Selling Alito

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Much has already been said about the Bush Administration’s second attempt to fill the Supreme Court seat that Sandra Day O’Connor plans to vacate. Much also has been said about the failure of the first attempt due to a backlash among the president’s own supporters.

Given that the manner in which the president had framed the previous nomination may have contributed to conservative opposition, a similar look at Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito, as well as his subsequent pitch during the weekly radio address, should tell us something about how the President intends to avoid the same missteps.

That said, the Alito nomination speech on October 31 continues the downward trend in egalitarian rhetoric that was observed in the October 8 Radio address, in which the president made an attempt to sell listeners on the idea of White House Counsel Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court. The last installment showed that the President apparently did not move far enough toward his base to convince them that Miers was a good choice for the Bench, subsequently Miers withdrew her name from consideration.

Now the focus at the White House regarding Samuel Alito has focused almost entirely on the wealth of judicial experience he brings to the Court, as opposed to the singular lack of judicial experience from Miers. In addition, It appears that Bush has been more careful in framing this nomination to appeal to conservatives in the Senate, and the only damage control he may have to worry about–at least concerning appointments–is getting his base to forget about Miers.

So here are the results, both of Bush’s Miers speeches (October 3rd and 8th) and his Alito speeches (October 31st and November 5th :

From Miers to Alito, Bush's trend away from E

Each address shows a lower percentage of references to “equality” and a higher percentages to “order”.
Since Alito already has a reputation for deciding cases much as Antonin Scalia would, it comes as no surprise that Bush would focus on Alito’s record, using language that would generally appeal to a conservative base.

Yet the jump in references to “liberty” from the 31st to the 5th is something to watch. Perhaps the Alito nomination presents a challenge to “freedom-minded” members of the Senate or the public at large, and the President is attempting to address them. Either way, the egalitarian language trails far behind in Bush’s radio address.

So does this mean that the administration has abandoned the attempt to appeal to both sides of the Senate aisle?

Hardly. Instead of the President framing the entire nomination in putatively liberal terms, It looks like Alito bears that responsibility. Here are the results of his acceptance speech:

Alito's oddly egalitarian acceptance speech

In every case, egalitarian or ‘liberal’ language either leads or ties for first.

Will Senate Democrats give Alito the benefit of the doubt? Or will his judicial record turn them off, leading to a filibuster attempt? We may well have to wait for the hearings to find out.

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