How the Democrats Can Lose Smart on Roberts

Gloria Borger has a solid analysis explaining why the Democrats would be foolish to fight too hard on the John Roberts nomination–and how they can score some political points while losing. How to Lose Smart (U.S. News)

[…] Democrats know this nominee isn’t likely to be filibustered; he’s too well qualified. They assume he will be approved, barring any unforeseen developments. So here’s the challenge: Find a smart way to lose.


This is not to say that Democrats should just raise the white flag. Why not pick a few issues to press, thereby defining the differences between Democrats and Republicans? A good choice would be the right to privacy. Not just abortion; argue about the role of government in our lives. It’s broader–and allows Democrats to revisit the Terri Schiavo case, in which the GOP angered a majority of voters by intervening. That way, says one Democratic strategist, “we can also talk to conservative men in the Midwest” who haven’t been cheering Democrats on lately. The pitch: Roberts isn’t a bad person; he’s just the single best example of the different party views of the world.


Also imagine the unease of potential Democratic presidential contenders, especially the ones who have to vote on Roberts in the Senate–Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry. The liberal party base and special interests want a “No” vote. But what about moderates who believe that the president should be given his pick if the candidate is qualified? On this one, it’s impossible for a senator to have it both ways. Remember when Kerry supported the war in Iraq and then voted against the $87 billion to fund it? That was primary politics. It backfired in the general election.

Here’s the question: What’s the difference between the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by President Bill Clinton and the nomination of Judge Roberts by President Bush? Answer: nothing. Ginsburg appeared as liberal as Roberts does conservative, yet she was approved 96 to 3. The GOP decided it would not be a party of useless litmus tests or panderers to special interests. And in the next election, Republicans made it clear she would not have been their choice. That is, after all, what elections are about.

Exactly right.

Granted, I think that a majority of the public will prefer Roberts to Ginsburg. But this is the proper grounds to fight political battles: Both are decent, honorable, qualified people. If you want more Ginsburgs, vote Democrat. If you want more Robertses, vote Republican.

We should be able to draw ideological distinctions and point to the natural consequences of them without engaging in character assassination or histrionics.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ken Taylor says:

    The question comes to mind, “are the Democrats capable of an even handed and, “honorable” confirmation ?” I think not. Past experience has proven that their lust to regain power and their unwillingness to accept that they are the minority, add to this the rhetoric that has already been spoken by Kennedy, Durbin and others would tend to lead one to believe that either a filibuster could be attempted,though not likely,or an attempt at character assissination even knowing that the confirmation is likely. The Democrats have proven that coming out against the President IS their aganeda!