Distant Thunder

Unfortunately, in this editorial the Washington Post is more right than wrong about the Alito hearings:

Democratic senators often seemed more interested in attacking the nominee — sometimes scurrilously — than in probing what sort of a justice he would be. Even when they tried, their questioning was often so ineffectual as to elicit little useful information. Republican senators, meanwhile, acted more as fatuous counsels for the defense than as sober evaluators of a nominee to serve on the Supreme Court. On both sides, pious, meandering speeches outnumbered thoughtful questions. And the nominee himself was careful, as most nominees are, not to give much away. The result is that Americans don’t know all that much more about Judge Alito than they did before.

There were some exceptions among the Dems — Senator Schumer comes to mind — but unless you were curled up in front of the TV for gavel-to-gavel coverage, you didn’t see Senator Schumer. More casual news consumers saw the clip of intra-senatorial snarking between senators Kennedy and Specter (although clear explanations of what the snarking was about were hard to come by). They saw Mrs. Alito bolt from the chamber in apparent distress. They saw Senator Biden wearing a Princeton cap. That’s about it.

Although I don’t agree with the editorial that the Vanguard and Concerned Alumni of Princeton issues were frivolous, I’m afraid they came across to most news consumers as frivolous. The Senate Dems rumbled away like distant thunder while Judge Alito sat, unperturbed, in the shelter of a Republican majority.

E.J. Dionne writes

It turns out that, especially when their party controls the process, Supreme Court nominees can avoid answering any question they don’t want to answer. Senators make the process worse with meandering soliloquies. But when the questioning gets pointed, the opposition is immediately accused of scurrilous smears. The result: an exchange of tens of thousands of words signifying, in so many cases, nothing — as long as the nominee has the discipline to say nothing, over and over and over.

Alito, an ardent baseball fan, established himself as the Babe Ruth of evasion.

What news consumers did not hear is that Alito is a guy who doesn’t understand why the strip-search of a ten-year-old girl is a big deal (disagreeing even with Michael Chertoff, for pity’s sake). They didn’t hear that he thinks police were correct to kill an unarmed 15-year-old boy by shooting him in the back of the head. The boy, after all, had not obeyed an order.

By now, only the brain dead don’t realize that Alito is itching to overturn Roe v. Wade at the first opportunity. But it seems hardly anyone outside the Left Blogosphere gives a damn about Alito’s alarming — and un-American — theories about presidential power.

I realize that these issues were probably brought up by some Dem or another during the hearings, but they’ve been left out of the “story about the hearings” as told by news media. So the public isn’t hearing about them.

Paul Brownfield writes in the Los Angeles Times,

The hearings are monumental enough to be carried live on cable news, home of the video sound bite and the whir of instant dissection, but entirely ill-suited to the constant churn of a 24-hour news network.

Inside the Hart Senate hearing room, we watched two competing shows — the Republicans making like Regis Philbin, plugging Judge Alito’s latest vehicle (“So tell me about this Supreme Court nomination … “), the Democrats conducting an episode of CBS’ missing persons drama “Without a Trace,” poking at Alito’s past decisions and his membership in the conservative Concerned Alumni of Princeton but unable to place him, in the present.

Alito’s membership, and the fact that his wife Martha broke down in tears over the controversy Wednesday, gave the networks something to chew on, which is to say a way out of penetrating the gamesmanship of the hearings — senators preambling their way to question the discursively elusive witness.

Martha’s running mascara was the perfect diversion. Even if it wasn’t staged, something like it will be next time there’s a hearing on something the GOP doesn’t want you to know about.

Brownfield continues,

To watch the hearings at any length has value, but only if you watch them at any length — the straight stuff on C-SPAN, preferably, if you can stomach it. Because then you can see the chasm that exists between the dense thicket of speechifying and stonewalling in the hearing room, and the way it’s squeezed down and sized to fit our many-screened lives, above the crawl that tells you the “gay cowboy movie” “Brokeback Mountain” took home the Critics’ Choice Award or that Lindsay Lohan, distancing herself from her own sort of controversial membership, denied statements attributed to her in Vanity Fair about battles with bulimia.

