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WHAT WE THINK
Bush tries to regain the initiative with ''Scalito'' nomination
Handing the Court to the Christian Right

November 4, 2005 | Page 3

THE BUSH administration was reeling from twin blows last week--the indictment of Dick Cheney's right-hand man, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and the passing of another grisly milestone in the disastrous war on Iraq with the 2,000th U.S. soldier killed.

But that was last week. George Bush started off this week by throwing down the gauntlet in his drive to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues and hatchet man.

Days after his first nominee, Harriet Miers, bowed out, Bush nominated Samuel Alito--a judge so right wing that his nicknames are "Scalito" and "Scalia-lite," for his similarity to conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia.

Miers' nomination several weeks earlier had caused a rebellion on the right wing of the Republican Party. Bush's base decided that Miers wasn't sufficiently fanatical about opposing abortion and other points on the Christian Right agenda to be trusted with a lifetime appointment.

Even assurances from Christian evangelical James Dobson of Focus on the Family weren't enough to pacify the rabidly anti-abortion and antigay wing of the Republicans. So Miers withdrew her name, and Bush served up Alito as red meat for his base.

Just how right wing is "Scalito"? In 1992, he was the only judge on the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, when the court struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring that women seeking abortions consult their husbands. When Casey went to the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist quoted Alito's dissent when he himself dissented from the decision to uphold the lower court ruling.

Now, Bush is hoping to get Alito confirmed quickly, putting him on the Court in time to rule on a New Hampshire abortion case involving a parental notification law that is scheduled to be heard beginning November 30. With John Roberts already confirmed as Chief Justice, a showdown is in the making over a woman's legal right to abortion.

The split among Republicans--notorious before this for their loyalty to the Bush White House--has to be understood in the context of the scandals engulfing the White House and the continuing crisis of the Iraq occupation.

As Todd Purdum of the New York Times wrote, "The 2,000th American fatality in Iraq was just the latest daunting milestone in a war that will soon be three years old. The CIA leak investigation that threatens to indict a top White House aide or two on Friday grew out of the fierce debates over the flawed intelligence that led to that war. And Harriet E. Miers' withdrawal of her nomination to the Supreme Court is the bitter fruit of Mr. Bush's own frailty in the wake of all those storms--and Hurricane Katrina--and of his miscalculations about how her appointment would be received."

In a USA Today poll taken over the weekend, Bush's approval rating dropped to 41 percent--lower than Ronald Reagan's during the Iran-contra controversy or Bill Clinton's during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. A solid majority of Americans--55 percent--consider Bush's presidency to be a failure.

Faced with a rebellion in his own ranks stoked by these developments, Bush cut loose his crony Miers and catered to his right-wing base with Alito.

With indictments in the air and Bush's popularity plummeting, it's a great opportunity for an opposition to the Bush agenda to take a stand. But Washington's official opposition party--the Democrats--has been silent. Party leaders and their well-paid advisers think that the best course of action is to keep quiet and hope Bush self-destructs--so that with a little luck, the Democrats can take back control of Congress in 2006 and the White House a few years later.

This is why the only opposition to the Bush administration is coming from the president's own party--more often than not, from the fanatical ideologues of the Christian Right who think the administration isn't being aggressive enough. So now the Republicans have a chance to shape the Supreme Court for years to come, and all the Democrats can talk about is "balance on the court."

Conservatives are itching for a fight over Alito. "We're ready to rumble," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. "The Supreme Court has controlled the culture for 40 years. To think that we're going to reverse the liberal activist Court and culture without a fight is wrong. There's going to be a fight. There needs to be a fight. And we're ready."

But if the Democrats' disorganized retreat during the Roberts' nomination--and some Democrats' outright embrace of Miers, despite the anti-abortion, pro-business record that endeared her to Bush--is any indication, the fight in official Washington will have only one side.

Yet at the same time, the gap between official politics and the sense of discontent and outright anger outside the Beltway has rarely been wider. Washington's right-wing agenda--of pushing more budgets cuts while workers' belts are tightened for them by Corporate America, of maintaining the occupation of Iraq, of catering to intolerance on social issues--is at odds with what ordinary people think in any number of ways.

This disconnect between politics inside Washington and outside will find expression in various ways. The crises of the Bush administration--from White House scandals to the Iraq occupation--will increase discontent. But so will the actions of Christian Right fanatics calling the shots in Washington--whether carving away at programs for the poor, or installing another anti-abortion ideologue on the Supreme Court.

This shows the potential of building a real opposition to the right-wing agenda--one that's independent of the non-opposition of the Democrats.

The antiwar movement experienced a revival this fall, following Cindy Sheehan's challenge on the doorstep of Bush's vacation ranch and the Bush administration's criminally negligent response to the Katrina disaster--something that opponents of the war recognized and related to.

Schools returned to session this fall with the movement to challenge military recruitment on campus taking on a renewed sense of urgency--as evidenced by the Bay Area conference in late October organized by a number of groups and built around the slogan "College Not Combat."

The possibilities exist for struggles to take off on a range of fronts where activists have been organizing for years--stopping the execution of California death row prisoner Stan Tookie Williams, for example--and around issues where little has been happening, like the health care crisis or the crimes of Wal-Mart.

After a period spanning last year's election in which activists and progressives were defensive and hesitant to take action, the prospects exist for taking steps to rebuild the left. This is where forums like the regional conferences around the county cosponsored by Socialist Worker--titled "War, Poverty, Racism: Time for an Alternative"--are important in holding the kind of discussions necessary for strengthening that left.

The right thinks it can continue to press its agenda, even if a few heads roll at the White House. But our side has an important opportunity to connect to a broad discontent with the political and social status quo--and rebuild the kind of struggles that can turn the tide.

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