The failure of the Democrats to mount a successful filibuster against now-Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito illustrates the depth and breadth of the party’s weakness. At least one major poll showed that public approval for Mr. Alito actually went up after the confirmation hearings. And, while one must give grudging credit to Senator John Kerry (D-MA) for at least pursuing a filibuster, it proved to be a feeble, last-minute effort that seemed less a serious threat than a meaningless crumb tossed to his political base.
Shortly after Alito’s confirmation, Mr. Kerry released a message intended to rally his troops: "We…made it clear to the Bush administration that no matter what they throw at us in 2006 – whether it’s extreme nominees, special interest giveaways, shortsighted policy or Swift Boat-style attacks against Democratic candidates – we will never surrender. We will always fight back."
In light of the last five years, these words seem inaccurate and incomplete. To ring true, he should have concluded: "We will sometimes fight back – half-heartedly, and usually unsuccessfully." After all, there were 42 votes against Alito – enough to sustain a filibuster, if those "no" votes were anything other than token opposition.
Based on Mr. Alito’s pre-confirmation statements, we can expect an American future with eroded personal freedoms and dramatically enhanced executive powers. Where, then, is the pride in identifying oneself as a "Democrat" when nineteen Democratic senators voted to end the Alito filibuster?
In the 1980 election, candidate Ronald Reagan asked: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" For most voters, the answer was "no." There was a clear feeling that President Carter had been an ineffectual chief executive, and that the country had suffered as a result.
After five years of right-wing Republican rule, the question is far more apocalyptic: "Can America survive three more years of George W. Bush?" The America we live in now is almost unrecognizable when compared to the one existing when Bill Clinton left office. It’s not, as many would claim, simply a matter of the 9/11 attacks; it’s how we responded to those attacks. Americans became – virtually overnight – obsessively frightened and mindlessly patriotic. George W. Bush received a blank check from the American public – which he has cashed in to the tune of an illegal war, a trashed Bill of Rights, and billions of borrowed tax dollars passed on to his corporate sponsors.
Can he be stopped?
Theoretically, there’s impeachment. In fact, seventeen members of the U.S. House of Representatives are actively supporting Bush’s impeachment or resignation. Luckily, since Vice President Dick Cheney’s actions have been so closely aligned with Mr. Bush, we’re just as likely to see the impeachment of both as of one. Taking this speculation a bit further, one can imagine both Samuel Alito and John Roberts being likewise removed from the Supreme Court, using a variation on the "fruit from the tainted tree" argument.
What are the chances?
Historically, it’s unlikely. Only two presidents have been impeached, and neither was convicted. (Nixon, of course, resigned.) The only Supreme Court justice to be impeached was Samuel Chase, in 1804; he was acquitted.
But the historical odds are far less than half the battle. Democrats would first have to retake control of both House and Senate. And, since conviction requires a two thirds vote of senators, a number of Republicans would have to be convinced to vote against the head of their own party.
Can anyone imagine the Democrats – who can’t even unite among themselves to block Samuel Alito’s appointment to the Supreme Court – being able to unite for a Bush-Cheney impeachment? Let alone convince any Republicans to support them in their effort?
It’s indisputable that Bush-Cheney warrant impeachment; it’s also wishful thinking to suppose it will ever happen. Therefore, the best we can reasonably hope for with the 2006 elections is to wrest power from the Republicans in the House and Senate – and to avoid the rubberstamping of the Bush agenda for what would be the last two years of his term.
Is this possible?
Consider, for a moment, the climate under which this year’s election will take place.
More lies about the Iraq war. The Guardian (U.K., 2/2/06) reports that "A memo of a two-hour meeting between [George W. Bush and Tony Blair] at the White House on January 31 2003 – nearly two months before the [Iraq] invasion – reveals that Mr. Bush made it clear the U.S. intended to invade whether or not there was a second [United Nations] resolution and even if U.N. inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme."
More lies about being a "compassionate conservative." From CNNMoney.com (2/2/06): "Republicans in the House of Representatives narrowly won passage on Wednesday of a controversial bill to trim about $39 billion from domestic spending over five years, capping a year-long push to cut health care for the poor and elderly…By a partisan vote of 216-214, the House approved the bill, sending it to President George W. Bush for signing into law…The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office this week said cuts to Medicaid spending would affect 13 million poor people…Many of those would be children…"
One of many State of the Union lies: "One day after President Bush vowed to reduce American’s dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn’t mean it literally…One administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that ‘every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands.’" (Knight Ridder, 2/1/06)
On this last point, let’s be blunt: George W. Bush was lying to the suckers who still believe a word he says. (In case you weren’t listening when Bush "dramatized the issue" about Saddam’s WMDs – a lie resulting in the deaths of more than 2,200 American soldiers, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and countless maimed on all sides.)
These stories only scratch the surface of the corruption and criminality we’ve experienced in the past five years. It would seem, at first glance, a fairly simple thing to ignite the people’s passion against those who are destroying America.
At second glance, it seems an insurmountable task for the present Democratic Party.