Fact is, the Republicans do the sound-bite, made-for-TV-camera-moments thing extremely well, and the Dems can barely do it at all. That’s why, John Dickerson writes at Slate, the White House wants hearings on Bush’s NSA warrentless wiretapping. Bush wants hearings not because he wants to explain and defend his policy. Rather, Dickerson writes, “He’s inviting Democrats to another round of self-immolation.”

In 2002, the Republican Party used the debate over the Department of Homeland Security to attack Democrats in the off-year election by arguing the party was soft on terror. The president and his aides hope the NSA hearings will offer the same opportunity in 2006. …

… Bush and his aides are eager to talk about the National Security Agency’s activities because they think the issue benefits them politically. While Democrats are often confusing, with too many leaders and no clear message to push back against the commander in chief, the president is passionate when he talks about fighting terrorists, and a majority of voters still approve of his handling of the issue. And because the spying program was initiated soon after 9/11, it offers Bush an opportunity to discuss his more popular days as a take-charge executive after the 2001 attacks. “We’re very comfortable discussing the issue for as long as they want,” says Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett.

I can see it already. The GOP will be prepared in advance to smear and discredit anyone who testifies the program is illegal. Anyone tuning in to Meet the Press or The Situation Room or Hardball (and don’t even think about Faux Nooz) will see the usual conservative shills expounding long-discredited nonfacts and junk legalosity to argue the accusations of illegality have no merit. And Tim, Wolf, and Tweety will nod, politely, and frame their questions in a way that legitimizes GOP talking points, however frivolous.

“Democrats will be frustrated and antagonized,” writes Dickerson. “The president hopes they will get red-faced and obstinate.” The Dems will rumble away like distant thunder, and White House representatives will sit, unperturbed, in the shelter of a Republican majority.

And if, by accident, someone on the Dem side actually lands a blow, expect Condi to spring a leak and dash for the door.

Update: See also Steve Soto, “Democrats Punt Another One Away On Alito.”

36 thoughts on “Distant Thunder

  1. OK kids, here’s a “clip n save” for when Scalito Borkemada is confirmed:

    O Canada!
    Our home and native land!
    True patriot love in all thy sons command.

    With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
    The True North strong and free!

    From far and wide,
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    God keep our land glorious and free!
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

  2. You can run from the United States but you can’t hide from the effects of our corrupt, destructive government, even in Canada.

  3. Don’t worry , be happy!
    Uncle Benito eventually got to “ride the swing”.
    We have a bunch of chickenhawks and a lame duck president, but bird flu is on the way. Pat Robertson just blew his foot off, the mid term elections are on the horizon, and most Americans are pissed, pissed, pissed to the tenth power.

  4. I, for one, plan to move to Sweden if it comes to that. The Swedes have six month vacations. The only other solution is for the blue states to secede from the red states and let them get along best they can without the blue state money. We can take our Constitution and call ourselves the True Blue United States of America.

  5. Well, I still believe that America isn’t going down the tubes

    . Bush’s big bad propaganda machine has only succeeded to the degree that it has is because he’s preyed upon our trust in America. People want to trust and believe that their government reflects their own decency.Bush might be cocky and taunt the Democrats with hearing to foster democracy knowing he’s protected from the truth by a layer secrecy and cadre of political hacks that put self above country. Give the Democrats full subpoena power of investigation to peel back the National Security deceptions, then Bush’s ass will be gone . Americans have started to get wise to Bush’s bullshit and the whole terrorism scam. When you think about it, how lame is the statement that says, to question is to help the enemy…Only an idiot wouldn’t be offended by that. How stupid are we that Bush could feel so free to insult us?

    Oh…Murtha is currently getting slimed on his war record. He should have behaved. Cybernet News is leading the charge with a classical strawman attack. I guess Talon news is pursueing other stories,huh?

  6. I think the odds of this 2006 election scenario are 50/50. If Karl Rove is indicted, all bets are off. Even if tries to run the election strategy while under indictment, that indictment will encourage freelancers within the White House. They didn’t look so proficient in October during Fitzmas.

