Going into the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel Alito Jr., prevailing wisdom held that the acid test would be abortion rights. But it has become much more than that. (Although Alito has so far refused to say anything to suggest that he’s not on the wrong side of that issue.) The convergence of other issues, such as warrantless domestic wiretapping and the sort of expansive and unchecked executive power that George W. Bush has arrogated — and Alito’s political record seems to support — now define what Bush hoped to diffuse: the essentially imperial and lawless nature of his presidency.
In the view of professor Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas Law School, "The major issue before the Court, and the nation, both now and in the foreseeable future ... [will be] the ability to stave off ever more aggressive assertions of executive power unchecked by either Congress or the judiciary." There is a great deal of evidence in Alito’s record, on and off the bench, that indicates he is a strong advocate of unrestrained presidential powers — at least as long as the president is a right-wing Republican. His record as a judge hews so closely to his personal conservative beliefs that it strains credulity to imagine him as anything other than a right-wing radical, a Bork without the silly beard. It is at least possible to imagine his smoother and more sophisticated brother conservative, Chief Justice John Roberts, entertaining heretical legal opinions if they are sufficiently intellectually enticing. Alito is nothing more than the kinder, gentler face of conservative extremism, an understated, opera-loving guy from a modest background who earned prestigious degrees from Princeton and Yale Law and hitched his star to plutocrats who put the screws to working people and made the well-off even more affluent — all while cloaking their agenda in pious hosannas. Who says you can’t fool most of the people most of the time?
Alito’s personal and professional career has been that of a highly competent valet in the service of corporate and conservative interests. There is no evidence that he has an independent bone in his body. These are the same interests that the corrupt super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff sought to further buy by doling out cash and favors to the already bought. It’s true that a handful of the recipients of Abramoff’s largesse were Democrats, but the overwhelming majority of them were Republicans. Alito, of course, is in no way implicated in Abramoff’s illegal deeds. But other rapacious lobbyists, such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, and modern-day Elmer Gantrys, such as Christian politico Ralph Reed, worked hand in glove with the very sort of Republicans who sponsored Alito’s career. There are very few degrees of separation between Abramoff’s interests and Alito’s supporters. They are master and man, one and the same.
Shining light on the essential nature of the corrupt concept that is Bushism won’t, most likely, stop Alito’s elevation to the Supreme Court — although we fervently hope Senate Democrats will stand against his confirmation. And while the coming Republican congressional scandals will cost the GOP, the price is not likely to be high enough to give back control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats. To those who shrug and say — with painful candor — that the even if the Democrats won control of the House, they wouldn’t know what to do with it, we say this: a less effectual House is better than a corrupt House.
Regardless of what happens in Congress, the next election cycle might well see a shift in governorships. Such shifts often presage more fundamental political change. California and New York, pivotal states in any presidential contest, are up for grabs. And Florida’s governor, Bush’s older brother, Jeb, must step down next election. So there is reason to hope. Democrats in the governorships of those states could help Democrats get elected to Congress and perhaps even to the White House.
The top dog of what passes for the Massachusetts Republican Party, Governor Mitt Romney, has his eyes trained on the White House. His decision not to run for re-election at least holds out the promise that the Republicans will forfeit their 12-year stranglehold on the Commonwealth’s highest office. But if Attorney General Thomas Reilly’s pathetic performance in a recent Worcester County teenage drunk-driving case is any indication, the putative Democratic front-runner is not yet ready for prime time. We urge insurgent Democrat Deval Patrick to step up the juice: show the public what he’s made of, what he promises. If he’s incapable of rising to the challenge, then perhaps one of our congressmen — Stephen Lynch, Michael Capuano, or Martin Meehan — will exhibit the right stuff and declare.
Democrats who think that Romney’s heir, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, can be bested in a walk are sadly mistaken. If the drunk-driving case has shown anything, it’s that Healey will shed her pumps-and-pearls persona when the occasion calls for it and jump into the political mud for a strenuous wrestle. Her performance may have been pure opportunism, but Reilly provided the opportunity.