The most relevant facts of all in the current standoff between Democrats and Republicans over President Bush's judicial nominees have, unfortunately, gotten lost in the high-pitched debate over the filibuster. Democrats holler that Republicans are planning to upend a sacrosanct Senate tradition (which has long protected the minority party's ability to check the power of the dominant party). The Republicans accuse the Democrats of being anti-religious obstructionists. All the shouting has distracted the public from the real issue: the extremist records of the nominees themselves.

The controversial nominees--like Terrence William Boyle, Janice Rogers Brown, William Haynes, and William H. Pryor Jr. --have opinions that would startle most Americans. Boyle, for example, has argued that states' rights trump state obligations to avoid discrimination. He has even suggested that states can ignore federal equal-opportunity standards if the state's culture discourages women from working in a particular field. Brown has brushed aside workplace harassment laws, suggesting that racist speech at work is protected by the First Amendment. William Haynes, as the Defense Department's general counsel, developed legal standards that may have contributed to the torture of U.S. detainees in Iraq. (Hello, Abu Ghraib.) And Pryor has urged Congress to repeal or amend Section Five of the Voting Rights Act.

Democrats' differences with Bush's controversial judicial nominees are not--as the Family Research Council would have it--over faith. The Democrats' objections focus on civil rights, workers' rights, and consumer protection.

However, the fact that the Republicans have been able to frame the debate as the Democrats' "filibuster against people of faith"--judges like Pryor and Brett Kavanaugh have taken ultra-conservative religious stands for school-sponsored prayer and unconstitutional displays of the 10 Commandments--proves once again that the Democrats' emphasis on wonky policy over catchy themes (like the Rs' religious-freedom trump card) is a losing position.

Solution: The Dems should stop avoiding the issue and take the fight directly to the People of Faith Party. (Attacking people's strengths is a winning strategy: Witness Karl Rove going after a decorated vet like Kerry on the issue of his patriotism.) And here's the way to frame it: The Dems are not using the filibuster against people of faith, they're using it against people who want their faith to be the law of the land. Americans don't like that shit.

Can a war against even some people of faith be politically popular? Sure. George Bush's war on terror is popular, as Democrats learned at the polls last November, and it is very much a war against some "people of faith": Bin Ladenism is govern-ance by religious extremists. While Bush fights religious extremists abroad, Democrats should pledge to fight religious extremists at home.

josh@thestranger.com

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