Under the cover of darkness

One thing George Bush wasn’t bragging about in his State of the Union Address was his cowardly use of an obscure parliamentary gimmick to secure the promotion of notorious racist Charles W. Pickering to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

As a judge, Pickering violated judicial conduct in 1994 by meeting privately with prosecutors to try to get a break for a young white man convicted of burning a cross in front of the home of an interracial family. Pickering successfully appealed for sympathy on the grounds that the man just got drunk one night with his pals and was only having a little fun. Pickering was also caught lying to a Senate committee. He swore he had never had any relationship with Mississippi’s racist Sovereignty Commission. But the Commission’s records were found to include a memo from Pickering.

Judge Pickering’s racism was so flagrant his confirmation couldn’t make it through even a right-wing, Republican controlled Senate. Bush had to resort to a “recess appointment” to bypass the Senate’s confirmation process. “Judge Pickering’s record deems this recess appointment fully appropriate,” said Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott with unintended irony.

Bush’s hypocrisy matches Pickering’s racism. He made the appointment after returning from a trip to lay a wreath at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King. The 5th Circuit handles appeals from Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, and the federal judges on that circuit have often been trailblazers on desegregation and voting rights in the past.

Pickering’s record on labor and women’s rights is just as reprehensible as his civil rights record. He has called for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion and for the immediate repeal of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which according to the resolution he signed, “threatens to enslave us all.”

Recess appointments are valid until the next Congress takes office – in this case January 2005. Pickering’s tenure on the bench can’t expire soon enough. It’s just one more reason to make sure there’s someone else in the White House to appoint his successor, a president committed to appointing judges who will enforce, not desecrate, our nation’s hard-won civil rights laws.

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The ‘electability’ factor

The issue of “electability” surfaced forcefully in the Iowa caucuses. Voters seemed prepared to back a candidate whose positions may differ from their positions in order to beat George W. Bush. For example, an exit poll showed 70 percent of caucus-goers opposed to the war in Iraq. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont both campaigned as antiwar candidates. Yet a majority of those opposed to the war backed Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) who voted for the Iraq war authorization resolution. When asked why they preferred Kerry, many answered that he is more “electable.” Being a seasoned senator, with a decidedly anti-Bush message, money, veteran and anti-Vietnam war credentials, many voters in Iowa saw someone they thought can beat Bush.

Dean was targeted by the media and by rival candidates intent on knocking him out of his frontrunner position. Dean lashed back in self-defense and his hot temper was on display for all to see. Many voters were turned off both by Rep. Richard Gephardt’s negative ads on Dean and by Dean’s abrasive, combative reaction. Both lost big.

Voters were looking for a candidate who has a positive, unifying message. Kerry and Edwards were the big winners in Iowa.

Sometimes the aim of this “electability” concept is to narrow the choices of the voters to candidates acceptable to the powerful corporate interests. Pundits once said Franklin Delano Roosevelt could not be elected because he was disabled, John F. Kennedy because he was a Catholic. Today some say voters will never elect an African American, a Latino, or a woman as president. Or a left-winger. History will prove them wrong.

But it would be wrong to dismiss the voters’ search for a candidacy that has a message, organization, character, and personality they believe are essential to win. The battle for the nomination has just begun.