Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A month ago, it was reported that the decision by the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the Alito nomination in January infuriated the White House, which had wanted him confirmed by Christmas. I think I'm beginning to understand what was so important about that deadline:

Ads Portray Nominee as Protector of Christmas

It is the time of year when bedtime stories and television specials often recall the plucky reindeer and the little girl of Whoville who managed to save Christmas. This year, some conservative groups are hoping to add a new name to that pantheon of heroes: Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., the Supreme Court nominee.

"Liberal groups like People for the American Way and the A.C.L.U. have opposed public Christmas and Hanukkah displays and even fought to keep Christmas carols out of school," declares a radio commercial paid for by the conservative Committee for Justice beginning Monday in Colorado, Wisconsin and West Virginia, states whose senators are considered pivotal votes on Judge Alito.

"Some courts and judges have supported this radical agenda, but not Judge Sam Alito," it continues. "Throughout his career, Judge Alito has consistently upheld the Constitution's protection of free religious expression."

Fidelis, a conservative Roman Catholic group, has begun an Internet advertisement and plans to buy radio commercials with a similar theme as early as next week....

"This is going to be the dominant theme on the Alito nomination until the end of the year-the convergence of a Supreme Court nomination, the Christmas season, and a judge who has a well-staked-out position on support for religious expression," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the Christian conservative American Center for Law and Justice and an adviser tapped by the White House to coordinate support for its nominees....

I think this is a Rove operation. Rove seemed to be emerging from the threat of indictment in the Plame affair just at the time Alito was nominated; I think he had a lot to do with the quick pick of Alito after the Miers withdrawal -- and that this Christmas campaign was part of the package. It may not work as well as it would have if the hearings were going on now, but here it is anyway.

Right-wing agitation about Christmas has been going on for a few years, but there's never been as much as there is this year. Is it crazy to think that there might have been some coordination with the White House -- a hope that the general agitation about Christmas could be used to set the table for Alito Christmas agitation?

Remember, a Rove campaign is run to the right rather than to the center (running to the right and pushing hot buttons opens up donors' wallets), but Rove campaigns also expend lot of effort to peel off small bits of support from groups not traditionally aligned with the GOP. Rove may think the Christmas campaign works that way. The news story quotes some of the polling on this issue:

In a Gallup poll last year, ... 88 percent of respondents said it was a good idea to wish people "Merry Christmas" even at risk of offending those who do not celebrate it. By comparison, 11 percent thought it was better to avoid the phrase.

But when asked about stores or public institutions using the phrases "happy holidays" or "seasons greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas," the public was evenly divided.

I think he's concentrating on that 88 percent, and ignoring the rest of those results. Surely, he thinks, some old-fashioned Northern Catholics will rally around Alito when they hear this! (Also see yesterday's story "Court Nominee Presents Father as Role Model," which portrays Samuel Alito Sr. as a principled immigrant* patriarch; both stories were written for The New York Times by David Kirkpatrick.)

In the Christmas campaign, just so we know what we're dealing with, a few facts: The Committee for Justice is rife with memebers who work for Haley Barbour's old lobbying firm, Barbour Griffith & Rogers; in 2004 the group ran the Web site KerrysScary.com. Fidelis is headed by Joseph Cella, who "previously was executive director of the Ave Maria List, a Catholic political action committee that worked to defeat then-Senate minority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) last year" and who organized the 2005 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, which gave him a place onstage as President Bush announced he'd veto legislation loosening restrictions on stem-cell research. Fidelis is Catholic, but it participated in Justice Sunday II. Sekulow, of course, is Pat Robertson's top lawyer.


*UPDATE: How Rovian can you get? The administration's claim that the senior Alito was born in Italy is a lie -- see this Daily Kos post. (Via Atrios and TalkLeft.)

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