Obama Brings His A-Game to Supreme Court Fight -- Too Bad the GOP Is Already on the Ropes

By Mark JosephProducer/Author/Editor, BullyPulpit.comI enjoy American politics on two levels: first and most foremost, because it is where public policy is debated and decided. It's where ideas either succeed or fail and are enshrined into the law that we all agree to live by or discarded like yesterday's trash. But politics is also interesting on another level -- for the same reason some people love sports -- because it is a chance to watch experts in their field match skills against each other and triumph against worthy opponents.


If past is prologue, what will be missing from this 9-inning drama will be President Obama's and Judge Sotomayor's worthy opponents.

Just as a Super Bowl, World Series or prize fight is most interesting when both opponents are evenly matched -- and playing by the same rules -- so it is, too, in a political battle, it's most interesting and compelling when fights are waged by two sides who share a rule-book and a love for the good fight.

Which is why, for political junkies like me, watching the political left and right do battle over judicial nominations is such an unsatisfying experience -- it's like watching a baseball game where one side shows up with all nine players, determined to win at all costs within the rules of the game, while the opposing team voluntarily limits itself to five players and promises only to bunt and pitch a big, soft, ball no faster than 50 miles per hour.

President Obama does not believe in slow-pitch softball and with his pick of Sonia Sotomayor he has shown up on the field with his A game, picking a principled and opinionated liberal who appears for all practical purposes to be Obama's Bork, the equally opinionated and commensurately conservative failed nominee of two decades ago. But if past is prologue, what will be missing from this 9-inning drama will be President Obama's and Judge Sotomayor's worthy opponents, a leader like Senator Ted Kennedy, who upon hearing news that Judge Bork was to be the nominee offered these fighting words: "Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of the government." Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan noted at the time: "The next time, the Right should answer in kind, matching tone for tone and blow for blow."

That, as any political observer will tell you, has never come close to happening and I'm not sure why that is, but there are a couple of possibilities. Until 1980 when Reagan wrested control of it away from them, the Republican party was long dominated by genteel East Coast moderates whose idea of a battle was 18-holes of golf on a breezy workday. In the post-Reagan era, the Party has been dominated by Evangelicals who, despite being accused of being hateful, are actually quite tame and can be easily seduced by religious-sounding arguments which take Biblical injunctions meant to regulate personal conduct, and applying them to political battles, leaving them unable to fight back and take full advantage of all of the plays available within the rules of the game.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is after all, a wonderful rule for all of us to live by in our personal conduct, but taken out of context and applied to things like football games, military invasions or political battles where the goal is to defeat one's opponent within the rules laid out for sport, war or politics it can creates serious problems and breed a culture of defeat that helps to explain selections that have disappointed the Right, like Warren, Blackmun, Stevens, Kennedy, O'Connor and Souter, and misfires like Bork, Estrada, Owen and Ginsburg, while Liberals in the modern era have only had Byron White disappoint and only on the issue of abortion. Of course, one would hope that such battles can be waged without lying, simplistic hyperbolic caricature, ugly sound bites and ad hominemattacks but waged nonetheless.

When it comes to judicial fights, Liberals suit up with boxing gear and fight like their constituents' lives are on the line, while Conservatives come dressed in their country club best, hankering for some light exercise but unwilling or unable to do battle, as though it were beneath them. If this were a sporting event, I'd look for another one to watch, featuring two worthy opponents, evenly matched, and committed to fighting fairly with every fiber of their being, within the rules of the game, to win.

Mark Joseph is a film producer and marketing expert who has worked on the development and marketing of 25 films. His most recent book is The Lion, The Professor & The Movies: Narnia's Journey To The Big Screen.