Back to the ’60s Barricades

by Victor Davis Hanson

The American Enterprise Magazine

On matters of national security, Democrats are back on their 1960s barricades. For them, the chief dangers to the United States lie not abroad but at home, within our own government — specifically unaccountable law enforcement, military, and national security establishments. This near paranoia was clear as Democratic senators grilled Samuel Alito during his confirmation hearings about wiretaps and the supposed evaporation of American freedom.

Ironically, the Italians reported at just about the same time that their own similar electronic surveillance had smashed an Islamist plot to repeat September 11 on a grander scale. The ossified Democratic view just can’t fathom the very notion that liberal Europeans might do even more wiretapping than John Ashcroft, and save many innocent lives in the process.

The Judiciary Committee examination of Judge Alito also proved to be a televised circus that embarrassed Democratic stalwarts like Senators Biden, Durbin, Feinstein, Leahy, and Kennedy across the board.

No one doubts Judge Alito’s judicial qualifications. And few believe he’s any further from the “mainstream” than Justices Breyer or Ginsburg, whose clear liberal credentials didn’t stop the vast majority of Republicans from confirming both. Instead, the venom over Alito arose from the growing importance of the Supreme Court as a lifeboat to a Democratic establishment that is adrift.

Doctrinaire Blue-state liberalism can’t quite win a national majority any more, so liberals now look to the courts as a last bastion to promote unexamined “progressive” thought. Federal and state justices with lifetime appointments are shielded from the realities faced by most Americans. And for decades these utopians have overturned plebiscites, the will of state legislatures, and federal laws to enact social goals otherwise not supported by voters or embraced by most politicians up for election.

True, judicial activism was partly sparked by the past failure of elected leaders to enact civil rights and equal protection for the poor. But decades later, the goodwill flowing from these achievements has dissipated. Instead of offering a new agenda that reflects the developing national mood and the realities of enormous social progress, Democrats cling to the notion that a five-vote majority of Supreme Court justices can counterbalance their lost plurality of senators and representatives, and maybe even checkmate an opposing President.

During the Alito hearings, Ted Kennedy was rude and ill-informed. Joseph Biden was self-indulgent and self-important. Richard Durbin and Pat Leahy were crabby. All the vast files of talking points aided them little, as they were outpointed by a target who talked off the top of his head, and breezed through some 700 often feeble questions by relying on his wits, directness, and common sense. That several of his moral inquisitors themselves had past troubles with plagiarism, leaking of federal secrets, and even death by misadventure did not help their cause.

Yet while most Americans thought the confirmation hearings exposed the Democrats as mean-spirited apparatchiks, the party’s shrill and out-of-touch base concluded that the senators had been too lax. What a surreal moment it was to watch on C-SPAN as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was jeered and heckled at her San Francisco town meeting by furious constituents — for being too timid and conservative!

Reflecting that they are captive to an extremist base, the Democrats’ collective questioning of Alito boiled down to the feeling that little has changed since around 1965. They still blame America first, not the radical Islamists. They still distrust our military more than our foreign enemies. They still believe that only wealthy East Coast liberals such as themselves can bestow equal rights and economic success on appreciative poor people, blacks, Hispanics, and women. Never mind that Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, or Alberto Gonzales have exercised more clout for George Bush than any minority cabinet official has ever enjoyed in any Democratic administration. Rhetoric and intentions of the past, not present-day facts, are what resonate with these new reactionaries.

Samuel Alito’s examiners were themselves examined by millions of viewers and listeners last month. Many concluded that what the Democrats really need is not another liberal Supreme Court justice, but a new agenda and new faces.

©2006 Victor Davis Hanson

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