If you look at the issues confronting Congress in the first weeks of January, there is a theme that jumps out as being very ‘American’ and powerful enough to become a message for the mid-term elections. The issue of privacy is a dearly held idea that energizes passion from all political perspectives. Our collective connection to the notion of privacy being cherished, and needing to be preserved, can undermine Republicans in their latest policy initiatives, and thrust Democrats into the center of the storm where leadership is required.
The Senate hearings are scheduled to start next week for Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito, where a fairly tepid response from both sides in the national debate over his confirmation this far may turn these hearings into nothing more than a formal procedure. But Democrats can mine the undercurrent of broader themes of privacy as it relates to the First Amendment, abortion, gay marriage and other topics throughout the hearings. There are strong conservative legal factions that still discount privacy being a part of the mindset of the framers of the Constitution, so these hearings are important. Though I strongly feel Alito will be placed on the Court, the clarion call for protecting privacy can be made by Democratic Senators during the hearings.
After the privacy issue resonates from the Alito hearings, Congress will move to the thorny issue of the Patriot Act where a hearty band of Republicans and Democrats have embraced the ideas found in our living Constitution. Again, the cherished principles of privacy and legal rights, which have guided our nation through so many other crisises, will face a vote. I do not believe Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants to be a public funambulist, so he will work to strike a deal in the backrooms sooner rather than later. It is because of his presidential dreams that Democrats can seize the privacy issue and win one for the American people. Likewise, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold will look to his principled views on privacy when he stands on the Senate floor and insures only a bill worthy of his vote makes it past the chamber.