a top law firm. But it is striking that he has not constructed his own record on his own presumably conservative views.

Of course, the Moose is assuming that Roberts is a conservative. But at every opportunity when he has been asked about the controversial cases with which he has been associated, he has demurred that those positions weren’t necessary his. So what are his views?

Perhaps the path to legal success is paved with obfuscation. After all, Justice Thomas apparently didn’t give a thought to Roe v. Wade before he sat on the bench. Pretty amazing, huh?

The Moose suggests that the reason may be that conservatives aren’t all that confident or honest about their views…..Smart conservatives who aren’t shills for the Bushies have every reason to be concerned about Roberts. He may very well be a right-to-lifer. His wife is and that is significant in pro-life circles. But if Roberts agrees with his wife, why is he afraid to say it?

Still, the bottom line is this: Bush picked someone who — for now — seems to have BROKEN the political brinksmanship in this country. A CNN report notes the weird (for 21st century America) mood in Congress:

“It’s much more quiet than I thought,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a Republican member of the Judiciary Committee. “People that you would normally think would fight this president’s judges are relatively quiet, reserving judgment — probably going to hope that something will come up that will be very controversial.”

And, according to the AP, Roberts wasn’t afraid to visit those he can figure will oppose him such as Democrats Senator Ted Kennedy or Senator Chuck Schumer. Schumer told Roberts he better be ready to answer some questions and gave some to him in advance. Of course, it may all (as expected) boil down to the abortion issue — an issue that, moral and choice issues aside, in recent years has hurt the Democratic party more than helped it.

With Bush’s chance to appoint more judges it’s more likely that Roe won’t wade — it’ll sink.

And the immediate battle? Jim Lindgren has a likely scenario. He believes if things remain as they are now, Roberts will be confirmed. But if groups such as launch massive anti-Roberts campaigns a LOT can change:

My reading of the climate right now is that without a significant change, the Democratic senators believe that Roberts will be confirmed. While many do not want to confirm a nominee who is likely to be more conservative than Justice O’Connor, many of those most vocal in oppposing Circuit Court of Appeals nominees said that they would confirm judges if they were in the conservative mainstream. Because Roberts is in the conservative mainstream, Democratic senators would find it hard to vote against Roberts in good conscience, especially most of the members of the Gang of 14.

So one question is whether Democratic Senators will support Roberts in order to garner good will to fight a future nominee tooth and nail. My guess is that it depends on whether there is a big TV ad campaign against Roberts. If there is, then there may well be enough cover to make the campaign against Roberts a nasty one in the Judiciary Committee. If there is no big TV ad campaign, then I think it will go relatively smoothly for Roberts–a lot of grumping and showboating, but few real fireworks. But a major negative TV ad campaign is a real possibility, and it could change the dynamics considerably.

Still, for now we seem to be in unthinkeable oasis — worlds apart from where the U.S. political system was a few months ago:

People may disagree. And disagree ANGRILY. But, for now at least, they seem to be willing to disagree without feeling a need to destroy those who disagree with them. On both sides.

Enjoy this while you can….