May 10, 2005
As the moderate Republicans in the U.S. Senate ponder whether to follow Bill Frist in "going nuclear" to restrict use of filibusters of judicial appointments, word comes of a possible compromise deal. See Byron York in the National Review. Part of me wishes that a sensible compromise could be reached, but I remain convinced that if the Republicans don't act decisively now, they will forfeit a precious opportunity to resolve the fundamental impasse in Washington on favorable terms. If there is a deal, it had better be a good one, with a clear understanding by both sides to exercise their powers in a responsible way from now on.
To understand why it has come to this, read what E. J. Dionne wrote in today's Washington Post, and pay close attention to his underlying premises. Dionne explained why his side (the Democrats) are so fiercely resisting GOP pressure to compromise on the judicial nominations.
"The current acrimony in politics is incomprehensible unless it is understood as the inevitable next act of a long-term struggle. Its ferocity arises from the Democrats' refusal to accept the role assigned them by their opponents. They are taking a stand across a broad front not simply to "obstruct" current GOP designs but to reverse a Republican political offensive that began during Bill Clinton's presidency.
In fact, every one of today's fights can be seen as a response to something that happened in the 1990s."
That is another strong hint that Dionne is among those who cannot get over the "Clinton wars" and see everything in terms of getting revenge. He may have a point about those Republicans who used to deny the need for more federal judges and are now complaining of a "vacancy crisis." His attempt to equate the Democrats' current obstructionist posture with the Republicans during the Clinton years, however, is simply not valid: The Republicans were in the majority for six of Clinton's eight years, and therefore had every right to expect a greater say in what kind of judges would be approved. For a minority party to demand the same degree of power is extremely unreasonable. Dionne correctly states how both sides understand the extremely high stakes in this, and yet he is the perfect example of the presumptuous thinking that assumes that enough "sensible" Republicans will back down when push comes to shove. That is why people like me have become so thoroughly fed up with getting suckered while trying to "build bridges." Dionne did manage to make another good point, however, when he recalled the gloating words of famed anti-tax activist Grover Norquist after the last election:
"Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. ... Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant. But when they've been 'fixed,' then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful."
Classic hubris, the intoxication of power. Will Norquist end up ruining the Republicans' ability to govern effectively as a majority party? It would be a hell of a lot easier to convince moderate Republicans to go along, or to convince moderate Democrats to make concessions, if GOP leaders didn't have to disavow such tactlessly demeaning words.
Sean Hannity had George Will as a guest on his radio show today, but I'm not sure if Hannity grasped Will's point that he opposes the "nuclear option" on the grounds of prudence, not justice. Will clearly sympathizes with Senator Frist, but as a devout constitutionalist, he said, "I'm for thwarting majorities on occasion." Me too, "on occasion." Heeding minority concerns as a top priority amounts to self-neutering.
May 10, 2005
Amidst all the hubbub over the filibuster showdown, the vote by the House of Representatives to restore the ethics rules that had been rewritten for partisan reasons in January was hardly noticed by the mainstream media. (See MSNBC and my January 5 post.) The chastened Speaker Hastert and the Republicans deserve credit for promptly cleaning up their own mess, and making sure that no further ethical lapses take place.
Speaking of which, there have been some nice side-effects from the recent DeLay uproar: Many congresspersons are hastily paying for past junkets and other favors provided by lobbyists, most notably Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, the ultimate partisan insider. (See Christian Science Monitor.) I'm reminded of P.J. O'Rourke's book, Parliament of Whores, written back in the days when the Dems ran Capitol Hill like an imperial fiefdom and no one could imagine it being any other way. Of course, some still can't, and that's the problem.