Marchand Chronicles: The Nuclear OptionConventional Warfare
The Marchand Chronicles
April 18, 2005
In the opening of Bill Whittle's essay named STRENGTH, he compares the U.S. assault on Fallujah with Sam Houston's actions in the battle for Texas and asks, "Did you want to feel good or did you want to win?"
I want to win. I strongly suspect Hugh Hewitt and Ed Morrissey want to feel good.
Hewitt has spent nearly all this week on his radio show, his website, and his Weekly Standard column requesting — demanding — that Senate Republicans move forward with the "nuclear option" to overturn any Democratic filibuster of judicial nominees. Likewise, Captain Ed has been banging the drum on his blog, insisting voters should cut off all funding to the GOP in a scathing post called "Not. One. Dime."
Haven't we been down this road before?
In 1995, Congressional Republicans shut down the government in a noble attempt to force a balanced budget, an eminently reasonable idea. The result was the virtual end of Newt Gingrich's career and a boost to President Clinton's flagging reelection hopes.
More recently, last month Congressional Republicans led a special session, passing a bill with the noble attempt of forcing the courts to reexamine the Terri Schiavo case, an eminently reasonable idea. The result was a loss of face for the Republicans, who were considered to be overreaching and violating one of the central tenets of federalism.
And Hugh and Ed think this will somehow turn out better? How?
They are right, of course, in that the Republican base cranked out the vote for Senators on the basis of stopping judicial activism and Democratic obstructionism. But what they don't consider is that there are plenty of moderates and non-Republicans who despised the ham-fisted power-play politics displayed in the above examples, and will be turned off by something as drastic as altering traditional filibuster rules. Additionally, GOP voters unaffiliated with the religious right will again be spooked by the idea of theocons controlling the government and restricting debate (witness this recent Instapundit post).
The counterargument is that the filibuster's "rules" have been malleable, and that the unprecedented action is really the Democrats' filibustering nearly all of President Bush's nominees; and that the "theocons" aren't really controlling and restrictive, they're just attempting to get majority-supported judicial nominees a fair up-or-down vote. There's just one problem:
People won't care.
If the Republicans had PR skills anything close to the Democrats'; if we had a balanced media culture that played everything straight; or if the American voters by and large had a thorough knowledge of the Senate's role in the Constitution or its procedural history — if any one were the case, it would be worth the fight to block the potential filibuster.
But all people remember about the 1995 government shutdown is that Newt Gingrich became The Gingrinch That Stole Christmas. Similarly, all people remember about the Congressional action to save Terri Schiavo's life is that the Republicans overreached based on some memo touting the Schiavo case as a "great political issue." The truth about the Republicans' motives was forgotten. It will be again.
Does this matter to Hugh or Ed? It doesn't look like it. Hugh Hewitt dodged the idea that the Republicans might lose politically by saying this: "The GOP seems to think it is loosing [sic] the pr war because people don't understand the issue. Wrong. The base understands the issue completely, and it is disgusted with dithering." The problem is that the base, even if it comprises the majority of Republicans, certainly doesn't comprise a majority of the voters. The GOP will lose the PR war because people — not just the Republican base, in fact everyone but the Republican base — don't understand the issue. History has shown that, and if Hugh thinks the Republicans are too feckless to move forward with the "nuclear option," what makes him think they'll be able to defend it afterwards?
Fine by Hugh. If the GOP moves and loses, he'll send checks to the Democratic opponents of any Republicans who don't toe the party line. Well, that'll be pointless. Once the GOP moves forward, win or lose, the careers of Lincoln Chafee, possibly Olympia Snowe, and almost certainly Rick Santorum will be finished. All of them are Republican senators from blue states who face reelection in 2006. Chafee and Santorum have already been targeted by the Democratic money machine. The Democrats won't need Hugh's checks; they'll have an issue which Howard Dean and the DNC will raise millions against. And Bill Frist will become Newt Gingrich Redux. If he doesn't retire in 2006, he'll be marked for defeat. If he leaves the Senate to run for president in '08, he won't win.
Captain Ed wants to scorch the earth even more by cutting off all donations to the RNC and the NRSC if the Republicans don't move. Well, what will that accomplish? The exact same thing. Without truckloads of funding, the Democrats will have the scalps of Chafee, Snowe, and Santorum, possibly also someone like Jim Talent. As Beth from MY Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy sagely noted, it'd be foolish for the GOP to purge itself and hand Democrats the victory.
So . . . what's the plan, then? Let them filibuster.
When staunch southern Democrats attempted to filibuster the Civil Rights Act in 1964, they lost. Why? Because they went on for two and a half months. They couldn't sustain their momentum any longer. People saw through it for what it really was: a desperate attempt to hold on to their tiny little sliver of power and control.
The filibuster was starved out because of solid leadership from Hubert Humphrey and President Johnson, admittedly both Democrats, but they were on the right side of history. LBJ, when faced with the definite knowledge that the Dixiecrats were going to filibuster, refused to send any further business to the Senate, forcing Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd et al to talk indefinitely. Filibusters are traditionally beaten by, basically, filibustering the filibuster: instead of the determined senators talking the bill to death, make them talk themselves into exhaustion and embarrassment.
Yes, I know, filibusters of judicial appointments are unprecedented. I'd love to see the Democrats get rolled over on this idea, too, but it's a trap. Most Americans think "filibuster" is a Dairy Queen dessert ("the new Filibuster Parfait!"), but they'll know that the Republicans are trying to bully the opposition (thanks to timely reminders by the Democrats and the media).
America won't stand for the Republicans attempting to break the filibuster with brute force. Let it die like every other unsuccessful filibuster has. Plus, it'd make for great soundbites: Barbara Boxer giving recipes for great sushi. Chuck Schumer reading out of the NYNEX phone book. John Kerry complaining again that he might have won the election if only Democratic voters weren't completely stupid. Ted Kennedy telling us a little more about his good friend Osama. Just think: by forcing them to sit around and talk indefinitely, we'd get Democratic idiocy served to us on a platter, 24/7, for as long as they continue to blabber and yap.
If you look very closely at the posts I've already linked to, you can see the dimmest outlines of this occurring. Senator Frist has moved large chunks of the agenda before the judicial nominations, so as to clear the way for an indefinite filibuster (from "Not. One. Dime."). Senator Santorum said the vote to end the filibuster should be "within a couple of months" (from Hugh's post about the "PR war"). Predictably though somewhat sadly, both of these provoked outrage. Captain Ed opined that the schedule change represented the fact "that the judges are actually the lowest priority for Frist and his band of merry cowards." Hugh Hewitt reported that Santorum's comment lit up his phone lines and triggered an "e-mail avalanche."
The Democratic filibuster of President Bush's judicial nominees is unprecedented and needs to be stopped. But there's a right way and a wrong way to do it, and when Republicans pick the wrong way, they are punished by the voters because they're seen as going too far. It happened in 1995 over the government shutdown. It happened last month over Terri Schiavo.
Let's not run full-steam into the brick wall again this time. Kill the filibuster by killing the filibuster, not by preventing it.
(Edited 3/20 3:46 PM to fix a really stupid error.)