7/19/2005

Can't we all just get along?

And so the country takes a brief breath before what promises to be a politically bloody summer with probably two Supreme Court seats up for grabs. The prospect: polarization of the left and the right and a testing of the center as never before. Democrats' hopes of blocking a staunchly conservative Supreme Court nominee on ideological grounds could be seriously undermined by the six-week-old bipartisan deal on judicial nominees.

With President Bush expected to name a successor to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor next week, liberals are laying the groundwork to challenge the nominee if he or she leans solidly to the right on affirmative action, abortion and other contentious issues. But even if they can show that the nominee has sharply held views on matters that divide many Americans, some of the 14 senators who crafted the May 23 compromise appear poised to prevent that strategy from blocking confirmation to the high court, according to numerous interviews.

The distinction is crucial because Democrats want to force Bush to pick a centrist, not a staunch conservative as many activist groups on the political right desire. Holding only 44 of the Senate's 100 seats, Democrats have no way to block a Republican-backed nominee without employing a filibuster, which takes 60 votes to stop.

Part of the problem is the political context of early 21st century America. If the right feels at times under attack and the left feels at times under attack, in a polarized polity the center is always under attack. The extremes are entrenched - they have a well-established apparatus of fund-raising and institutional support that the centrists cannot currently equal on a consistent basis. The center has briefly proved that it can hold against enormous pressure on both sides, but it will need to adopt far greater discipline and organization and a more coherent identity if it is to permanently turn the tide and restore proportionate influence to the moderate majority of Americans.

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