    Second, Bush’s crap is getting old. And now it appears, in Risen’s book, that Bush approved warrant-less spying as soon as he became President. While some number of people will give the President a pass for huntin’ terrorists, it will be hard for Bush to avoid acknowledging he lied about when the program started.

    Finally, there is a ton of stuff that can be turned into attack ads for the Democrats. If the Democratic party is too lame or wussy to fight back, I trust MoveOn and others will pick up the slack. Certainly I’ll gladly donate for ads that do the job truthfully. I suspect hundreds of thousands of people will do the same.

    This story is far from over.

  7. Jane Hamsher at FDL notes that the blog’s contributors are reasoned and articulate. Now, having been a writer all my professional life I may be relatively articulate, but reasoned?

    Not these days.

    Rather I’m frustrated, angry, and depressed. The repeated victories of the moron and his gang of Fascists have elicited in me some very ancient impulses, like, uh, an overwhelming urge to do some serious physical damage to these fat fucks, if ONLY I could get my hands on them.

    What in hell does “reason” have to do with anything these days? Yes, there ARE articulate and reasoned people on progressive/liberal blogs, but the bottom line is that we are totally impotent in the face of the Fascists’ well-oiled machine.

    One part of the Fascists effectiveness is that they all speak with one voice on a daily basis, and they never depart from the script. One message each day, in short, clear, declarative sentences.

    That’s what the pants-pissing, brain dead 45 percent of the American electorate who love the moron need right now.

    Here’s what’s so frustrating. To defeat these slimy bastards we would all have to become exactly LIKE THEM. Cynical manipulators, bullshit artists, liars. Criminals.

    I don’t have the stomach for it, honest to God. They do. Which is why we’ll never win.

  8. I am at my wits end here. It seems to me that there needs to be some grassroots opposition to Alito for the Dems to effectively counter all the Republican spin.

    Why is no-one advocating ringing Senators phones off the hook. A few changed minds and we’d have a filibuster.

    It ain’t over ’till it’s over and it ain’t over yet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Let’s stop analyzing and get active. I have called my Senators and have nagged numerous friends and acquaintances to do the same.

    Rather than bemoan the potential future – why aren’t we seizing the present!


  9. Why is no-one advocating ringing Senators phones off the hook. A few changed minds and we’d have a filibuster.

    Well, actually, there was a lot of advocating of ringing senators’ phones off the hook, and I believe a lot of ringing was done. But the sad fact is the Washington insider Dems don’t listen to us. They want our money, and they want our votes, but they don’t want our advice or opinions.

  10. With all due respect, I don’t believe there was near enough ringing of phones – the Social Security Reform move and it’s early death proved that numbers of agitated citizens can make a difference.

    Most of what I hear and read is about how bad the Dems are. I don’t disagree with a lot of the criticism. But – the shortest path from where we are to where we want to be is to grab them by the neck and shake vigorously until their performance changes. (metaphorically speaking of course)

  11. But – the shortest path from where we are to where we want to be is to grab them by the neck and shake vigorously until their performance changes. (metaphorically speaking of course)

    Just tell us how, and we’ll do it. Lots of people with better connections than mine have tried and failed.

  12. It has to be grass roots. Almost all I’ve heard all week from progressive friends with good minds and a clear vision of Alito is how depressed they are and how hopeless it seems and how there’s nothing we can do and how the Dems just don’t cut it.

    What I’m trying to get at is that we all need to be ringing those phones. We need to suspend our disbelief and just act.

    As bloggers, I feel we need to harp on this. Democracy is not a spectator sport. My acute frustration today is with the level of resignation I sense in the blogging and progressive communitities.

    Alito has NOT been confirmed yet. What good does it do to project that he probably will be? Wouldn’t it be much more effective to continue the fight until it’s over. There will be plenty of time for post-mortems then!

