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By David Podvin

It has long been apparent that the goal of Senate Democrats is not to defeat their opponents but to deceive their supporters. Democratic senators are functionaries of the Fortune 500, and their assigned task is to serve as accomplices while the Republicans rape America. The intramural squabbles between the major parties involve much contrived drama, but are ultimately resolved in favor of the GOP. Politics in this country is basically professional wrestling, albeit without the nuance.

Washington’s current simulated death struggle involves the legislative “nuclear option”. The issue is whether Republicans will change the Senate rules so that George W. Bush can have all of his extremist judicial nominees confirmed, or whether things will stay as they are, in which case Bush must settle for having ninety-six percent of his extremist judicial nominees confirmed.

Senate Democrats claim that the nuclear option is unacceptable because if it is implemented, the Republicans will get to stock the courts with fascists. Of course, if it is not implemented the Republicans will still get to stock the courts with fascists, and that is the relevant point. The GOP is sincere about using any means necessary to achieve total dominance of the judiciary. The performance art comes from the Democrats, who are pretending as though they care whether the federal bench is infested with Antonin Scalia clones.

There is overwhelming evidence that they couldn’t care less. Senate Democrats have already activated the “betrayal option” by allowing almost two hundred Bush-appointed racist, misogynistic, and homophobic corporate whores onto the federal bench. While being in the minority imposes certain limitations, the Democrats have previously demonstrated an eagerness to capitulate from a position of strength, as when they controlled the Senate and allowed Clarence Thomas to be confirmed. Their leader has already proclaimed Scalia qualified to be Chief Justice, a preemptive surrender that was in no way dictated by minority status.

When Democrats let Scalia become the benchmark for tolerable judges, the fight to preserve the judiciary was lost. The only question now is whether Republican nominees will be forced to affect the pretense that they are civilized or whether they can just start ripping up the Bill of Rights during their confirmation hearings. Scalia opposes the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the principle of one-man one vote, so it is going to be difficult for Bush to find a more extreme judicial candidate without canvassing the German émigré community in Buenos Aires.

The unspoken truth of the nuclear option charade is that the few Bush nominees whom the Democrats have bothered to filibuster are less circumspect, not more reactionary, than the goose steppers who have been confirmed. The Democrats are sanguine about the Constitution being destroyed, but they are tormented by the potential loss of procedural prerogative, and have threatened to shut down the Senate if the Republicans eliminate the judicial filibuster. Democrats did not threaten to shut down the Senate when Bush stole consecutive presidential elections, or when he bankrupted the Treasury, or when he deceived the nation into war because these Republican assaults on America left them unmoved. However, when their personal legislative power is imperiled, Democratic senators suddenly struck a collective pose as freedom fighters and vowed to paralyze government.

It remains to be seen whether Harry Reid and company will carry out their threat, and if they do whether the Democrats can withstand the subsequent withering assault. Yet even allowing for the best-case scenario, which would be a reversion to the rancid status quo, the American people are screwed. As long as Bush limits himself to selecting judges who are soft spoken in their malevolence, he is assured of getting them confirmed.

In any event, how much of a practical accomplishment is it to keep overt racists like Charles Pickering off the federal bench? Would Judge Pickering’s rulings differ significantly from those of Justice Scalia? Would Judge David Duke’s voting record be distinguishable from that of Justice Thomas? When they decided that it was inappropriate to impose a meaningful ideological litmus test on judicial appointees, the Senate Democrats betrayed their party and their country.

That kind of treachery has caused many good citizens to forsake politics. Their revulsion is caused by the kind of farce that is currently on display, which is political theater at its most repugnant. When rational people are presented with a surrealistic debate in which the options consist of having the judiciary brimming either with fascists or überfascists, they tend to turn away in disgust. It can be argued that excruciatingly bad is better than slightly worse, but such cynicism makes for an uninspiring call to arms.

If the Democrats ever declare independence from their corporate masters, they can begin the drive to regain power by actually confronting the GOP. The showdown would include a declaration that no Scalia clones will ever again be confirmed, and that with or without the nuclear option the Democratic Party will shut down the federal government before it allows Bush to shut down the Constitution. Democrats should force the American people to choose between true democracy and true fascism, realizing in advance that there is no guarantee democracy will be the people’s choice.

An honorable Democratic position must include the willingness to confront reality about presidential appointments. Senate Democrats passively counter charges of obstructionism by pointing out that Bush judicial selections are being confirmed at a higher rate than those of his immediate predecessor, but this defensive approach transforms the issue of courtroom integrity into a bean-counting exercise. What should be emphasized is that the Clinton nominees wanted to guarantee equality under the law, whereas the Bush nominees want to codify a caste system.

The principled stance for those who value egalitarianism is that all of Clinton’s judicial nominees should have been confirmed, and all of Bush’s judicial nominees should be rejected. The compelling argument is that liberty deserves to be prioritized over repression, but no one in the Senate is willing to state the case. Democratic senators will not make a partisan presentation in favor of an independent judiciary since doing so would alienate the corrupt establishment whose acceptance they so desperately crave.

The Senate Democratic position on judicial appointments is the latest cruel hoax to be perpetrated on the liberal rank and file because it creates the mirage of a principled battle. There is no principled battle. There is a spat between megalomaniacal Republican politicians who seek total control of the United States and egocentric Democratic politicians who are offended that their parliamentary privileges may be revoked. As is the norm in American politics, liberals are being offered rhetorical representation in lieu of the real thing.

Polls show the nuclear option is unpopular with the electorate, a factor that would motivate the Democrats to drop any gambit immediately. However, the GOP operates under a different dynamic. Karl Rove knows that there is always another phony political issue to be deceitfully exploited, another despised minority to be ruthlessly scapegoated, and another demographic group to be artfully manipulated. Republicans have sneering contempt for the intelligence of the masses, which is a major reason that they prevail in so many elections.

It is also why they dare make such a brazen power grab. The Republicans perceive no consequences to failure. If they win, they gain a stranglehold on the judiciary and all the stolen elections that go with it. If they lose, they lose nothing. That is what having feeble opponents and a gullible public does for a political party. Should the nuclear option somehow blow up in its face, the GOP can quickly regain the initiative by labeling the Democrats traitors while invoking the haunting specters of terrorism and gay marriage that render so many voters hysterical. The Republicans play for keeps.

By contrast, the modern Democratic Party exists only to provide the illusion of competition. Participatory democracy is supposed to involve ideological foes competing for governmental primacy, but in American politics the rule is “Heads Republicans Win, Tails Democrats Lose”. The sound and fury of the political crossfire signifies nothing, for the GOP invariably gains ground because the ostensible opposition party limits itself to waging untenable defensive battles. 

The conflict over the nuclear option typifies that phenomenon. Democratic senators have drawn a line in the sand that cedes almost all judicial terrain to Republicans. Democrats insist the confirmation process must remain unchanged, thereby insuring that a mere ninety-six percent of Bush’s extremist judicial nominees will be confirmed, and that those nominees will be not exceed the previously defined limitless bounds of fascism. If they can achieve this glorious pyrrhic victory, the Senate Democrats will then proclaim that they have preserved the integrity of the American system.

It is enough to make you laugh.

It is enough to make you cry.

More David Podvin

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Last changed: December 13, 2009