In case you needed one last reason to turn your back on the Democrats, the Party’s senate leadership is about to provide one. Senate hearings over John Roberts’ nomination to the Supreme Court begin in early September. But already the discussion has shifted from whether Senate Democrats will filibuster Roberts’ nomination to speculation over how complete their capitulation to Bush will be.

Russ Feingold, considered among the most liberal Senators, explained he was “turned off by senators trying to act like they have already found the guy out and they know what he is like,” adding that a fight over Roberts “could take away time from issues where Democrats have a much better position politically, on things like healthcare, the economy, and, yes, Iraq.” (New York Times, 8/21/05)

Feingold, like most Democratic politicians, believes a fight over Roberts would hurt their electoral position by bringing to the forefront issues like abortion rights, torture of terrorist suspects, civil liberties, affirmative action, gay marriage, and other “controversial” social questions.

Such cynical electoral calculations make absolutely clear why we cannot rely on even the Democratic Party’s liberal wing to stand up for our interests. Two and a half years into the debacle in Iraq, after the majority of the country has turned against the war, and Feingold finally makes the “bold” demand that Bush should bring the troops home… by the end of 2006! Thanks for nothing, Russ.

Socialists have consistently warned that the Democratic Party is fundamentally a tool of big business and cannot be relied upon to oppose Bush’s right-wing agenda. But now, even the Democrats’ traditional apologists are having trouble justifying their capitulation over Roberts.

After all, Bush has never been weaker, and Iraq is not the only thing dragging his popularity down. Contrary to the accepted mantra following Bush’s 2004 election victory, polls show most Americans don’t support the Republican right’s social and economic agenda.

There is no question the popular basis exists for mass protests if a bold lead were given by NOW or the antiwar, civil rights, or trade union movement. Apart from general fury at the Bush administration, there is widespread fear and opposition to a further rightward shift on the Supreme Court. Millions of women, workers, people of color, and youth understand Roberts’ ascension onto the Supreme Court could mean stepped-up attacks on their rights.

If we had a serious opposition party in the Senate – one that genuinely stood for reproductive rights, workers’ rights, civil liberties, and environmental protections – it would not simply conduct a Senate filibuster. A genuine opposition party would use its resources and access to the media to mobilize popular opposition to Bush into mass protests against Roberts’ nomination, and build an ongoing movement against Bush’s entire right-wing, corporate agenda.

Such a party would conduct a systematic campaign of exposure to break through the corporate media crooning over Roberts’ All-American-boy image, to make clear to millions the real danger he represents to our rights and interests.

A Stealth Nominee

Under pressure from a rising tide of public discontent with Bush, White House strategists feared appointing a crusading, right-wing ideologue openly parading his hostility toward the rights of women, workers, immigrants, and minorities, as Bush did in a number of other federal court appointments. Instead, they chose Roberts, a more soft-spoken “stealth” right-winger.

For this, Bush has won the praise of the corporate media’s professional pundits. For instance, the New York Times has gone out of its way to characterize Roberts as an even-headed and sensible conservative (as if this makes him any less dangerous!). This reflects the fear from all factions within the ruling class, from both sides of the Congressional isles, that a fight over the Supreme Court could bring the widespread anger at Bush and the religious right to a boiling point and help ignite a broader movement in the streets.

Big business and the religious right are openly pleased with Bush’s choice for the Supreme Court. And why not? Even the limited documents the White House released to the press make crystal clear that Roberts is a trusted representative of the conservative, big-business Republican establishment.

There is no doubt Roberts would tip the balance of the Supreme Court further to the right. Bush seeks to push the Court further to the right, with the aim to roll back democratic rights and progressive social measures. For some time, there has been a creeping legal counter-revolution on the Court. But Bush wants to go much further and ensure the reaction continues long after his term in office.

This is part of a drive by Bush and the Republican right to whip up a climate of nationalism, militarism, racism, and sexism to strengthen their hand in their generalized offensive against the working class.

At the same time, it must be remembered that our rights have never been granted or taken away simply on the whim of the nine Justices, or the entire legal establishment for that matter. The Supreme Court, a ruling class institution, has never been a champion of democratic rights or of workers and the oppressed. The right to collectively bargain was won through mass strikes. It was the power of the black working class, not the courts, which defeated Jim Crow. The collective action of millions of angry women forced the Supreme Court to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade.

In fact, even if Bush successfully shifts the balance of the Supreme Court much further to the right, there is likely (as wider layers become aware of the real repercussions) to be a massive reaction against an attempted counter-revolution on rights and social gains such as abortion. For example, the Republicans’ “pro-life” intervention in the recent Schiavo case rebounded on them. A mass campaign in the streets, even if it fails to block Roberts, could accelerate and strengthen a subsequent mass reaction against the religious right’s program.

However, in the short term, the Supreme Court can play an important role in retarding or even reversing progressive social change until further movements develop. Success for Bush in establishing a right-wing majority on the Court would be a political victory for the Republican right and the big-business interests they represent, and it would be a serious setback for democratic rights. For a time, it could create less favorable conditions for working-class struggle.

We Need a New Party

At this stage, it appears the leading cliques within the Democratic Party have decided to allow Roberts onto the Supreme Court. This reflects their view that to win elections they must move to the right on “moral issues” such as abortion and gay marriage in order to avoid alienating the so-called middle ground.

In fact, if there was a serious campaign to expose Robert’s right-wing record and the threat it represents, massive opposition could be mobilized. For example, a wide majority believe women should have the right to an abortion, yet Roberts has argued explicitly against this.

Further, public opinion can change on the basis of events (and the active intervention of political movements). In the next period, there will be a major swing against the Republican right, including on social issues.

Bush’s support has fallen to under 40%, from a high of 88% after 9/11 or even the 51% he had at the beginning of 2005. Anger at the war is growing by leaps and bounds. Bush has faced stiff opposition to his plan to privatize Social Security, as well as to his cynical exploitation of the Schiavo case. But the Democrats played no role in preparing the ground for these developments or in mobilizing public opinion. Instead, at each stage they have lagged way behind the growing anti-Bush sentiment and have not provided a voice for this feeling.

This shows, once again, the crying need to build a political alternative to the big-business, right-wing Democratic Party. We need a new party made up of ordinary working people – of the millions of women and men who understand the need to build a real struggle against Bush and his right-wing, corporate agenda. Such a genuine opposition party could only gain by energetically building and linking its fate to the movements of ordinary people for our rights and living standards.

The Democrats’ Rotten Record

It shouldn’t be surprising that most Democrats are indicating they will not filibuster to stop Roberts, given the Democratic Party’s history on this issue.

As Senators, both Al Gore and John Kerry voted to confirm arch-conservative Antonin Scalia’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1986 – along with every other Democratic Senator.

Right-winger Clarence Thomas was confirmed by a 52-48 vote in a Democratic-controlled Senate, and William Rehnquist sailed onto the Supreme Court with a 68-26 vote.

Despite controlling both the White House and Congress during Clinton’s first term, the federal courts continued to move to the right. In 1997, Clinton White House counsel John Quinn said “our mission is not to counteract the conservative appointments of the Reagan and Bush years.” Almost half of Clinton’s appointments to appeals courts were trial-court judges appointed by Reagan or Bush.