The Alito Hearings: Jubilation of the Fascists and Anger of the People
Revolution #031, January 22, 2006, posted at revcom.us
People expected last week’s Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito to be a major political clash. But the political battle people hoped for did not materialize. By week’s end, two things stood out.
One, Alito’s ascendancy to the Court would, as feared, mark a serious leap in the fascist remaking of the legal system.
And two, the political polarization in this country has to change, and change very quickly.
Why the Theocrats Cheered
The heavyweights turned out in force on the eve of the hearings, at "Justice Sunday III." Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Tony Perkins--as well as the third-ranking Republican senator, Rick Santorum--went to the church of Black preacher and sell-out Herbert Lusk. This unholy bunch insists that the law should be based on the tenets of an extremely reactionary variant of Christian fundamentalism. And these Christian fascists believe they’ve found a savior--or at least a tool--in Samuel Alito.
Listen to Falwell: "What we've worked on for 30 years, to mobilize people of faith and values in this country, is coming to consummation right now. . . Now we're looking at something that really started 30 years ago, a reconstruction of a court system gone awry."
Then, on the first day of hearings, theocratic Republican senators Cornyn of Texas, Brownback of Kansas and Coburn of Oklahoma weighed in. They expressed their firm expectation that Alito would reverse the current Supreme Court on the separation of church and state, the right to abortion, and the right of gay people not to be jailed for consensual sexual activity.
Over the next several days, the cause for the jubilation and confidence of the Christian fascists would become clear.
Alito Sticks By His Reactionary Opinions
It’s not, as some said, that Alito dodged the questions or said nothing. More accurately, what he didn’t say said plenty. Alito refused to say that Roe vs Wade--the decision upholding a woman’s right to abortion--is "settled law." On the basis of this testimony many commentators summed up that, should he get on the Court, Alito will fight to overturn Roe.
Alito has a particularly ugly history on abortion. Writing in 1985 as a functionary in the Reagan Justice Department, Alito devised a strategy to undercut Roe by putting legal restrictions on abortion and getting the courts to uphold those, rather than tackling Roe head-on. Then, after Roe had been hollowed out, conditions would be better to overturn the decision altogether. And again, Alito did NOT disavow the memo on this during the hearings.
Promoted to the appeals court a few years later, Alito infamously fought to uphold the Pennsylvania law that would have forced married women who sought abortions to notify their husbands. (This opinion was directly opposed by the Supreme Court ruling on the case.) Kate Michelman, the former head of NARAL, gave powerful and moving testimony to the committee about what it meant for her, as a mother of three children, to be forced to ask the husband who had abandoned her for his permission to terminate her pregnancy. Now the man who would blithely force women to do this--and who would actually try to eliminate the right to abortion altogether--stands ready to join the highest court in the land. And this at a time when the Bush regime drives relentlessly to restrict and eventually outlaw abortion and to promote and strengthen patriarchal male domination generally.
Nor did Alito disavow at the hearing his earlier backing for the doctrine of "unitary executive"--a doctrine which invests extraordinary and, in some interpretations, supreme power in the presidency. He did not criticize his earlier arguments defending Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell for illegal wiretaps, which maintained that the members of the executive--"the President’s men"--could not be prosecuted for civil damages. This too at a time when Bush openly violates the law on wiretapping and implies that his critics are guilty of treason.
Finally, Alito did not disavow his 1985 statement saying that he had taken up constitutional law specifically in opposition to earlier Supreme Court decisions, including those overturning some of the ways in which Black people had been denied the right to vote. (These decisions had been made as concessions to the civil rights movement and Black liberation struggle.) Alito now says he had been misinterpreted, or that he worded things poorly, and that "of course" he believes in "one person, one vote" in general--but he never disavowed his earlier statement on what drove him to take up constitutional law and he continues to balk when this principle is actually applied in practice. And again--this under a regime that systematically disfranchises Black voters and attempts to illegally cement Republican dominance.
Alito’s Racist Codewords
Almost equally important were Alito’s opening remarks, especially his attacks on the antiwar students where he went to college, at Princeton. He characterized them as "very privileged people behaving irresponsibly" and drew "a contrast between some of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and the decency of the people back in my own community."
Two points. First, those students were fighting for justice, often braving attacks from police and National Guard. They were principled and courageous, not irresponsible--and we need more of this today. Second, and perhaps more important, Alito adopted here the rhetoric and imagery of the so-called "hard-hat" movement of the time. These were people, mostly from the better-paid sections of the working class, small businessmen, and the police, who joined together in violent attacks not only against antiwar demonstrators, but even more so against Black people attempting to integrate housing and schools.
Some commentators covered that up, while making a big deal of how Alito represented the "hard-working and responsible white ethnics." In fact, Alito represents a fascist section of the ruling class, and has devoted his life to that. But in his hearing appearance he tried to appeal to and mobilize the narrow and backward section of "white ethnics" who went along with the racism and reaction and still do, as opposed to the significant section that broke with it then and are dissatisfied and angry with the fascist direction of politics now.
