Hillary Clinton issued an eloquent call for party unity at the Democratic National Convention this week, asking all Democrats to unite behind the candidacy of Barack Obama. She really had no choice; anything less than a full-throated endorsement could cost the party the election in November. And Senator Clinton is nothing if not a loyal Democrat.
As an early and avid Clinton supporter and lifelong Democrat, I appreciate her putting party interests ahead of personal aspirations. Yet that is also why I am not fully comfortable with her call for unity: I have trouble showing Senator Obama any more loyalty than he himself has shown either to Senator Clinton or to the goals and ideals of the Democratic Party.
Party unity asks me to:
Trust in the nebulous promise of change, and then to hope that everything will work out alright;
Overlook the candidate's lackluster legislative track record at the state and federal levels;
Believe the Senator's lack of executive experience will prove irrelevant to him as Chief Executive;
Forbear the absence of specifics in Obama's economic, healthcare, and other key proposals;
Indulge positions-in-flux on issues ranging from Iraq to FISA to NAFTA to public campaign financing, corporate tax cuts, and more.
That is asking a lot. It looks like unity, like many second marriages, may well require a victory of hope over experience.
Even so, I will support Obama for the sake of winning the White House in November. In return, though, I call on party leaders and especially members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to stand united in their votes on the nominations of the next several Supreme Court justices regardless of the outcome of November's election.
This is important because, within three years, four of our sitting justices (Stevens, Ginsburg, Scalia, and Kennedy) will be over 75 years old. Justice Stevens is now 88. And while we wish all the justices many more years of robust health and judicial productivity, the plain fact is that some of them may not have many years left to serve.
Thus, the next president could nominate as many as four new justices during his tenure. Their confirmation (or rejection) would then fall to the Senate's Democratic caucus.
That's the worrisome part. For all the lofty rhetoric about "party unity," our Democratic senators have a poor track record of unity where Supreme Court nominees are concerned. For example:
In 1986, a Republican Senate confirmed Antonin Scalia by a vote of 98-0. The vote was unanimous, despite the presence of 47 Democratic senators.
In 1991, a Democratic Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas by 52 48. Eleven Democratic senators voted to confirm Thomas.
In 2006, the Republican Senate confirmed Samuel Alito by a 58 42 margin. But the day before, 15 Democratic senators broke ranks to vote with the Republicans on the all-important cloture vote. Had Democrats stood united, the Alito nomination would never have reached the Senate floor.