The Imperfect Storm

Wise man Robert Parry says it all here, in Alito Hearings: The Democrats' Katrina. There's not much to add to Parry's blistering truth-telling, except to concur in the strongest terms. I have never in my lifetime seen the Democratic Party so weak and spineless and pointless; these guys make Michael Dukakis look like Ghengis Khan. As I noted yesterday, they will not stand up for the Republic, not even now, in its hour of greatest peril. They are content to let it die, while, as Parry says, they preen and posture -- and pocket the loot of a corrupted system.

But now let's hear Parry speak the truth, as he has done so often, so effectively, and in the face of such great odds, for so many years. Here are some excerpts, but you should read the whole piece:

For a constitutional confrontation at least five years in the making, the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee looked as prepared to confront Samuel Alito as FEMA chief Michael Brown did in responding to Hurricane Katrina.

As with the hurricane that zeroed in on New Orleans days before coming ashore, there should have been no surprise about Judge Alito. He was exactly what the Republican base had long wanted in a Supreme Court nominee: a hard-line judicial ideologue with a pleasant demeanor and a soft-spoken style. Indeed, Alito has been such an unapologetic supporter of the right’s beloved Imperial Presidency that Alito’s one noteworthy assurance—that George W. Bush was not “above the law”—was essentially meaningless because in Alito’s view, Bush is the law.

Yet the Democrats were incapable of making an issue out of Alito’s embrace of the “unitary executive,” a concept so radical that it effectively eliminates the checks and balances that the founding fathers devised to protect against an out-of-control president.

Bush even gave the Democrats a news hook to make the peculiar phrase “unitary executive ” a household word. Bush cited his “unitary” powers just days earlier in signaling that he would use his commander in chief authority to override the provisions of Sen. John McCain’s anti-torture amendment, passed in December 2005. Though the McCain amendment had been big news—and Bush’s announcement of his personal loophole on torture had been reported in the press—the Democrats still failed to force this troubling concept of an all-powerful president into the mainstream debate...(For more excerpts, hit "Read more/Comment".)

But very little that happened during Alito’s three days of testimony should have come as a surprise to the Democrats. The senators knew Alito was going to dodge direct answers to questions about Roe v. Wade and other hot-button issues. They knew the right would rally its extensive media and grassroots operations, even lining up people to cheer Alito when he arrived on Capitol Hill (much as they did for Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings almost two decades ago).

The Democrats must have realized that the mainstream media would focus on the most trivial aspects of the hearings—as well as on the windiness of the senators’ long-prefaced questions. The only hope to change those dynamics would have been to present a strong alternative narrative. That alternative narrative could have been how the right has spent three decades steadily building its infrastructure and clout to consolidate ideological control around an Imperial Presidency held tightly in Republican hands and endorsed by a restructured Supreme Court....

By undergoing rhetorical liposuction, the Democrats also might have trimmed down their flabby speechifying and instead posed pointed question after pointed question to Alito, eventually making his refusal to answer questions the central issue of the hearings, not their own bloviating.

Does the president have the right to override the McCain amendment and order the torture of detainees? What point is there in Congress passing laws if Bush, as the “unitary executive,” can simply declare them meaningless? What would Alito do if Bush announced that he would begin ignoring Supreme Court rulings?

Since the “unitary” theory holds that independent regulatory agencies must cease to exist, should the president have total control over a revamped Securities and Exchange Commission? If one of his contributors is caught up in an accounting scandal, should the president have the power to order the SEC to look the other way?

If a media outlet criticizes the president, should he have the power to order the Federal Communications Commission to cancel the station's broadcast license? Would it be okay for Bush to give the license to a political ally or a campaign contributor?

Since you, Judge Alito, have long promoted the theory of the “unitary executive,” where are the boundaries of the president’s powers? For the duration of the war on terror, are there any meaningful limits on the president’s right to do whatever he deems necessary? Judge Alito, how do you differentiate between a system run by a “unitary executive” and a dictatorship?

Clearly, Alito would not have answered these questions. He would have fallen back on his ritual response of declining to comment about issues that might eventually come before the Supreme Court. But many Americans would have been shocked by Alito’s refusal to stand decisively on the side of a traditional democratic Republic and against an autocratic regime. It also might have dawned on millions of Americans what’s at stake in this debate....

At a time when many rank-and-file Americans are alarmed that the Constitution and the continued existence of a democratic Republic are in jeopardy, they see congressional Democrats more concerned about avoiding unpleasant confrontation than leading the fight against encroaching authoritarianism. Some Democrats, like Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, seem to think their chief purpose in Washington is to be on as many network talk shows as possible, a goal that requires them not to be seen as too extreme or strident in their criticism of Bush or his administration...