Saturday, December 25, 2004

Fighting the good fight...

...doesn't guarantee perfect outcomes, but we can't afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

With Bush sending back the names of his 20 most objectional first term judicial nominees and putting up various serial liars and torture enthusiasts for cabinet posts in his second administration, talk among Democrats naturally turns to filibusters. The filibuster is, after all, a tool that's been part of the Senate tradition precisely as a defense against the most egregious missteps of an arrogant majority.

To hear the Republicans holler, though, you'd think that the filibuster was something invented by Harry Reid between sessions. Spyderz' comment to an
earlier post is too typical...
Every other president has gotten his judges accepted. This filibustering, etc., is ridiculous.
That's hardly a unique view these days. It's one the Republicans are heartily encouraging, so much so that they're willing to lie repeatedly to support it.

Problem is, it's just not so. In fact...
Judicial nominees have never been immune from filibusters. When Republicans opposed President Lyndon Johnson's choice for chief justice, Abe Fortas, they led a successful filibuster to stop him from getting the job. More recently, in the Clinton era, Republicans spoke out loudly in defense of their right to filibuster against the confirmation of cabinet members and judicial nominees. Republican senators, including Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Mike DeWine of Ohio, used a filibuster in 1995 to block President Bill Clinton's nominee for surgeon general.
And when the Majority Leader starts spouting off about the 'nuclear option,' it bears remembering that...
Bill Frist, now the Senate majority leader, supported a filibuster of a Clinton appeals court nomination.
In fact, everyone would prefer a world in which cooperation and consultation with the minority (and in the US Senate, we should remember that far more Americans have voted for members of the minority than of the majority. The Senate's weird that way...) produced more mainstream nominees who could be approved without extraordinary efforts on either side. When faced with nominations of the marginally competent and/or idealogically extreme, though, extreme measures may be called for.

It's too bad. Filibusters are hard to explain to constituents and hard to sustain on the floor. If they fail, it tends to inflame the idealogues on our side, and when they succeed, it puts a further strain on the already tenuous collegiality that members of the minority count on to maintain even a minimal level of programs and services for the folks at home. In an enviroment where subcommittee chairs in the Republican House are empowered to punish members of their own caucus who stray from the partisan reservation, it's not hard to imagine the price that might be paid by participants in a successful filibuster.

Filibusters are an extreme measure. But these are extreme times, and extremists are being catered to by the Republican Party.

Can we stop everything the GOP exteme wants to do? Probably not. Can we at least block the worst of a bad lot? Hopefully so.

Either way, we have to try, and we should applaud the intent regardless of the outcome.


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