  13. SRT, everybody, I watched every minute of every day of those hearings, on C-SPAN, and there is PLENTY reason to hope. There is ample ground effectively plotted to dispose of Alito. You are 100% right. IT’S NOT OVER. Senatorial telephones should be ringing off the hooks, but, maybe, we’ve already rung the right ones.

  14. SRT, if you didn’t see it, be sure to read the previous post, “Howling in the Wilderness,” and all of the Peter Daou article linked.

    Your faith that phone calling or more grassroots organizing will make a difference is charming, but, believe me, people have been working their hearts out on this lo these many years. (Just because you haven’t heard about it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening; it doesn’t get in the news.) And we’re still just little gnats buzzing aroud the VRWC beast.

    The Old Guard Dems in Washington can not, will not, take us seriously until we start to have a real impact on elections, and I don’t mean just raising money for the DNC, DLC, and DSCC. When they figure out that we can sway elections either way, then maybe they’ll care about what we think.

  15. maha, I’m a bit stung by your tone. Perhaps I misunderstand but rest assured that I didn’t just fall off the turnip

    truck. Among other things, I once witnessed, firsthand, an oppressed majority, who clearly had the power of numbers,

    make the decision to stay oppressed, much like a battered spouse makes the irrational choice to stay. I got my head

    handed to me for attempting to point out the obvious.

    Perhaps you felt stung by my original comment. If so, I apologize. My intent was to express my own frustration and

    perhaps influence one or two more people to push one or two more people. I think I see assumptions, in some places in

    this online community, that are just as blinding and just as useless to our cause as those that kept that oppressed

    majority from believing in or using their power.

    If you are saying that no amount of phone calling or other citizen influence can matter, I disagree totally. We have

    seen in other places, such as Ukraine, that a population can suddenly speak in such a way that they have to be listened

    to. While any of us may feel that the chance of success is remote, not trying guarantees failure. It is absolutely true

    that if we do nothing, Alito will be confirmed. It is also absolutely true that there is some chance, however small,

    that this confirmation could still be stopped by citzen action. We have a week.

    So I continue to ask, why have so many given up? Is this week better spent attempting to have some influence? Or is it

    better spent analyzing what happened in the hearings and what Alito will do to the court? What have we got to lose if we

    continue to try to change this?

    In an odd way, it looks to me like we (the online progressive community) are doing the same thing we hate the Dems for.

    We were pissed at Kerry when he conceded before we thought the fight was over – We’re pissed at the Judiciary Dems ’cause

    they seem to have rolled over. Aren’t we doing the same thing?

  16. Aren’t we doing the same thing?

    A lot of us are working our butts off, but we’re getting nowhere for reasons, IMO, Peter Daou and others have discerned. Phone calls aren’t doing it; it’s going to take a massive whup upside the head to get the Dems’ attention, I’m afraid.

  17. bonnie…let’s not let the blue states secede from the red. as a member of the nearly 50% of people who didn’t vote for bush in kansas (a so-called RED state), i would have to stridently oppose such a thing. frankly i am sick of the whole ‘red state/blue state’ crap, all it does is serve to furthur divide us. did anyone really LOOK at the actual numbers? the country isn’t red or blue…it’s purple.

  18. maha – I have read the Peter Daou article, as well as your own comementary on it. I don’t disagree. The disconnect between online rank & file and so-called leadership is apparent. The dominance of the MSM is apparent.

    Given that, how are we supposed to possibly win elections? Given that voting machines are rigged and districts are re-drawn and Repugs attract more money and TV belongs to the other guys, how can we possiblty win? If we can’t muster a strong showing by telephone for this issue which is NOT decided yet, how can we possibly muster a decisive winning majority for elections?

    Like franci points out above, even in Kansas nearly 50% opposed Bush. And that was in 2004! A lot of water’s gone under the bridge since then and I don’t see much of it pushing folks toward the Repugs. If TV doesn’t work then we’re left with word of mouth.

    My original frustration was that the online community, a place where some of those folks look for an alternative for both information and strategy, is telling them that the fight is over and they should go home.

    How can that possibly help anything?

  19. Given that, how are we supposed to possibly win elections?

    That’s kind of the kicker, ain’t it?

