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Thoughts from a Yellow Dog Democrat living in Olympia, in the great BLUE state of Washington

I am a liberal because it is the political philosophy of freedom and equality. And I am a progressive because it is the political path to a better future. And I am a Democrat because it is the political party that believes in freedom, equality and progress. -- Digby

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Democrats Blew It Big Time!

I'm discusted by last night's compromise on the nuclear option and I'm disappointed on the support Progressives are giving it this morning.

Jonathan Weiler has it right:



Nuclear Stand-down
Jonathan Weiler (9:41AM)
In the aftermath of the compromise reached last night among fourteen moderate senators, some commentators are calling the end to the nuclear showdown over filibuster of judicial nominees a win for Democrats. Tim Grieve,Salon says, "if you were confused about which side won, it helped to look at who was angry at the deal. Focus on the Family's James Dobson called it 'a complete betrayal,' while Eli Pariser of MoveOn claimed victory."

Josh Marshall was somewhot more qualified, agreeing that allowing floor votes for William Pryor, Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen was a "bitter pill to swallow." Still Marshall argued, "the whole tenor of the Republican ultras on the Hill today is to demand unimpeded power, to push past conventions and limits, to go for everything. And here they got turned back. A sensible Republican party might be satisfied to have gotten three of its nominees -- numerically speaking, they did fairly well. But this whole enterprise was based on wanting it all, on not accepting limits, on rejecting government by even a modicum of consensus with a sizeable minority party. They got stopped short. And the senate Republican leadership is undermined."

But, what exactly have the Republicans NOT gotten in this case? Owen and
Rogers-Brown, two highly polarizing figures, get floor votes. The Democrats have agreed, in effect, that they must pass a litmus test of extremism before they can invoke what has been their constitutional right to invoke. The overwhelming majority of the American public saw this issue in terms unfavorable to the Republicans. And, even if you think the Republicans didn't get everything they want TODAY, who's to say that this agreement doesn't pave the way for them to get everything they want a year or two years from now. As power hungry as they are, the Republicans are also Maoists. They have been on their long march for decades, and have been relentless in pursuing their goals. Tactical retreats, even if this can charitably be called one, have not slowed their inexorable advance through the judicial and policy processes in this country.

This is an ill-considered compromise by the Democrats, a capitulation in the short term on some key lightning rod nominees, and a sucker's deal that they will find unenforceable when the time comes to trigger the "extraordinary circumstances" provision. And, when they do try to invoke that standard, they are far more likely to look unreasonable, like they backed out of the deal, than the Republicans. After all, how much more extreme can you be than Rogers-Brown? And, how can the Democrats readily demonstrate that when they invoke the "extraordinary circumstances" provision?

Marshall is as astute an observer as there is, but he's wrong to imply that the Republicans strategy is to go for everything now. Their strategy is to keep pushing the boundaries of reason, of acceptable limits, to continue to push the center of gravity of our entire discourse further and further out to the extremes. They have now succeeded in making it sound like a reasonable position that the filibuster only be used in "extreme circumstances," a standard which, by implication, must mean more extreme than Priscilla Owen. In the meanwhile, they have succeeded over two decades in pushing the federal bench further to the right, a project that ultimately is not at all dependent on whether one or three judges get turned down. It's the totality of the project that matters to them, and they have just hamstrung the Democrats in invoking one of the few tools left to them to impede that project. And, they've done so while removing from the Democrats what, by all accounts, was likely to be an effective campaign issue in 2006.

In fact, what the Democrats really did was to save Bill Frist and the rabid right from their own bad judgment in this whole process. As Grieve writes, "Susan Collins and other senators involved in the deal suggested Monday night that it was never really in doubt -- that too many senators were too afraid of what the nuclear option would bring. Democrats were afraid it would destroy the Senate's tradition as a "cooling saucer," the place where debate outruns passions and minority views can moderate majority desires. Republicans feared that they might someday live to reap what they sowed, and that in the meantime Democrats could make their lives difficult by using Senate rules to slow legislation in the Senate to an agonizingly difficult pace."

In other words, prior to the compromise, the Republicans had boxed themselves into a corner. The Democrats bailed them out.

This supposed defeat for Frist leaves three of Bush's most controversial nominees in position to get floor votes, leaves Democrats acknowledging that filibustering of judicial nominees requires something much greater than the fact that it's their very constitutional right to do so, and creates a standard, "extraordinary circumstances" that will likely prove indefinable and unenforceable. There was a real prospect of achieving political victory in this fight. Once again, the Democrats blew it. Once again, the Democrats sacrificed principle (their unqualified right to filibuster when they felt it warranted) for a tactical "victory" of no apparent lasting significance and gave the Republicans "moderate" cover for their ongoing transformation of the federal bench.

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