Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Thoughts on the Filibuster Flap

I've missed most of this story, or at least all the recent developments in it, due to some major personal stress in my life--a painful breakup of the sort that transforms anything relating to politics into some far away, abstract realm having nothing to do with the immediate reality of personal disaster. But things are calming down now, so let's see if I can get back into this thing:

Recent news is that a compromise has been reached. Kos has the best summary I've seen. Essentially, we're getting stuck with three really slimy judicial nominees, but the ability to filibuster future nominees has ostensibly been preserved. This means that James Dobson, nutjob extraordinaire, doesn't get to choose the next Supreme Court nominee. Moreover, the Democrats managed to accomplish this with a 10-seat deficit in the Senate. On the other hand, the Rude Pundit points out that the whole point of this exercise was to enable a power grab by the Bush administration, and that they'll try it again as soon as they can by nominating "the most batshit insane asshole next to try to break this deal."

So it's debatable what's been accomplished. Personally, I'm having a difficult time being happy with this outcome. Yes, the Democrats actually managed to show a bit of spine on this one, but I really have to wonder why on this Earth they took so damn long. If the Democratic party hadn't caved in to virtually every absurd Republican demand over the past four years (or 13, depending on how cynical you are) in the name of "bipartisanship," a compromise like this never would have been necessary. Without almost constant Democratic cave-ins, the GOP never would have been able to amass the political power necessary to make such a ridiculous demand in the first place. The Republicans are grand masters at the game of "give them an inch and they'll take a mile," and the Democrats, for years and years, have been mostly oblivious to this fact.

I recall very clearly how Bill Clinton promised to alleviate "gridlock" by working with the Republicans. What was very clear by the end of his first term was that this promise was the greatest gift he could have given to the opposition, because it put the GOP in the position of being able to squawk, "What about bipartisanship?" every time the Democrats dared to dig in their heels about something. The Democrats never even realized how completely they had outmaneuvered themselves. Even in this recent filibuster debate, you could hear Democrats making dire predictions that elimination of judicial filibusters would mean the "end of bipartisanship" in the Senate, as if this mythical "bipartisanship" had ever existed in the first place. Show me one example in the past 20 years of the Republican party complaining about "gridlock" or exhibiting "bipartisanship" in either house of Congress, when it wasn't obviously in their interests to do so. "Bipartisanship" is a fiction, created by the Republicans to trick the Democrats into giving them what they want. The process is very simple: 1) Republicans have something they want. 2) However, what they actually put forward is a proposal quite a bit more audacious and radical--something the Democrats are not going to want to accept. 3) In the name of "bipartisanship," the Democrats offer a compromise. Most likely, the offer is put forth by a coalition of "moderate" Democrats and Republicans. 4) The Republicans reluctantly agree, thereby getting what they wanted in the first place. 5) When the next election comes up, the Democrats stand there wondering why people consider them to be such a bunch of spineless wimps.

Of course this is an oversimplification, but I think it's a pretty good bare-bones summary of the Democrats' losing political strategy. The question is, when are they going to wake the fuck up? Now, maybe? Perhaps the best thing to come out of this filibuster flap is that most of the Senate Democrats were actually willing to go so far as to bring the business of the Senate to a screeching halt, damn the political consequences, if judicial filibusters had been eliminated. My feeling is that they'll have another opportunity to display this level of fortitude before too long. Let's hope they actually avail themselves of it.


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