Alito is good news for progressives. He is nearly the end of the ability of the old conservative Democratic Party to command a river of funding "protecting" an every shrinking list of programs and rights. When, under Reagan, the Republicans realized that they could borrow and squander, and thus keep the ocean of pork fat flowing, rather than tax and spend - which requires discipline - the old Democratic Party was doomed, since that river of pork fat was the form that liberal government arrived at people's door steps. They put up with social liberalism, because they were told, and believed, that it was some how tied up with the economic liberalism that they liked. As soon as the Republicans could spend like liberals, and engage in social thuggery like reactionaries, the core of the Democratic rank and file headed to the Republicans. The process became self-reinforcing - more jobs in less unionized industries, meant less labor power, more money in the hands of the privileged meant a media that marched, and finally charged, to the right.
One of the huge barriers that we have faced is that, regardless of the personal convictions of various members, who as people here know are generally well to the left of their public stances - there was no way to get the political will together to push back. The donor base wanted protection of Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights and Roe v Wade. The only reliable way to win elections was to prove the Republican candidate was a clear and present danger to one of these four core rights - the right to retire, the right to health in old age, the right to vote and work even if not white, the right to full economic and social membership in society for women.
This led us to a conservative Democratic Party - one that took in fear money, and promised to stand as the bulwark against any attack that really threatened these four cores. With Borklito, Roe v Wade is on its death bed, and it is no longer in the reach of the elected wing of the party to do anything about it.
This is a huge opportunity. As the song goes "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." As the last 8 years have convinced economically oriented liberals - Krugman, Rubin, Soros - that there is simply no doing business with the Republican Party - we are about to enter a period where social liberals will realize that they cannot "protect" rights as conservatives - rights are either moving forward, or they are shrinking, they are not isolated from the social and economic whole. We get social rights when the majority sees those social rights as being tied to the economic and national substance. A country that believes that we can export divisions to Iraq and run a trade surplus, will not believe in equal marriage, or even in reproductive freedom, or even the right to dissent. In fact, these rights will be framed as a threat to the Purity of Essence that sustains the nation.
I'm not going to minimize the human suffering that Alito is going to bring in with him. He's not just a right wing justice, he is going to be part of "the gang of four" who push hard right positions for their time on the court. He isn't just going to vote against liberalism on the margins, he's going to write decisions that try to roll back the 20th century. But for some time now, we haven't been protecting flesh and blood people from the costs of losing their rights, but trading people in the present for people in the future. People in cities for people in the country side. Conservative strategies are morally grey, because they almost invariably rest on trading the good of some for the good of others. The erosion in social security, minimum wages, privacy and civil rights has had a real cost in real lives, a cost that could only fully be understood by opening the book of fate and reading each and everyone of the lives that has been wounded by the sharp spear of reactionary injustice.
There are, and more and more that will be "were", those who would sacrifice anything in the future to hold on to protections in the present. For the last 25 years, that has been America - burn the future to the ground, to keep the money rolling in in the present, burn future rights to the ground, to hold on to tactical freedom in the present. I am not pointing fingers at anyone in specific - we have all worked for candidates who had to sell out the long term for the short term, even if they, personally, knew better. And what is more, if that candidate had not done it, then some other candidate willing to do it would have been the one making the decision. Other than a few bone-headed unforgivably stupid moments, most of the decisions that have gone against progressive and liberal ideals, would have gone against us regardless of who was making the decision. It is why the rare politician who could be liberal and make it stick was so beloved by the activist base. But a governing party governs, not when a few geniuses can sell its positions, but when relatively mediocre hacks can. All industrial Democracies run on an assembly line, and if you can't make your policies implementable all the way down to the factory floor of politics, then you aren't going to govern.
Borklito is nearly the end of this. Within a few years he and the other members of the gang of four will have to set their mark on the judiciary. They will wait for one more reactionary to join them - replacing Stevens would give them a reactionary majority, unbeholden to the politics of the court on key issues. But Bush perhaps as much as three years, and that may be enough.
This means that we can finally argue what many of us knew all along, that the structure where progressive donors give money to conservative office holders to protect the margins of liberal rights - is unstable and ineffective. The conservative officeholders will sell out as much of those rights as they can - knowing that the more threatened the rights are, the more the donors will give blank checks. Where does progressive donor money go? To win red state seats in close elections, people who turn around and vote with the Republicans half the time. Where as if the Democratic Party were simply to hold the seats that are rightfully in the hands of progressives - 2 in ME, 2 in OH, 2 in PA, 1 in RI - we would have our filibuster, and even our majority. But let us be clear, the powers that be traded the easiest progressive pick up in PA away for Casey, who would have voted for Alito straight up.
The people we should be talking to are the donor base. We should be convincing them that their best road to the future is now not to pour money into the conservative structure, but to take over that structure. Not to fund blue dogs running in purple states, but to paint the town blue with senators and reps who can be relied upon not to flinch when the time comes to vote down an extremist judge with an extremist agenda.
For the time being we must push for a filibuster, in order to differentiate those willing to fight for rights, versus those who make symbolic gestures to be able to get money. We will always have to make compromises. But for the time being and for the future, it is time that progressives and liberals follow the path trod by the reactionaries decades ago - give to the progressive system, not the Democratic Party per se - and take every chance to push the party in our direction. In local races, in state races, and in races of national importance.
We must spend a great deal of our time talking to Democratic Primary voters - the people who have rubberstamped the system's candidates over and over again, rather than pushing back and chosing the more progressive and liberal choice. The Republican primary voter base listens to the reactionary system, and votes accordingly. When there is an open seat, very often it is the farthest right candidate who gets it. Yes, Republicans lose many races that a more moderate candidate might win, but once they get a seat, they hold it with someone who will vote their way nearly 100% of the time. Only a few seats are not subjected to this. And getting smaller every day.
We must convince the donors that sending money to people who are selling their rights out, who will not go to the wall for them, is a losing proposition. We must persuade them to fund progressive, liberal and populist groups, candidates and campaigns. It is time to point out over and over again to people "they could not must a filibuster, what good are they?" We need a Senate caucus that will confirm as far to the left as the Republicans have confirmed to the right - because the average of L and Z in the political alphabet is somewhere around R.
There is from time to time talk of a "third party". Well it is time for a third party - a third party from within - just as the reactionaries formed a third party from within the Republican Party, and then coöpted the Republican Party.