The Democratic Dilemma

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 26, 2005; 8:24 AM

The Supreme Court nomination was supposed to test the philosophy of the Republican Party: Would Bush pick an ultraconservative to satisfy his party's base, sparking a bloody confirmation battle, or would he pick a more mainstream conservative and risk the wrath of the far right?

But now that Bush has "threaded the needle," to use the administration's preferred sound bite--have you ever seen anyone rack up more glowing profiles than John Roberts?--the spotlight is very much on the Democratic Party.

Do the Dems (most of whom have been restrained on Roberts) launch an effort to take him down anyway, even though, lacking key votes for a filibuster, they would most likely lose? Will they be pressured into outright opposition by liberal interest groups that burnish their reputations and raise money by crusading against conservative nominees? If by some turn of events the Democrats managed to block Roberts, how likely is it that Bush would name someone more conservative?

In other words, is Roberts--who seems a cautious and incremental type, as opposed to an overturn-the-precedents flame-thrower--about as good a nominee as the Democrats are likely to get from this administration?

I realized that the Roberts fight (or lack thereof) would be a kind of Rorschach test for the Dems when I saw two columnists with more or less opposite views spotlight the same question. First, the NYT's David Brooks

"I suspect the Democratic elites would rather skip this fight because it has all the makings of a political loser. Anybody who is brilliant during Supreme Court grillings, as Roberts is, will be impressive at confirmation hearings. He is modest and likeable, and has done pro bono work on behalf of the environment, parental rights and minorities.

"But the Democratic elites no longer run the party. The outside interest groups and the donors do, and they need this fight. It's why they exist.

"Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic hopefuls will have to choose between the militant wing of the party, important in the primary season, and the nation's mainstream center, which the party needs if it is to regain its majority status. It will be a defining and momentous vote."

And here's the WP's Richard Cohen :

"Roberts alone is not enough to reverse Roe v. Wade , and, anyway, a pro-choice nominee is just not in the cards. . . .

It seems to me that it is the Democratic Party that has a problem. It can either come to terms with reality or appear, to much of the country, both petulant and in the grip of special interests, particularly the pro-choice lobby. In effect, the fate of this nominee was settled back in the year 2000 when Florida, for better or for worse, squinted hard and pronounced George W. Bush its winner."

By the way, Drudge claims that Hillary has more or less decided to back Roberts.


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