Spinning the Alito defeat: It makes progressives stronger!

The Femininst Majority's Eleanor Smeal says the Alito fight "lays the groundwork" for a future filibuster.

Published January 31, 2006 1:34PM (EST)

It's hard to spin away what happened to women in the Senate Monday, but that's not going to stop Eleanor Smeal from trying.

With the cloture vote on Samuel Alito, Democrats had their last shot at stopping the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice who once said that he "personally" believes "very strongly" that the Constitution doesn't protect abortion rights. They didn't even come close to succeeding. For one reason or another, 19 of the 44 Democrats in the Senate felt free to turn their backs on the pro-choice movement and cast a vote against cloture that was, in every meaningful sense, a vote for Alito.

So what does the president of the Feminist Majority have to say about it? "We lost on Samuel Alito ... but we will be stronger because of this fight."

How's that again?

Smeal insists that progressives were "strengthened" by the effort to hold off Alito. From here, at least, it's hard to see how. Democrats were faced with a judge who was pretty unequivocally antichoice, nominated by an unpopular president with little political capital left to spend, and all they could muster in response was a humiliating defeat on a filibuster drive phoned in at the last minute from Switzerland.

But we're taking the short view, apparently. What we don't understand is that "each battle over these reactionary Supreme Court nominees" is making a "massive progressive coalition stronger," and that the Alito fight "lays the groundwork for a future filibuster of a right-wing Supreme Court nominee." Will that be the next right-wing nominee, or the one after that, or the one after that? Smeal doesn't say. What she does say is that the Alito effort shows that "African-Americans, women's rights supporters, Latinos, people with disabilities, and workers are not going to quietly lose their rights." Which is another way of saying, we suppose, that they're going to lose them loudly.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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