Washington’s Favorite Parlor Game

What an exciting time we have ahead of us! A pending Supreme Court vacancy, confirming all of those rumors that were swirling around about Souter’s desire to return to his New Hampshire farmhouse.

Of course it’s all only exciting in so far as the guessing game — because inevitably Senate Republicans are going to weigh in and say stupid, hypocritical things that will ruin all the fun. 

Via Steve Benen, pundits have, in the recent past, called on Obama to choose a moderate to fill Souter’s seat in order to avoid a difficult confirmation hearing. Newsweek’s Stuart Taylor:

Conservatives concede that the Democrat-led Senate would almost certainly confirm any Obama nominee, absent any damaging revelation. But the more liberal the nominee, the more contentious the confirmation hearings will be. The president’s stance as a consensus builder might suffer if his first choice seems likely to support liberal causes such as gay marriage. […]

When it’s Obama’s turn to pick a nominee, he’ll either sacrifice some political good will or he’ll upset his base. There’s not much middle ground.

But as Benen says, Republicans are going to be angry (mock or otherwise) no matter who Obama picks, short of a nominee with the Federalist Society’s seal of approval.

There’s just not that much political goodwill left between Senate Republicans and the president.  They’re stonewalling nearly every nominee Obama throws their way, from the recently confirmed Kathleen Sebelius to the as-yet-unconfirmed Harold Koh, Dawn Johnson, and David Hamilton (for HHS, State legal adviser, head of the OLC, and Seventh Circuit nominee, respectively).  Apparently Senate Republicans would prefer Obama’s nominees to not have any opinions on any of the issues they disagree with — god forbid the head of the OLC is pro-choice or a judge on the 7th Circuit didn’t clerk for William Rehnquist back in the day.  That would be madness. Madness!

The other problem with the political goodwill argument is that it’s never reciprocated.  Obama could try and appoint so-called moderate folks to these kinds of positions, and hope that the Republicans won’t put up a fight, but the favor won’t be returned in the future.  Did George W. Bush appoint moderates to build political goodwill? No! And Senate Democrats let him, mostly, thinking they were building up their own political goodwill, reserving it for future use.

Fooled again.  It’s up to Obama to nominate someone whose views for the most part line up with his own and with the Democratic Party — someone who stands for all of the things Senate Republican detest.  Someone who will be a persuasive and influential voice on the court, to counter the Scalia point-of-view.

I’d add the Arlen Specter better have something to show for his new party affiliation by the end of this inevitable confirmation battle…and hope that Obama does a better job of choosing a nominee than Clinton did the first time he got the chance. Let’s try and limit the list to one or two, compared to seven or eight.


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