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By David Podvin
A Senate compromise pact has averted the showdown over the nuclear option, so Republican judicial nominees will now be confirmed ninety-seven to ninety-nine percent of the time, whereas the Democrats will stand up for democracy one to three percent of the time. George W. Bush is free to make additional recess appointments, thereby skewing the numbers even higher in favor of the GOP. Not incidentally, the senatorial agreement is written on the wind. If after most of the previously stymied Bush nominees have been confirmed conservatives decide to renege and implement the nuclear option anyway, there is nothing that prevents them from doing so.
The Republicans are clearly in a stronger position than they were prior to this confrontation, having guaranteed the confirmations of several coveted fascist judges while maintaining all future options. Nevertheless, the Democrats are thrilled that in exchange for capitulating on some federal judgeships they have temporarily retained the ability to filibuster an extremist Republican Supreme Court nominee. It is a prerogative that Democratic senators have long possessed and refused to exercise, so from a practical perspective they have merely preserved the right to cave in.
On Sunday, Howard Dean reiterated his belief that American politics is a battle between evil and good. On Monday, the Senate Democrats proved the doctor is wrong. American politics is a battle between evil and cowardice. So determined were Joseph Lieberman and his Quisling Democratic brethren to avoid taking a stand against the right wing assault that they negotiated a deal assuring conservatives will gain an ever tighter stranglehold on the judiciary.
There are two rationales for this latest betrayal of the liberal rank and file. First is the pseudo-realpolitik argument that the Republicans would probably have gotten the votes needed to implement the nuclear option, in which case the GOP conquest would have been absolute and Bush could have secured Supreme Court confirmation for anyone he chose. The premise is that half a loaf is better than none, and that the Senate Democrats have masterfully thwarted disaster by getting something in lieu of losing everything.
Such transparent intellectual dishonesty is insulting to Democratic voters. The compromise is not a masterstroke – it is a missed opportunity of historical significance. Passage of the nuclear option could have been the turning point in American politics, the precipitating event that enabled Democrats to regain power. Harry Reid had promised to respond by shutting down the federal government, a pledge that if kept would have been a courageous and ethical act. With two thirds of the American public opposing the nuclear option, Democrats could have made a convincing case that draconian measures were essential to save democracy from right wing hegemony.
This bold action would have reversed four decades of Democratic Party decline. Americans generally agree with the Democratic philosophy but vote Republican due to the perception that Democrats are weak. The nuclear option presented the ideal opportunity to obliterate that belief. By hanging tough in the face of a vicious conservative attack, Democrats would have projected strength as they stood for a popular principle. An additional benefit of paralyzing the legislature is that it would have prevented the Republican Congress from wreaking additional havoc upon society.
Forcing a vote on the nuclear option was the strategically shrewd tactic for the Democrats. If the Republicans had the votes, the response of shutting down the government represented the ideal dynamic with which to shake up the 2006 congressional elections that Democrats have basically conceded. If the Republicans didn’t have the votes, the Democrats would have won a gutsy confrontation with the bad guys, a watershed event necessary for the party to convince the public that it possesses the resolve to govern effectively.
Instead, what has been achieved is the latest in an endless series of capitulations, doubtlessly to be followed by more of the same. Anyone who contends that the Senate Democrats are going to engage in a death struggle to save the Supreme Court is obligated to provide evidence that these cowards have ever assumed a resolute stance against evil. Be it stolen elections or lies about war, the Democratic senators are always ethically Absent Without Leave.
The second rationale offered for the nuclear option compromise is that any action making conservatives so very miserable must be a wonderful thing. Right wingers are wailing that their senators have sold them out, let them down, and stabbed them in the back. The argument is that the blood curdling howls of agony emanating from the Dark Side surely indicate the Democrats have won.
Liberals who accept this assumption fail to remember that reactionaries are forever screaming in paranoid anguish. Conservatives are still extremely bitter about Al Gore’s nefarious attempt to steal the 2000 presidential election, not to mention their continued seething rage regarding the Paul Wellstone Memorial service during which liberals sought to destroy the American way of life.
The right wing is insane. Republicans equate winning almost all the time with being persecuted. As to the proper description of people who equate losing almost all the time with being triumphant, words cannot suffice.
Any fracturing of the conservative coalition over the issue of judicial appointments will be temporary because the theocratic wing of the GOP is so easily manipulated. Soon, the cunning corporatists who control the Republican Party will invoke the ominous specter of lesbian Eskimos teaching girls phys ed or wrongly colored illegal aliens wielding condoms and the terrified fundamentalist lemmings will dutifully fall back into line.
No one wants to see the Democrats succeed more than I do, primarily because of my malicious lifelong yearning to witness the vile Grand Old Party get crushed like a wicked witch under a Kansas farm girl’s house. However, that desire does not carry with it the obligation to misrepresent reality. Democrats are doing a horrible job, as objectively documented by their complete lack of political power. The truth cannot be obscured by cheerleading from those cynical liberal commentators who profit financially by ingratiating themselves to the Democratic establishment. The party is in headlong retreat, and has been for many years. The situation is not getting better. It is getting worse.
Once again, the Republicans have gained ground while the Democrats have declared victory. The nuclear option compromise is a victory welcomed only by those progressives afflicted with the political equivalent of battered spouse syndrome, people who rejoice that this latest brutal beating is not as painful as some others. After absorbing countless floggings in recent years it is understandable that liberals are desperate to declare success. Yet it is hardly a success to sanction the confirmations of judicial fascists like Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown whose hostility towards the Constitution is as implacable as it is irrational.
Corporate America will now get more right wing judges without incurring any interruption in the flow of pro-business legislation. The American people will now experience the dismantlement of the New Deal that lifted our nation into modernity.
Of such victories tragedy is made.
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