Thursday, November 03, 2005

A civilized debate on the Alito nomination

I've previous posted here on my friend Alexandra's center-right blog All Things Beautiful, which, like all the blogs listed on the right sidebar, I highly recommend.

Well, Alexandra and I have linked up in support of my Scalitovision 2005 series (see Part 1 and Part 2, with much more to come). See her "Joining Forces" post here. It includes an introduction by Alexandra that includes a list of important questions for both liberals and conservatives pertaining to the Alito nomination, as well as a fairly lengthy argument for civility in the blogosphere by me. I may post it in full here at The Reaction, but here's how it begins:

Disparate elements of the political blogosphere united for a brief time around the Harriet Miers nomination, but President Bush's recent nomination of Samuel Alito to replace Justice O'Connor on the Supreme Court has renewed hostilities between left and right and returned the blogosphere to a medium of warring echo chambers blustering on the extremes.

The blogosphere should be a network of information and communication, a place for diverse voices to be heard, for opinions popular and unpopular to be debated and considered. It should be a place where we learn from one another and where we have our opinions challenged by the best voices from across the spectrum. Instead, it is often a state of nature where only the loudest and most extreme are heard and where the voices of reason and contemplation are drowned out by partisanship and ideological fervor.

The blogosphere's greatest strength, its unregulated diversity, may also be its greatest weakness.

Now, with the Alito nomination, as with the Plame leak, the war in Iraq, and other such divisive issues and stories, we find ourselves subjected once again to juvenile name-calling and the general debasement of political discourse. But there are also intelligent, thoughtful voices out there, and those are the voices that must be heard above the din of extremist rhetoric.

Let me be clear about something: I am certainly not suggesting that we liberals and moderates capitulate and support the Alito nomination without reservation. Alexandra and I have linked up, but we don't necessarily agree. I was anti-Miers, she was pro-Miers. She's pro-Alito, I'm withholding judgement despite serious concerns about his hardcore conservatism and the potential tipping of the balance of the Court well to the right. Indeed, as I read more and more about his record, and about what he might do on the Court, I'm more and more inclined not to support his nomination. But we'll see.

Alito is in many respects the anti-Miers. He has years of judicial experience and seems to have a formidable legal mind, a strong character, and a congenial personality. Andrew Siegel, writing about "Alito's fightening geniality" at TNR, calls Alito the "worst nightmare" for liberals:

If you are a fan of the justices who fought throughout the Rehnquist years to pull the Supreme Court to the right, Alito is a home run -- a strong and consistent conservative with the skill to craft opinions that make radical results appear inevitable and the ability to build trusting professional relationships across ideological lines. If, on the other hand, you are a committed opponent of the Scalia-Thomas-Rehnquist agenda who has been carefully evaluating O'Connor's potential replacements with concern for the Court's future direction, Alito might be the most dangerous possible nominee.

See also Robert Gordon at Slate:

In the great Alito-Scalito debate, everyone makes one mistake: They seem to assume that if Samuel Alito is as conservative as Antonin Scalia, that's about as conservative as a judge can be. Not so. In important ways, Samuel Alito could prove more conservative than Antonin Scalia. And the record suggests he will...

If you are the sort of person who believes conservatives are always right, Alito's consistency in many matters will cheer you. Maybe it will even send you into the same earthly rapture that America's right has experienced since Monday morning. But if you are the sort of person who believes that conservatives and liberals both tell some of the truth and neither tells all of it, you may prefer the sort of conservative judge who ventures out of camp more often. Most Americans probably feel that way, which is why most Americans probably should think carefully about Samuel Alito's confirmation.

When Antonin Scalia starts looking good, you know you're in trouble.

True enough.

But if I was anti-Miers, and Alito is the anti-Miers, does that mean that I must be pro-Alito? No. I am not yet ready to judge him one way or the other, that is, to support his nomination or not, but what I would like to see, to repeat, is greater civility in the blogosphere. And, as a liberal who is proud to be a liberal and who may end up opposing Alito, I say this for two reasons:

1) If we are to oppose Alito, we must do so on the merits, by looking at his record and judging it accordingly. We won't help our cause by throwing around ad hominem attacks. We shouldn't lower ourselves by calling him names and otherwise refusing to participate in an intelligent debate on his nomination.

2) If we end up supporting Alito, for whatever reason(s), we should do so by respecting the process and by expressing our concerns maturely.

This isn't easy. I know that many of you out there are vocal opponents of the Bush Administration, the Republican Party, and the conservative movement. And I'm very much with you in my opposition to what they've done so far and what they're still trying to do. Let us stand up for what we believe in, let us seek victory on the electoral stage, let us engage our ideas for the good of America and of the world that is so heavily influenced and impacted by America. But let us also reach out to those who oppose us, and those who challenge us, by listening to what they have to say and by responding to them with decency and respect.

So to all my fellow bloggers out there, I say:

Let's have a more civilized debate on the Alito nomination. And let's have more civilized debates on all the issues that divide us. This great medium deserves no less. And certainly our readers deserve no less.

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  • If you indeed are searching for intellegent discourse (and I certainly applaud your ambitions) you might want to dump the "Scalito" bastardization.

    A smirky semi-disparging nickname (Scalito - "heh heh Beavis - I get it") is not necessarily condusive to reasoned discourse on the merits of a man who has a formidable track record of his own design.

    Like him or not, he deserves the courtesy of his own name.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:01 PM  

  • A fair point, Jim. Scalitovision sounded too good to pass up, but perhaps I'll change it for Part 3.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 8:31 PM  

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