Tuesday, May 11, 2010


From Peter Baker's New York Times article about Republicans' recent habit of nominating ideological warriors to the Supreme Court and Democrats' failure to do the same:

"What does President Obama gain by putting forward an unabashed progressive, liberal judicial activist?" asked Leonard A. Leo, a conservative leader who helped President George W. Bush confirm Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. "Polling suggests that's not something that adds a lot of value to his own immediate political objectives."

But that's not what Obama should be doing. He shouldn't be putting forward an unabashed progressive activist and saying, "Here's my pick -- an unabashed progressive activist. Right-wingers, do your worst." He should be putting forward an unabashed progressive activist and saying, "What? Activist? You must be suffering from delusions. This nominee seeks only to interpret laws and the Constitution precisely as written."

That's what Republicans do every time. That's what they did with Roberts and Alito -- everyone who was paying the slightest bit of attention knew that they were dyed-in-the-wool ideologues, but President Bush, the nominees' supporters, and the nominees themselves all swore on their mothers' graves that they didn't have an ideological bone in their bodies. Democrats and progressives weren't necessarily fooled by this attempted gaslighting, but it was enough to avoid any resistance by the public to the nominees on ideological grounds.

This, of course, is also how Republican ideologues operate in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan and Bush the Younger didn't try to move to the center -- they just essentially declared that they occupied the center as they governed from the right, defining what they were doing not as conservatism but as plain old Americanism. It worked, too, through most of Reagan's two terms and through Bush's first. It might have worked for Obama, but he's never tried to define progressivism as Americanism. Instead, he dilutes progressivism -- and still gets slammed as an ideologue.

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