It's true that the Senate vote is virtually all about symbolism at this point -- someone has to serve in the office, and nobody Bush appoints is going to be good -- but in this case the symbolism matters.
Confirming a nominee is about much more than just filling an open position. Confirmation implies legitimacy. This reverberates throughout the entire Justice department. The lawyers he hires, the interpretation of the law he pursues even the cases he prosecutes are affected by his standing with the people.
There's nothing symbolic about demanding that a nominee believe in the rule of law and emphatically renounce torture. Alberto Gonzales would never have been confirmed in the first place if the Senate had demanded those simple standards. Instead, 6 Democrats voted along with 54 Republicans to give him a Congressional seal of approval.
Gonzales was able to run roughshod over Justice because he was confirmed by a Senate that knew he condoned torture and believed in a unitary executive. He was forced out when he lost the faith of those same Senators
A recess appointee would never have had the clout to act so egregiously.
Precedents matter in this country. Regardless of whether George Bush ever nominates a qualified AG, future presidents should be on notice that they can't simply nominate anybody to the highest offices in government.