It’s Feast and Famine For Howard Fineman…
…all in the space of one column. Fineman is much better than normal in the middle section of this piece on Samuel Alito, but predictably off-base in the beginning and end. He starts off badly:
We’re looking at a Fight Club battle at the start of the year. The inflammatory content of Alito’s 20-year-old application to the Reagan Justice Department insures that.
…The key line in the application, of course (and it’s already graven on the minds of activists): “the Constitution does not protect a right to abortion.” Alito was 35 when he wrote that; Roe v. Wade was 12.
Alito also boldly denounced other lines of cases crafted by the Warren Court, including landmark decisions on criminal procedure and voting rules.
The memo has changed the dynamics here, sharpening the partisan divide in ways that can’t be fuzzed over as the confirmation war approaches.
A top Democratic strategist tells me he now expects no more than a handful of Dems—eight at the max—to end up voting for Alito. I think it could be fewer. Remember, there are currently 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one independent in the Senate. We may well be headed for a “nuclear option” showdown, in which a Democrat would filibuster the floor debate on Alito.
How utterly pedestrian this analysis is…there is no mention at all of the gang of 14…if the gang holds, and the Republicans go party-line, then the 60 votes or there; if not, the Republicans go nuclear…and it’s a tough sell that a twenty-year-old memo means ‘extraordinary circumstances’ (yep, I’m still chillin’). Fineman admits as much in the excellent middle section:
Would the Republican leadership be able to muster the 60 votes needed, including a handful of Democrats, to shut it off? Not clear.
Would the GOP then go ahead and try to end debate with 51 votes, as opposed to the deeply traditional 60? Yes, I think the GOP would. That’s the “nuclear” part.
Now pay attention to this next part, because this is the key to why the Democrats cannot stop Alito:
The NEWSWEEK poll shows that Americans aren’t “abortion on demand” types.
While voters tend to identify themselves as “pro-choice,” by a 57-34 percent majority, they are far from supporting abortion under any circumstances, and strong majorities are quite willing to support the kinds of procedural restrictions that drive pro-choice purists crazy. For example, even a plurality of Democrats (47-45 percent) says that an abortion should be illegal if its sole purpose is to avoid the economic burden of raising a child. And even Democrats are deeply (a slim 51-43 percent majority) ambivalent about allowing an abortion if its sole reason is that the mother “does not want to have a child.”
Democrats (and the rest of the country) strongly support certain hedges around abortion rights: parental consent for teenagers (68 percent “yes” for Democrats, 71 percent in the country as a whole); parental notification (73 and 78 percent respectively); counseling on the dangers of abortion (78 and 81 percent); notification of the husband (64 and 67 percent); 24-hour waiting period (67 and 71).
Nowhere is the gap between activists and rank-and-file more nakedly displayed, on both sides, than with the issue of abortion, this detestable procedure that has come to dominate the supreme legal body of the mightiest country in the free world.
While the activists tear the country apart for two ideas that will never be (no abortions on one side, abortions whenever I feel like it on the other), the vast majority of the country is in agreement: yep, it’s probably here to stay, no, we don’t particularly care to discuss it, but since you’re throwing it in my face, there’s no problem whatsoever in rules that make the procedure difficult to get on a whim.
Fineman is smart enough to see the implications, should the Democrats choose an all-out offensive:
The risk for the Dems is more than in the numbers, it’s a sense that they are so secular that they can’t see the faith-filled American forest for the trees. And now, thanks to the memo, the seculars, who dominate the party‘s fundraising on both Coasts and on the Internet, are in a “we told you so” mood about Alito. The Democratic base will demand nothing less than all-out opposition.
Not bad for Howard…but true to form, he blows it at the end:
So the GOP is stuck with an admitted pro-life purist. And what’s wrong with that? Well, look at the first of the numbers I cited above, and then at a state such as Pennsylvania. It’s culturally conservative (“Pittsburgh and Philly with Alabama in between” James Carville famously observed) and two pro-life contenders are squaring off in the pivotal Senate race next year.
But, already burdened by President Bush’s low poll numbers and his own hard-right image, Republican Sen. Rick Santorum can’t afford to carry any extra weight if he hopes to win votes in the key battleground, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Santorum will surely vote for Alito, but the potential cost of doing so has just gone up.
Howard, Howard, Howard…Santorum is your example? Listen, anyone that will be swayed by a vote for a pro-life jurist was never going to vote for Santorum in the first place. Honestly, who fed you that – Kos? Armando?…Find another talking point, because that dog won’t hunt…