Knife Fight In The Back Alley, Democrats. Do You Play Or Fold?

With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s resignation from the Supreme Court, Donald J Trump now gets to nominate a person who would ensure a partisan Republican, Conservative Supreme Court majority which will turn this Country to the “Dark Side” for decades (of course, he might nominate a non-partisan Centerist but I’ll take the wager).

Yes, our Constitution gives presidents the power to nominate but the power to actually appoint (meaning confirm the nomination) belongs to the United States Senate which must “consent.”

Some Commentators and some Democrats are saying that Trump’s nominee  can not be defeated, no matter who he or she may be. The presumption being Trump’s nominee will be another Gorsuch style hard right Republican conservative and the Republican majority in the Senate, listening to the whooping and hollering on Fox News and its faithful Trump acolytes, and fearful of crossing the Child King who rules their party will vote unanimously for confirmation.


Of course such a nominee can be defeated.

Assuming John McCain may be absent, the Republicans have a 51 member voting majority. Lose just one Republican and Vice President Pence breaks the tie. Lose two Republicans and it’s “game over” for Trump’s nominee. And if it turns out Trump has to lose three Republicans, that can be done as well.

But to win, Democrats must come out of the gate in furious opposition, fight the Republican’s game hard and never stop.

When I say “fight” I don’t mean in the style of a  genteel, Sunday afternoon croquet match. Democrats must undestand the Republicans of modern times engage in a back alley knife fight and Democrats must grab a big knife of their own and jump in.

They don’t have to start it; they just have to finish it.

But many Democrats are reluctant to do that. To them, it smacks of going “down and dirty,” of unseemly un-sportsman like conduct. They hold their noses at the thought of engaging in such thuggish behavior.

It was the sports writer Grantland Rice who put it this way: “For when the One Great Scorer comes To write against your name, He marks-not that you won or lost- But how you played the game.”

I watched three Democratic presidential nominees who could have won take Rice’s advice. I do not pretend to know how  the “One Great Scorer” marked them in His book.

What I know is that they lost.

Mike Dukakis was eighteen points ahead of Vice President Bush in  late August of 1988, eighteen points (!) but within three weeks the Republican attack machine led by Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater had erased Dukakis’s lead by painting him as a looney “leftist” who was soft on crime.

A Massachusetts Governor named Sargent, a Republican, signed a law that released eligible prisoners on a weekend pass years before Dukakis took office. The idea originated in another State whose Republican Governor signed the first such weekend  prisoner release law.

That state was California, that Governor was Ronald Reagan.

So, the  weekend prisoner release program was operating in Massachusetts when a released prisoner named Willie Horton raped a white woman and brutalized her boyfriend.

Lee Atwater pounced.

“I’m going to make Willie Horton the most famous black man in America,” Atwater told reporters. The Republican attack ads made it sound like Dukakis had thought up this terrible idea and had personally selected Horton for release (to rape a white woman).

To which Dukakis answered, well, even though I covered his campaign on the bus I don’t recall that he said much of anything.

I don’t recall that he ever made a point that one of his Republican predessors as Governor had signed the law for Massachusetts and then thrown the name of the first Governor to sign a weekend prisoner release law in Atwater’s face.

“Okay attack team, if you want to attack your parties’ hero, attack Ronald Reagan as “soft on crime,” Dukakis might have said.

Why, indirectly, Ronald Reagan ultimately is to blame for releasing Willie Horton (to rape a white woman). No?

No, but it might have shut down the Horton ads.

Instead, Dukakis’s friend New York Govenor Mario Cuomo advised  that the voters would never believe such “junk” as was being thrown by Ailes/Atwater and  besides, said Cuomo, we’re better than to get down in the mud. Dukakis stayed “clean” and never really fought back.

He lost.

In 2004, Demoratic presidential nominee John Kerry, running against a president whose Iraqi war adventure was unpopular,  was “swiftboated” by an attack team that said he didn’t deseve the Vietnam war medals for bravery he had won.

Among his medals was the Silver Star (second highest award for heroism in the face of the enemy). Kerry was in command of a Navy patrol craft which was coming under fire from the Viet Cong enemy dug in on the bank of the Bay Hap river. Kerry’s official Silver star citation reads, in part:

“… Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY ordered his units to charge the enemy positions…an enemy soldier sprang up from his position not ten feet from Patrol Craft Fast 94 and fled. Without hesitation Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY leaped ashore, pursued the man behind a hootch and killed him, capturing a B-40 rocket launcher with a round in the chamber.”

The Republican attack team found Navy personel who were in the vicinity (around the bend in the river but not where Kerry was) to charge that he had never done heroic things, that he was making it up, etc.

Kerry said his attackers were wrong but I never saw him (or his team) read the citation to voters. I never heard him challenge the Navy personnel who claimed they were there.

“Where were you (calling them by name), well not on my boat, not with me but here are some of the Navy personnel who were on my boat at the time, who saw what I did. Listen to their eyewitness account of what happened and then call all of them ‘liars,’ if you dare.”

Kerry never got down in the trenches to “Swiftboat” the Swifboaters” attacking him.

He lost.

As to Hillary Clinton, she never found a way to fight back and in her case, the Republican attack team had spent years laying the ground work to demonize her.

To point out “I’m not him” and stay out of the mud was certainly not good enough. Bythe time in the second debate when he loomed behind her when it was her turn to speak  it might not have made enough difference to make her a winner if she had turned around said  “Get out of my space, Donald,” and slapped him in the face.

But I certainly would have liked to have seen it.

So, let’s talk about this coming fight over the soon to be open Supreme Court seat.

Once upon a time in another desperate Supreme Court nomination battle the Democrats did fight back and when they did, they won!

In the summer of 1987, President Reagan nominated just such a person as is widely suspected Trump will nominate now to fill a Supreme Court seat – Federal Judge Robert Bork. The Republicans did not control the Senate but such was the custom of the times to defer to a president’s nomination that the last person to be confirmed to a Supreme Court seat before the Bork fight (also a Reagan nominee) was given a favorable vote of 98 to 0.

Antonin Scalia, who became leader of the hard right conservative wing of the Court.

But when Robert Bork’s name was announced it was different. Given his decisions as a lower court judge and his many writings, clearly the fate of such past rulings as Roe v Wade (abortion rights) and Civil Rights rulings might hang in the balance if this man was confirmed.

Forty five minutes after Bork’s nomination was announced, Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy rose on the Senate floor to call for Bork’s rejection and launched a “broadside” that set the stage for a winning fight, saying in part:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

These were inflammatory charges but Bork’s record gave them credibility.

TV ads produced by People For the American Way and narrated by Gregory Peck attacked Bork as an extremist.

And NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks described their position on the Bork nomination: “We will fight all the way—until hell freezes over, and then we’ll skate across on the ice.”

So much pressure was put on the Republicans that six Republican Senators joined the Democrats in defeating Bork’s nomination by a stunning 58 to 42.

Ultimately Reagan nominated Anthony Kenendy to fill the vacant senate seat and Kennedy was confirmed 97 to 0. Kennedy’s record as the “swing vote” provided victories for both Left and Right but certainly enough for the Left to have made the fight to defeat Bork well worth while.

Defeating a Trump nomination can be done. But not by avoiding meeting the Republican attack team in the back alley.

Grantland Rice said the way you play the game is what matters most, not whether you win or lose.

That’s a noble thought but in this case (say the question of whether a woman’s basic “right to choose” is at stake)  I like the advice of another sports figure, the coach Vince Lombardi who famously said:

“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

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