In a matter of weeks, Bush is likely to nominate Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The appointment of this staunchly conservative jurist, who’s also a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian, could be the best news the Democrats have heard since November 1st. In fact, getting Gonzales on the bench could be for us a power move.
A strange theory, isn’t it? After all, Gonzales left his post as Bush’s White House Counsel to go fill the big, Orwellian shoes of John Ashcroft. His history with the President stretches back to their cowboy government days in Texas. When Gonzales’ credentials were questioned recently, Bush rushed to his defense: "I don't like it when a friend gets criticized. I'm loyal to my friends. And all of a sudden, this fellow, who is a good public servant and a really fine person, is under fire. And so, do I like it? No, I don't like it all."
So what’s there for Democrats to like about Gonzales, a Bush best buddy, the White House Counsel who devised the legal strategy for torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and other U.S. military prisons? How could we tolerate the appointment to the highest court in the land the quarterback for Bush’s drive to stack the federal appellate courts with right wing judges?
Well, first, consider our options. The fact of the matter is that Bush gets to hand pick a nominee to replace O’Connor. Someone nominated by Bush is going to wind up on the Supreme Court, period. If not Gonzales, we’d likely be dealing with a nominee who’s in ideological lockstep with Scalia and Thomas. Though all of our options are ominous and it’s no fun to admit, we could do far worse than Gonzales.
Secondly, consider Gonzales’ fiercest enemies. The people who hate Gonzales the most are not Ralph Neas and Ralph Nader. Rather, conservative powerbrokers like Focus on the Family and the Free Congress Foundation oppose Gonzales for being soft on core “culture war” issues like abortion, gay marriage, affirmative action and civil liberties. Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, calls Gonzales a "supremacist judge” who would “legislate from the bench.” What most outrages Schlafly and other conservative leaders is that they believe Gonzales would allow Roe v. Wade to remain the law of the land.
Bush’s love for Gonzales, juxtaposed with the rejection of Gonzales by pivotal Right wing leaders, suggests a rupture in conservative unity. This means that a Gonzales confirmation presents Democrats with a strategic opportunity.
Here’s how we should take advantage of this opportunity. Democrats should, as per usual, engage in diligent scrutiny of Gonzales. But, beyond this, we should hold our noses, grit our teeth and refrain from pitched battle against Gonzales’ appointment to the Supreme Court. Not because we think he’s OK. But because quieting our opposition to Gonzales from a scream to a murmur will, ultimately, lead to his appointment and this, ultimately, will fracture the Right.
In the immediate term, Gonzales is our wedge issue.
The vitriolic conservative leaders who are urging Bush not to nominate Gonzales will be exposed as reactionary extremists.
Once snubbed by the President, these conservatives will also be less inclined to mobilize their millions of dollars and members on behalf of candidates supported by Bush in the midterm elections. Because the midterm elections require more work and motivation for both sides, Gonzales could be our tipping point. His confirmation could be the first domino in a chain of Conservative suspicions and doubts about one another. The bottom line is that conservative disunity would weaken their side and strengthen ours.
Gonzales is the enemy of our enemy. This doesn’t make him our friend, but it certainly makes him useful to us if our goal is to outthink and outmaneuver the Right. It’s time for our side to engage in the work of dividing in order to conquer.
Or to put it more subtly, remember what Archimedes said: “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I can move the world.” As the Supreme Court battle is joined, think of Gonzales as our lever. We know that the place we stand is on our unshakable belief in equality and democracy. We just have to move some cumbersome conservatives out of the way in order to make these ideals reality for all Americans.