    The Plan, as I understand it, is for the netroots to go all out to support some of our candidates to try to pull off some Democratic primary upsets in November. If we can take credit with replacing some “DLC” Democrats with real progressives, perhaps the party will start to listen to us, and not treat us like virtual ATM machines.

  20. maha – At the risk of being a bore I will ask again. What have we got to lose in trying to resist the Alito nomination for as long as the Senate vote is outstanding? Will that somehow detract from our ability to work for primary upsets in November? I don’t see those as mutually exclusive. Why not take any actions available to us now?

  21. What have we got to lose in trying to resist the Alito nomination for as long as the Senate vote is outstanding?

    I’m not saying we should roll over, but the Senators have blown an opportunity to be on offense and now we’re on defense. The Senators have failed to make a solid case to the public that Alito is too extreme, and if they filibuster without having made that case the Republicans can turn that around and use it against the Dems. So the Dems do have something to lose if they are not careful; make no mistake. And it’s a damn shame, because the case could have been made.

  22. Also: See John at AMERICAblog:

    “This is just that much more evidence of why there needs to be a major blood-letting in the Democratic party, and soon. Heads need to roll. ROLL. People need to lose their jobs, en masse. After 2000, no one took responsibility. After 2004, no one took responsibility. And now it’s happening again. Our wonderful party leaders are sitting back and scratching their heads wondering why the country isn’t simply running into our arms while they sit back and do nothing to earn the country’s respect and loyalty.

    “There needs to be a major revolution in the Democratic party. Heads need to roll, and soon.”

  23. the democrats raised some vital issues during the Alito hearings. But what was lacking overall was a willingness to fight. They showed very little desire to put their words into practice.
    I agree with maha, we need to upset the primary in November, but we can’t give up this immediate battle. Perhaps our methods of phone calling, emailing and faxing will fall on deaf ears.
    I for one circulated numbers to everyone I know.
    Until we enliven and unite the progressives to take a stand, we too concede to the “spectator sport.” And if we allow ourselves to do this we ultimately will lose the will to fight.

  24. Nothing will change until it’s way too late. I despair – Alito is the least of it. The pendulum will need to swing very far before the masses realize the change, and perhaps react. And the damage will have been done. Say Good Bye to the Middle Class – it’s over. Welcome back to the Privileged Class. ( I always enjoyed Edith Warton – little did I know I would get to experience her world…………)

  25. TO: maha
    RE: Which Supreme Court Decision

    There is an article in my local paper about Alito disagreeing with some Warren Supreme Court decision regarding ‘civil rights’ in the 60s.

    I’m trying to determine WHICH decision they’re referring to.

    Anybody got an answer? Was it Baker v. Carr (’61)?



  26. TO: maha
    RE: Which Supreme Court Decision—Addendum

    I’ve found the answer. It IS Baker v. Carr.

    For the uninformed, this was probably the worst decision in the history of the Supreme Court, as far as I can tell.


    Because it overthrew the constitution of every state in the Union, less Nebraska.


    By making the state senate nothing more than a glorified state house of representatives and destroying the balance of power between metroplitan and rural areas at the state level. The same balance of power between heavily populated states and less so we call The Great Compromise at the federal level.

    The affects were slow to realize. But we are seeing them here in Colorado, today. Here, where water is a precious commodaty, we are watching Denver suck up every drop it can get, to the detriment of everyplace else in the state.

    They do this by controlling both houses of our state legislature.

    This ruling, which could easily have been addressed by merely telling the states to redistrict their voting, is probably the greatest threat to society ever imposed by activist judges. It should be reconsidered and subsequently reversed in order for the people to enjoy at the state level the balance of power we know to work at the federal.



  27. Babs,

    These are, you agree, the Reagan “I do not recall” Republicans.

    Questioner: Did you join a group to push women and blacks out of Princeton?
    Alito: I don’t recall why I joined. I don’t recall joining a group like that.

    It’d be considered contempt of court in other circles.

