Blowing the government to hell

Republicans are not getting their way about absolutely everything.

Like most spoiled bullies faced with a need for compromise, Senate Republicans are stomping their feet, screeching with anger and demanding that the rules be changed. They want an “up or down” vote because they do not have enough votes otherwise – and when a bullies cannot get what they want, they change the rules – because they’re bigger.

The rule up for execution this week is the filibustering of judicial nominations. When one party in power nominates an extreme partisan in an attempt to swing the courts its way, the minority party can block the nomination if it has 41 or more senators out of 100. There are currently 44 Democrats, and they have blocked 10 of the 214 nominations that Bush sent to the Senate. These 10 appointees have all shown disregard for the rule of law and would much rather push their own political agendas. But Republicans want that pro-life, pro-business, anti-environment, anti-consumer agenda pushed and are trying to get these right-wing extremists into lifetime appointments.

Ever since the Reagan era, the favored Republican bullying tactic has been to knock the entire government as far to the right as possible. When Democrats get in power, they spend all their time cleaning up the mess; and when power shifts again, back to the right we go.

The filibuster was instituted to protect against the tyranny of the majority. This country is not made up of only right-wing extremists, and it only seems fair that people who are not complete fascists should have a say in who gets these powerful positions.

Republicans don’t like that. Controlling two of the three branches of government (plus most of the media that they use to brainwash people into electing Republicans into those two branches) is not enough for them. They are making a power grab for the judiciary, where they only hold a 7-2 majority in the Supreme Court.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has said that “our judiciary must be independent, impartial, and fair.” The best way to do that is apparently to flood the lower judicial levels with conservatives, so that any future Supreme Court appointments in the next few decades will have a decidedly rightward-leaning pool of candidates to choose from.

The appellate courts, which cover numerous states, are sometimes the highest levels to which a case can go, if the Supreme Court decides not to hear it. The front lines of the fights over gay marriage, abortion and civil rights are often fight in the appellate courts. For example, if conservative William Myers sits on the bench of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, conservatives will be able to further undermine the progress that this country has made since the Great Depression.

The late 1920s were the last time that Republicans held majorities in both the House and the Senate. They used the next seven decades to become an effective opposition and have used the filibuster countless times. Now that they are in the majority, they want to throw aside one of the most effective tactics that an opposition party has to keep from being voted out of every issue. After all, they kept 65 of Clinton’s nominations from even getting out of committee, and they never got this holy “up or down” vote.

But this week, the majority may use the “nuclear option” to snatch this strategy away from the minority, so they can confirm these radical judges over well-grounded Democratic objections. They want it all.

But these bullies will not remain in power forever. They will find themselves in the minority sooner rather than later. If they push this through, they will have shot themselves in the foot by doing it.

You can tell they are aware of the public’s disapproval of what they are doing because they have already dispatched their spin-doctors to change the name of this issue. Like the private accounts in the Social Security privatization scheme suddenly becoming “personal” accounts, last week the entire media, from the Oregonian to Fox News, was put on notice by partisan hacks that the “nuclear option” is now the “constitutional option.”

Both sides described this rule change as the “nuclear option” as long as four years ago. Their sudden change of nomenclature is nonsense. There is nothing constitutional or unconstitutional about the changing of Senate debate rules. The Constitution has nothing to do with it.

But like all bullies, they are appealing to an irrelevant higher authority to justify their obviously unfair play. “Constitutional” sounds nicer, but is not as apt a description.

This option has been called “nuclear” by everyone (until last week) because it would be like dropping a legislative bomb, notifying the minority that it is no longer a part of the process. The minority, in turn, would refuse to play this whole “Senate” game and shut down the government.

Bullies would rather throw over the board, scattering pieces everywhere, than play a game they cannot win.

Chaelan MacTavish can be reached at [email protected]