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A closer look at the Bush record -- from the war in Iraq to the war on the environment

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Will Americans take the exit ramp off the Bush presidency in November?

Behind Colin Powell's Legend
Colin Powell's sterling reputation in Washington hides his life-long role as water-carrier for conservative ideologues.

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Rev. Sun Myung Moon and American politics

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Contra drug stories uncovered

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The 1980 October Surprise scandal exposed

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Alito Filibuster & Word Games

By Robert Parry
January 29, 2006

At, we often criticize the Bush administration for its Orwellian language – “torture” and “democracy” being just two abused words – so we must note how Senate Democratic leaders slid into their own dissembling while trying to defuse rank-and-file demands for a filibuster of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

The Democratic leaders tried to sound tough and principled when they were really acting soft and manipulative. For instance, they urged Democrats to cast a “strategic vote” on Alito’s nomination as well as calling on senators to “vote their conscience” – but neither phrase meant what it purported to mean.

The so-called “strategic vote” on Alito amounted to Democrats conceding defeat on his nomination but then having most Democrats vote against him. That supposedly would permit Democrats to say “I told you so” when the negative consequences of Alito’s confirmation become apparent to the American people.

But that sort of ineffectual opposition is less “strategic” than it is “symbolic.” It amounts to surrendering to George W. Bush and the Republicans, even when important constitutional issues are at stake, and then briefly showing the flag to appease an angry Democratic base. It’s “strategic” like Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox was.

The other phrase – “vote their conscience” – actually was a signal to Democratic senators facing reelection campaigns in pro-Bush “Red States” to cross over to the Republican side on the Alito nomination in order to gain some political protection.

So instead of challenging Alito on principle – because he’s a legal theorist for the Imperial Presidency and believes that a “unitary executive” should rule the nation almost by fiat – the “Red State” Democrats would “vote their conscience” by making a crass calculation and succumbing to political pressure.

In other words, “conscience” was used as a euphemism for “expediency.”


What’s happened over the past few days, however, has been a surprise to many Washington-based national Democrats. Rank-and-file Democrats across the country quickly saw through these tricky word games and rebelled, expressing outrage through the Internet and via talk-radio stations.

This Democratic base has demanded that Democratic leaders, for once, set aside political gamesmanship and recognize that Alito and his radical theories of an all-powerful executive are a serious threat to the future of the American democratic Republic.

The rank-and-file outrage appears to have stiffened the spines of some prominent Democrats.

Sen. John Kerry, the party’s presidential standard-bearer in 2004, called for a filibuster. Other Democrats said they would join Kerry, although their earlier hesitancy to mount a full-scale battle against Alito may have doomed hopes of preventing Republicans from amassing the 60 votes needed to shut off debate.

Nevertheless, the Republicans may have added a complication to their expected Alito victory parade by ridiculing Kerry for making his filibuster announcement while at an economic summit in Davos, Switzerland.

As Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s right-wing Washington Times gleefully reported, Republicans quickly dubbed Kerry the “Swiss Miss.” [Washington Times, Jan. 28, 2006]

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan joined in mocking the Massachusetts Democrat by joking at the daily White House press briefing that it was a “pretty historic” day.

“This was the first time ever that a senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland,” McClellan said. “I think even for a senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps.”

These insults added a personal element to the decision facing Democratic senators. With Republicans hooting down the Democrats’ last presidential nominee, as well as a longtime Senate colleague, crossing the aisle to support Bush’s Supreme Court nominee suddenly had the bitter taste of an act of political treason.

Whether the insults were a factor or not, the minds of some Democrats, who had been ready to accept Alito’s confirmation as inevitable, changed. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who had opposed a filibuster, reversed her position, saying she would vote no on a cloture motion to cut off debate.

One Democratic strategist, whom I spoke with after Feinstein’s change of heart, said he now could conceive how a filibuster could get the 41 votes needed to block Alito’s confirmation. But he added that he still considered those chances a long shot.

[For more of’s coverage of the Alito nomination, see “Alito & the Point of No Return,” “Alito & the Ken Lay Factor,” “Alito Hearings: Democrats’ Katrina,” “Alito Filibuster: It Only Takes One,” “The End of ‘Unalienable Rights’,” “Alito & the Media Mess,” and “When Republicans Loved a Filibuster.”]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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