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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dialectics of the Roberts Vote

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to approve John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The three Democrats who voted with all ten GOPers to send the smooth but shifty lawyer towards his Supreme Goal were Senators Leahy, Kohl and–surprise, surprise–Feingold. Among Democrats outside the committee announcing their position today was Sen. Hillary Clinton, who said she’d vote “no.” Some Democratic activists and bloggers sort of went medieval on Pat Leahy yesterday for announcing his support for Roberts. The reaction to Feingold–a probable presidential candidate in 2008 who has earned a fair amount of blogospheric support due to his perfectly timed call for a fixed timetable for withdrawal from Iraq–was more muted, though occasionally shocked and saddened. One common interpretation has been that 2008 wannabees are treating this vote as an opportunity to reach out beyond their natural political bases. Thus, according to this theory, “centrists” Biden and Clinton are building credibility with activists and the netroots, while Feingold is moving in the other direction to avoid typecasting as the candidate of the Left. My favorite take, by Daily Kos diarist LarryInNYC, goes well beyond the “keep your powder dry” theory that Democratic Senators voting “yea” are making sure they have maximum credibility to go after Bush’s nominee to replace O’Connor, which will almost certainly change the overall balance of the Court. Actually, suggests Larry, some “yes” voters (presumably Leahy and Feingold) are actually planning to lead a filibuster against said nominee, and thus have signalled by their support for Roberts that they are in truth the shrewd, fighting Dems that disappointed activists had hoped they would be, while some of the “no” voters are probably unprincipled trimmers.Those of you who have studied Karl Marx or Karl Barth will recognize this as a fine example of dialectical reasoning. Is Larry right? Beats me. But I think we should all be open to the possibility that Democratic Senators voting for or against Roberts are actually doing so for the reasons they publicly state, just like all us bloggers and activists who have weighed in on the subject in recent days.

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