Friday, May 27, 2005
SENATE DEMOCRATS PARK THE FILIBUSTER AND HAND OVER THE KEYS
"To sin by silence when they should protest, makes cowards of men."--Abraham LincolnSenator Byrd said after the deal was consummated that "We have saved the Republic". And leading Senate Democrats were ecstatic about a victory which had, furthermore, infuriated those on the fundamentalist Right. But this was a hollow victory. Democratic Senators had loudly sworn to defend their constituents, especially injured consumers, and potential victims of discrimination, and the rest of us, whose interest rests with due process of law and the Constitution's Separation of Powers. These Democratic Senators had made a principled stand on the preservation of the filibuster. Rather than simply strike a pose, Senator Reid announced, weeks in advance, that Democrats would preserve their right to filibuster, against what a Republican had dubbed, "the nuclear option", a parliamentary option, with which the Republicans might revoke the tradition of the Senate that protects minority interests.
The filibuster is a "check and balance". It was deliberately engineered to be non-majoritarian, in order to induce compromise between the majority and minority factions in the Senate. Blocking certain of the President's nominees to the court, was the issue around which the Republicans threatened to demolish this tradition.
It was to protect us from the confirmation of extremist judges, that the Senate Democrats entered the fray, and announced their intention to defend the filibuster as a necessary instrument, which necessarily includes access to the filibuster. But they are happy now that the Republicans have not officially abolished it.
But the record of political success that we attach to this, and other acts of appeasement, is indeed very poor. Democratic leaders promised to fight tooth-and-nail for us, and once again there was capitulation, and this time, they added the irony of a victory walk. And we, the constituents and rank-and-file, are supposed to celebrate with them, and sing the salvation of the Republic. We are encouraged to sing, after they have made the filibuster virtually unusable by their touted "compromise", and have left the gates wide open to judicial nominees like Owen, Brown, and Pryor.
Unlike those on the Religious Right, Democrats who oppose this deal do not hate the moderates who brokered it. Unlike the Right, they don't slander either the moderates or moderation. But there is disappointment, sadness, and the feeling that this compromise is hollow. The criteria to be met, for a Democratic filibuster, is "extraordinary circumstances"; but in the aftermath, we can't be sure that Leader Frist won't trot out the "nuclear option" the moment that Democrats object to a Supreme Court nominee, or any other nominee for the federal court.
To add to the grandeur of the joke, President Bush was admonished to consult with the Senate, in the future, over prospective nominees. Being advised, obviously rankles this president.
But all of this is appeasement, for which we must pay. As long as Senate Democrats keep their hands off the filibuster, they can boast that they have preserved it. It's not your grandfather's car. Park it, and hand over the keys.