Bush has caught both the right and the left off guard with his first post-election move, nominating White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General.
Who would have thought it possible to find someone more reprehensible than Ashcroft? But Bush has done just that in picking someone who believes that torture "may be justified" during extraterratorial interrogations.
Gonzalez's memoranda to this effect will be, we may only hope, Exhibit A for future historians seeking to show how the United States became unmoored from its basic values in the wake of 9-11. Likewise, Gonzalez's easy confirmation as Attorney General will show that the wider public largely concurred with the views he expressed. In short, this will become a textbook example of evil becoming banal.
Given all this, it's only natural to have a knee-jerk reaction to fight Gonzalez's nomination. What's more, after the sting of the election, the Democrats are itching for a fight.
But this is the wrong fight. The Democrats will be committing a serious tactical blunder if they pick the Gonzalez nomination as the place to make their stand. Despite the visceral disgust which any right-thinking person must feel to see someone get promoted as a reward for advocating torture, I would urge the Democrats not to make the foolish mistake of trying to block Gonzalez's nomination. Clearly they should vote no when it comes to a vote, but they should not actively obstruct the process. To fight the Gonzalez nomination would merely provide cover for the coming Republican efforts to change Senate cloture rules so that simple majorities can rubberstamp presidential actions.
As I mentioned earlier, the Democrats need to pick their fights carefully: since they're going to lose most every fight they pick, they need to pick a small number that matter a lot, and that will make a clear symbolic statement about the differences between themselves and the Republicans. If they fight too many battles, they'll become known as either obstructionists or losers. This is exactly the ambush that Bush is hoping to spring on them with the Gonzalez nomination.