Tuesday, November 1, 2005

What the Alito Pick Says

The reactions are still coming in from the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and the responses so far are fairly predictable; the right wing is over the moon, and the liberals are not. I’m not sure what they expected, but after the last couple of months, I can’t say anyone should be surprised by his selection. If anything, it’s been in the works since Bush became president.

As the New York Times editorial points out, whenever George W. Bush gets into trouble, he has two recourses; he turns to his inner circle of cronies, toadies, or wealthy business donors, and failing that, he turns to his right-wingers. Both of these tactics are exclusionary; they don’t allow him to bring in people with different ideas or open him up to working with people he might win over. You saw this in the run-up to the war in Iraq, in his reaction to the hurricanes, and in the choice of Harriet Miers. In all those cases, he followed the playbook, even in the replacement of Miers with Alito. Ironically, the only time the president has shown any inclination to reach out to his opponents was in response to 9/11, which became the engine of his presidency. That moment, however, lasted less than six weeks; by the time the smoke had cleared from lower Manhattan, he was back to his old comfortable pattern.

In a way it’s somewhat comforting to know that if you poke the beast you get the same response, but it also doesn’t hold out a lot of hope for anything more than the same status quo for the next three years, and life has a strange way of throwing new and more bizarre things at us; a year ago, who could have predicted we’d be worried about a pandemic of bird flu? Does he have a buddy in the pharmacy business, or will he turn to Pat Robertson to pray the birds away?

As far as Judge Alito is concerned, brace yourself for a deluge of information about him from the left and the right. At first blush he sounds exactly like the kind of judge the righties would hate; he’s been a “judicial activist” since he’s been on the court, in some cases making rulings that are to the right of rulings by Justices such as Rehnquist. But since he’s a conservative, that kind of activism is okay with the right because it’s their kind of activism, proving again the axiom, IOKIYAR (It’s Okay If You’re A Republican). The righties are saying that Judge Alito is the right-wing version of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and they didn’t scream about her when she was nominated. Oh wait…

Regardless of Judge Alito’s credentials, it’s clear that his nomination was a foregone conclusion at some point, even if some hiccup in the time/space continuum had allowed Ms. Miers a seat on the Court. As I have noted exhaustively and repeatedly, especially to the people who had a problem voting for John Kerry a year ago and went with the “safe” choice of re-electing Mr. Bush, the issue wasn’t about the short-term of four more years of Bush; it was about three little words: the Supreme Court. If you didn’t think of that when you pulled the lever or punched the chad or whatever you did, it wasn’t because we didn’t have a fair warning in the predictable pattern of George W. Bush. Some people find comfort in being able to predict something; it gives you a chance to be ready. Yes, the same can be said about hurricanes, too, and we’re still recovering from the latest and best-predicted natural disaster in modern times.

What the Alito pick says is “I told you so.”