Although two seats on this court are vacant, Bush nominee Peter Keisler has been denied even a committee vote for two years. If Barack Obama wins the presidency, he will almost certainly fill those two vacant seats, the seats of two older Clinton appointees who will retire, and most likely the seats of four older Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointees who may retire as well.Now, there's a movement afoot amongst progressives who have become frustrated with Obama's drift to the center to register their disapproval by voting for a third party candidate (likely, Ralph Nader) in "safe" states. The operating theory is, "to hold him accountable on issues of social, economic and environmental justice issues from the Left," as a friend has put it to me.
The net result is that the legal left will once again have a majority on the nation's most important regulatory court of appeals.
The balance will shift as well on almost all of the 12 other federal appeals courts. Nine of the 13 will probably swing to the left if Mr. Obama is elected (not counting the Ninth Circuit, which the left solidly controls today). Circuit majorities are likely at stake in this presidential election for the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal. That includes the federal appeals courts for New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and virtually every other major center of finance in the country.
On the Supreme Court, six of the current nine justices will be 70 years old or older on January 20, 2009. There is a widespread expectation that the next president could make four appointments in just his first term, with maybe two more in a second term. Here too we are poised for heavy change.
First, it is a dangerous game to play, trying to determine which is a swing state and which is a "safe" state. While Obama *should* be safe in many states, remember that if Al Gore had won his home Congressional district, Ralph Nader wouldn't be the hated man he is right now. Safe is in retrospect. We can't afford to gamble with the long term future of this nation.
Second, let's assume that the "safe" scenario is, well, safe. Who is Obama going to listen to more: the people who stood by him loyally, or the folks who turned tail at the first opportunity to showboat and grandstand?
Loyalty begets loyalty in politics. If you truly want to sway opinion, the best place to do that is from within the party. Look at how the Christian Coalition has tied up the Republican party for nearly thirty years now. They didn't do it by walking, even after Ronald Reagan abandoned their cherished anti-abortion plank. Or Bush the elder. Or Bush the younger. Or the twelve year Republican-led Congress.
Say what you will about how fools suffer for their foolishness, the simple fact is, any candidate who runs as a Republican has to take into consideration the concerns and programs of that wing of the party. Period.
It's no different for Democrats. Just ask MoveOn.org.
What progressives really need to do is to fire up the same money machine that the Religious Right has. In politics more than in nearly any other field, money talks, and bullshit walks, and to abandon your vote to make a point is bullshit.
You want a progressive court? You want an end to this invasion? You want national health care? You want an alternative energy program?
Five words: put up or shut up.
When I first had to choose between Obama and Clinton, I had a difficult choice to make: as an old-style Liberal, I knew both candidates had solid progressive...dare I say it? Liberal?...credentials. In my mind, I questioned Obama's commitment to his principles. I didn't have that question with Clinton.
I have no doubt that Obama is sincere when he says he will commit ten billion dollars to developing alternative energy, that he wants the troops home from Iraq within 16 months, that a redeployment in Afghanistan is the only way to find and bring Osama bin Laden to justice. I support him on all of these. I don't think his nuancing the middle is out of character with what he's committed to.
You see, over the past few months, I've listened to what he has said, and came away convinced that he'll make a great President. Not a good one. Not an adequate one. A great one.
And given the uproar from the right wing of this nation, I suspect they know it too.
We cannot do anything less than make sure of a victory for Barack Obama next Tuesday. We cannot afford to make a mockery of this nation like we did eight years ago in allowing George W Bush to slip into the White House.
We cannot afford to let friends vote third party.