(A further irony in this remark is that Alito himself joined a group that was indeed over-privileged and irresponsible--the Concerned Alumni of Princeton. This bunch defended their privilege by attacking affirmative action for Black people and the very presence of women and gay people on campus! Alito was proud enough of his membership to list it on his job application in 1985--and then claimed at the hearings to have no memory of the group’s specific positions!)
Democrats Make a Show, But Ease Alito’s Way
But while the hard right fascists strutted and brayed, the Democratic opposition fumbled and bumbled. Everybody had figurd on a showdown. But where was the Democratic senator who gave any sense of that?
Put it this way. If you saw a boxer come into the ring for a very important fight, one that could mean a shot at the championship, and you noticed that he or she was out of shape in the first place, and then only threw a few lackluster jabs . . . and if you saw the fighter refuse to go in for the kill when some of those jabs somehow landed . . . and if at the end the boxer seemed almost relieved when the ref called a TKO and ruled her or him out of the running for the championship--well, you’d figure that either that fighter had not believed that they had the stuff to be champ in the first place, or else they had thrown the fight. Or both.
And that pretty much describes the Democrats. Where was the Democrat who said, "Hey, look, answer the question straight, or I’m filibustering!" Where was the Democrat who said, "Can’t remember the positions of that racist sexist organization, my ass! You put it down on your job application in 1985. Now tell the truth, and remember you’re under oath." More than that: where was the Democrat who clearly called out the stakes--that Alito’s elevation to the court would amount to a major step toward fascism, and nothing less, and that it had to be opposed with extraordinary measures?
This doesn’t come from stupidity or weakness or lack of sophistication, as some commentators speculated. It comes from the top Democrats’ position in the current power structure, and how they see their role and their options in regard to that. In some significant respects, they do not like the Bushian moves toward all-out theocratic fascism. But this opposition is, at best, partial: the top Democrats still oppose withdrawal from Iraq, still support the Patriot Act, and increasingly adopt or concede to the Christian fascist terms on abortion, the separation of church and state, and other key issues.
Even to the extent they may oppose the Bush program, the Democratic leaders fear even more that the masses will come into the streets against it. Those who wish to write or lobby their Congressmen could save themselves the trouble, as these "representatives" are well aware of how angry people are. They simply do not want to do anything that might risk politically uncorking that anger, lest those whom they consider "their base" might go into the streets--and out of their control. So they say and do just enough to look as if they’re trying. . . while they play for time and string people along.
Be they Democrat or Republican, the loyalty of those at the top of the "pyramid of power" lies, above all, to the preservation of imperialism. They may have different views on how to do that and different roles to play in doing it, but do it they will. And the Alito hearings show it.
The Anger Must Be Mobilized
Meanwhile, millions were infuriated by these hearings. The accompanying article "Monday, Bloody Monday" and the photo and caption on the Grand Lakes Theater benefit in California give a sense of that. So do the e-mails we’ve received from new readers expressing tremendous anguish over the direction of society and urgently asking what to do.
Like we said, the anger is there. The question is whether it can find effective organized political expression. And the answer is "yes, if."
Yes, if people refuse to be confined by what the top Democrats will do or call for. Yes, if people will join in with and strengthen the initiatives being taken that actually call out the gravity of the situation and mobilize people to act against it. Yes, if people take to heart the understanding that the Bush regime faces serious problems and there is a huge potential because of that to dramatically change the equation by standing up and stepping out. And yes, if people also grasp that by doing nothing we guarantee that Bush will weather these problems and that the fascist future people fear will come to its ugly fruition.
All that means that there is work to do by those who do understand just what is up.
It is not enough to seethe, and it is definitely not enough to just hope that the Democrats will take action, or even to pressure them. Even if you believe in the Democrats, you have to recognize that they will never do anything at all unless and until they fear that you, and people like you, are "getting out of hand." What do the Alito hearings show, if not that?
Above all, people must break out of the confines set and enforced by those on top. Right now this pivots around mobilizing others, and committing yourself, to the mass political actions called on the occasion of Bush’s State of the Union address--actions demanding that Bush step down and take his program with him. The more that people take this up, now, the more that every force in society can be compelled to move, and the more we can change the whole dynamic and direction of things.
As for the Alito nomination, it is not over. There is disappointment, but there is also anger. Demonstrations, public meetings, and other anti-Alito activities during the next week should be supported and strengthened in their own right, and should also help feed into making the actions set for the State of the Union as powerful and massive as possible.
As we have said, this January is a crucial juncture. Every day must count, and count for a lot. The anger that exists so broadly, the anger that is building with each day, must be given massive and powerful political expression.