    I listened to gavel-to-gavel, and I thought everyone was pretty decent. I’m afraid Schumer’s 2nd-day tack, that he took contrary non-positions (agreeing to speak on X, but not Y) was great, but he didn’t dumb it down enough.

    Anyway, there’s a major change underway in the Democrats, that much is obvious. There was a certain complacency (at least on my part) during the 1990s. I was busy trying to live a life, and thinking (naively) that President Clinton was taking care of business. He prevented further erosion (in some ways) but he didn’t advance much.


    yeah, Baker V Carr. The only explanation I’ve found so far is that he thought that an _absolute_ equality of population of voting districts was too much. I doubt that’s really the case, but if I’m not mistaken, that’s what he said.

  28. TO: JS Narins
    RE: Baker v. Carr

    “The only explanation I’ve found so far is that he thought that an _absolute_ equality of population of voting districts was too much.” — JS Narins

    It IS too much. Or do you think that New York and California alone should hold the proponderance of legislative power in our government? If so, let’s do away with the US Senate and save the tax payers a shit-load of money.

    Of course, the logical ultimate conclusion is that we all move to either of those two states if we want ANY influence in the government. Just like anyone living in Colorado, as the situation exists now, should sell their homes and farms and move to an appartment in Denver; joining the rat-race I got away from three years ago. [Note: My blood-pressure went down by 20 points.]

    If all legistlative authority, i.e., the ability to make laws, appropriate funding to activities, is vested in only the most populous regions of the land, only those who live there will have any influence.

    In Colorado, we’ve got a situation, at the state-level, where a senator represents five ‘state’. Consider how that would affect things at the national level. What would it be like if New York had 10 Senator and Iowa, Wisconsin, Alabama, Utah and New Mexico had to share 1.


    P.S. You may have doubts of Alito’s veracity in this matter, but I, for one, welcome the idea that someone else has seen the danger of the Baker v. Carr decision of the Warrne Supreme Court.

    What troubles me most about the push-back is that they are playing the race card on this, claiming Alito is opposed to civil rights when THIS decision is the focal point.

    Earl Warren and the Supremes could have easily dealt with the issue of gerimandering using a known precedent as opposed to destroying the constitution of every state in the Union, less Nebraska.

  29. God Pelto.

    I honestly thought I was dealing with a sane person. Sorry I was mistaken.

    WITHIN STATES, brainiac. Equal sized legislative districts WITHIN STATES.


    Sorry for encouraging him, Maha. Serves me right for trying to be helpful.

    Pelto, you ignorant gasbag.

  30. TO: JS Narins
    RE: Look Who’s Talking

    Typical. All too typical. Name calling as opposed to cogent discussion.

    But thanks for confirming my initial impression that it was over Baker v. Carr that these people were howling that Alito wanted to reverse the Warren Supreme Court on ‘civil rights’.

    The point still stands that the decision destroyed the balance of power between metropolitan and rural areas. That, despite, your attempt to change the subject from the merits of the decision to mere name-calling.


    P.S. Are you a lawyer? I ask this because you’re applying the third option of the Lawyers’ Rule:

    [1] When the law is against you, argue the facts.
    [2] When the facts are against you, argue the law.
    [3] When the law and the facts are against you, call the other side names.

  31. P.P.S. As for ignorance, we’re all ignorant of one thing or another. The problem is when someone is ignorant and proud of it. That’s called ‘stupid’.

  32. P.P.P.S. Just to drive my initial point home…

    Where you say, “WITHIN STATES, brainiac. Equal sized legislative districts WITHIN STATES.”

    If we apply that logic at the federal level, then we’d have to do as I described with New York vs. Alabama, Iowa, Wisconsin, Utah and New Mexico. Ten US Senators for New York and one for those others.

    So, why not say, what’s good for the geese, i.e., the states, is good for the gander, the nation?

    Or, looking at it from the other perspective, if it’s good at the federal level…why isn’t it good at the state level.

    Got an answer for that? Or are you just going to sit there and start spewing tripe again?

  33. TO: All
    RE: Okay…

    ….looks like the ‘opposition’ has fled the proverbial field.



Comments are closed.