But the confirmation vote was not the important vote. The important vote took place on Monday afternoon. It was the vote to invoke cloture - to close the debate - on the Alito nomination. And on that important vote, fifteen Democrats frankly wimped out. They voted FOR cloture, a vote Democrats could easily have won if they had stuck together - only to vote AGAINST confirmation on Tuesday - a vote they knew they would surely lose in the full Senate. Vermont's Independent Senator Jeffords voted against both cloture and confirmation.
Democratic Senators Byrd, Conrad, Johnson, and Nelson (Nebraska) voted FOR both cloture and confirmation. While I would have preferred they vote NO on both motions, at least they were consistent.
Nevada's Senator Harry Reid, the putative minority leader, was apparently like the general who pleaded, "Will someone please tell me which way my troops are going so I can lead them?" He argued for cloture in caucus but he voted against it on the floor.
Those fifteen Democrats are thus responsible for the confirmation of Samuel Alito. They are Senators Akaka, Baucus, Bingaman, Cantwell, Carper, Dorgan, Inouye, Kohl, Landrieu, Lieberman, Lincoln, Nelson (Florida), Pryor, Rockefeller, and Salazar. I will remember the name of one of my senators, from Connecticut, at reelection time.
Those fifteen Democrats proved themselves to be "all blow, no show" on one of the most important votes of the decade - the vote to block Alito's confirmation. Some of the no-shows may have traded their votes for another senator's support on another matter that's important to the folks back home. Others may hail from red states and worry about the effects of a filibuster on their own reelection prospects. Still others may argue that Alito seems like an earnest guy, or a man of integrity or humility, or whatever, and there was no reason not to vote for cloture.
While we would all wish Justice John Paul Stevens a long and happy life in any case, we must now pray that he remains in good health and continues his productive career until at least 2009. Fifteen Democrats have essentially given away Justice O'Connor's seat; that cannot happen again. The next vacancy on the Court will be THE swing vote.
Democrats can take a lesson from the experience, though. It seems that they are always united when it doesn't matter, but they are fractious and scattered when it matters most. How can they unite the country when they cannot even unite themselves? What will their 2006 campaign slogan be: "Vote for Disorganization, not Dishonesty"?
Going into the 2006 and 2008 elections, Democrats need better leadership, better followership, and greater unity of purpose and clarity of message on the issues that really matter to the country. The Alito issue really mattered and, frankly, the Dems blew it. It's time for them to stop being their own worst enemy.