Commentary, Trump Administration

Why progressives must play hardball and not cave on the Gorsuch nomination

It’s not surprising that a lot of good and progressive people are inclined to cave in on the nomination of Donald Trump’s nomination of a hard right-wing judge named Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Especially for non-lawyers, Gorsuch can look and sound smart and respectable and, especially compared to the buffoon of a president who nominated him, even impressive. Add to this the fact that so many progressives don’t really enjoy fighting with the Right and it’s understandable that folks are looking for excuses to duck this battle.

You’ve heard some of the excuses. There’s “Let’s save our energy for the next fight” and “Kennedy will calm him down” and “Justices tend to get more moderate as they age.” And then there’s the tried and true “We have to be better than the Republicans and not sink to their level.”

Well, here’s how all of those sentiments really and practically translate: “We don’t care enough about our country and its future to fight for what’s right.”

The simple truth is that Neil Gorsuch and the people behind him represent everything that’s wrong with modern America. They (and he) are a threat to freedom, to progress, to diversity and equality and, ultimately when it comes to protection of the natural environment, the long-term survival of life on the planet as we know it.

Gorsuch may be a nice and handsome guy who loves his family and likes to ski, but, in the end, that doesn’t count for squat. The hard reality is that on vital matter after vital matter over the next several decades, a Justice Gorsuch will simply be another friend and ally to the dreadful Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Rather than helping to move our country forward, he will take it dramatically backwards.

Now add to this the utterly outrageous fact that Gorsuch is being allowed to glide into a seat that was out and out stolen from President Obama. This is just wrong and something that can’t be allowed to take place without a knock-down, drag-out fight — even if it’s an uphill battle.

As the excellent Eugene Robinson notes in the conclusion to a column in this morning’s Washington Post:

The way McConnell, et al. treated the Garland nomination was indeed unforgivable. Senators who fail to remember that will get an earful from their constituents — and, potentially, a challenge in the next primary. More importantly, those senators will be passing up a rare political opportunity.

With just 48 votes, all Senate Democrats can do is filibuster, denying McConnell the 60 votes he needs for a final vote on the nomination. In response, McConnell could employ the “nuclear option” — changing the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court confirmations. In the end, Gorsuch would be approved anyway.

But I believe Democrats should wage, and lose, this fight. The 60-vote standard looks more and more like an anachronistic holdover from the time when senators prided themselves on putting the nation ahead of ideology. These days, so many votes hew strictly to party lines that it is difficult to get anything done. The Senate is supposed to be deliberative, not paralyzed.

And I can’t help thinking back to 2009. Republicans made an all-out effort to stop the Affordable Care Act. Their motives were purely political; some GOP senators railed against policies they had favored in the past. Ultimately, they failed. Obamacare became law.

But this losing battle gave tremendous energy and passion to the tea party movement — which propelled Republicans to a sweeping victory in the 2010 midterm election. It is hard not to see an analogous situation on the Democratic side right now.

Democrats cannot stop Gorsuch from being confirmed. But they can hearten and animate the party’s base by fighting this nomination tooth and nail, even if it means giving up some of the backslapping comity of the Senate cloakroom. They can inspire grass-roots activists to fight just as hard to win back state legislatures and governorships. They can help make 2018 a Democratic year.

In other words: In this absurd new political world we inhabit, the old rules of comity and cooperation are gone. What’s more, they ain’t coming back until progressives learn to fight back relentlessly against the bullies who are responsible for their demise.

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