The Stevens retirement may define the 2010 elections more than anything else. If played properly by President Obama, all the anger of the Tea Party Activists can be exposed and blanched out of the system. The vetting, nominating, and selection process can show one way or the other if they are a racist organization or not.
First part of this is the timing of the selection process. As we sit in April, Obama can take his time until mid to late May to produce the first name. The clock will start to run on the process.
The elephant ballet of delay will kick in as they will ask for more and more time to vet the selection. (Does it really matter who it is?) Hearings won't begin in earnest until the middle to end of July at the earliest. That time vacuum will be occupied by the talking heads of cable, radio, and print.
Remember what was happening last July? Go back to the days where Congressional town halls were thrown into disarray by the screaming of knuckleheads.
This time the act won't be fresh. This time the general population will see these people as just mean-spirited. Their own anger, the fuel of their own fires will consume them. The large swath of independents will not wish to become associated with them.
Second, announce the first candidate (of a possible two). I hope the President nominates Cornel West. Yes, the guy with the Don King hairstyle. Yes, the Dr. Cornell West with the 2 Ivy League degrees, the ton of books and essays. The Dr. Cornel West grounded in Christianity.
I understand this pick is Don Quixote on acid, but think about this for a few minutes. Just watch a smart, articulate, African-American, intellectual facing off against the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is a man who is closer to the ideology of the African-American community than Clarence Thomas will ever be. The African-American community comprises roughly 15% of our population and is not currently represented on the court. This is a man who will speak for the large percentage of the African-American population that is currently forced consumers of the legal system.
The first knock on Dr. West will be that he doesn't appear to be a lawyer. I have been trying to find out for the last couple of days. He is just a really smart guy. But this exposes something about the Supreme Court. You don't have to be a lawyer to sit on the court according to the Constitution. There are already 8 lawyers with egos the size of Montana. Putting Dr. West on the court will make these guys slow down and explain themselves to someone who is not a lawyer. They will need his vote to make a decision; they will need to be smart to get it. Dr. West is an intellectual with fire in the belly who won't back down.
Since the Supreme Court only deals with issues that are related directly to the Constitution you don't need the full breadth of the law. Dr. West, as a philosopher, will give the court a needed non-legal viewpoint. He will be able to think outside the legal box to help shape the way we live in a different manner. Judging is about wisdom, not being a lawyer. Why not have someone trained in the art of wisdom?
This nomination will become the real referendum on race. If the Tea Parties are as racist as some suspect, they will implode over this choice. Their already palatable anger will boil over. That ugliness will work in the favor of Dr. West. If they are not racist, they will actually give him a fair and respectable hearing. In any event they will be given a chance to really prove where they stand.
The lead up to the hearings will be a circus as the GOP minions pour over text after text written by Dr. West. This will give the GOP a chance to over-play their hand as they attempt to demonize Dr. West. I think it will backfire. If there is one person who I think that can stand in the crucible and defend his words, it will be Dr. West. It will be the forum of a lifetime for him and he will rise to the occasion. He gets a real shot at the brass ring.
Even if he does not survive a hearing at the Judiciary Committee, his views and intellect will be on display for all to see. He will make all of us think. If Dr. West wins, we all win with a powerful force to be seated on the court.
He would be seated by September and his confirmation becomes the topic of the election. If the GOP acts the way I think it will, they will have totally ticked off the electorate with their "Party of No" Act flavored with unbridled racism. The general public will take their boorishness out on them at the polls.
If he loses the confirmation the time line again points at the "Party of No" being obstructionist prior to the general election. The President can select a more conventional pick, like Hillary Clinton, who would sail thru the confirmation and nomination process. There is no way there would be enough political capital left in the GOP gas tank for a pitched battle against her. The bonus being watching the Clintons in campaign mode prior to a general election.
By the time November rolls around the Obama administration will have allowed the GOP to fill the air with hate. It will be the GOP's choice to act responsibly. If there are racist overtones it will be the opportunity for all Americans to stand up to the vile speech and prove that there is no longer tolerance for racism at the polls.
Dr. West becomes a gut check for all of us.
I hope that he would be into it...
FWIW - I put up a Facebook page for Dr. West... Check it out.