The Center Finally Held Tonight
One of the benefits of being the alleged Blog Lord around here (aside from being the first guy to be wrong) is that I get to occasionally offer the minority viewpoint without being fired. So with that as a backdrop and with many of your reasoned comments notwithstanding, let me offer a contrary position to many of you on the “deal” tonight.
I said several days ago that a fight to the end was necessary as long as the right to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee was endangered. This deal took that odious likelihood off the table, admittedly for now. And the Democrats seem far more pleased tonight than the American Taliban wing of the GOP Senate.
Bill Frist wanted this fight, to show the American Taliban that he could be counted on to deliver right wing judges at the appellate level and to the Supreme Court. No matter what you think of the phrase “extraordinary circumstances”, the deal by the moderates prevented Frist from delivering, and it did demonstrate that cooler older heads on both sides of the aisle had to step in to save Frist from himself. Many of you think tonight that Frist won this battle. All he actually won were up and down votes on appellate court nominees, pathetic nominees, but only votes nonetheless. Despite what you think about the GOP, there is no guarantee that all seven of Bush’s nominees will get through his own caucus. And in fact, two of the seven according to press reports tonight will not have the support of the Senate GOP moderates.
It is easy to savage Harry Reid over what happened tonight. Sure, many of us like me wanted to see a fight to the finish for the principle of the rights of the minority party, even if it meant losing the filibuster. But at the end of the day, winning on principle and seeing the drawbridge come down from Wacko Castle so that the parade of crackpot judges can walk out of the asylum into the countryside spreading heresy and 17th Century thinking does us no good. Besides, once again we are talking about appellate and not Supreme Court judges here.
What Reid did tonight is draw a line in the sand at the highest court in the land, which is really all you can expect him to be able to do with only 44 votes. No matter what we think about principle and the dastardly Republicans here, they won the last election and racked up 55 senators, allowing them a questionable claim that their party can install any wing nut at the appellate court they want to be accountable for. In hindsight, the fact that Reid held off this assault this long and still retained the beachhead at the Supreme Court for the court of public opinion later is a significant accomplishment. The Democrats will fight to the death later and force the GOP to go back on its word and employ the nuclear option when we are talking about a Supreme Court pick, with far graver consequences for the GOP when they do.
Tonight also did something that both Frist and the White House must notice. Keep in mind that Cheney wanted to do away with another piece of congressional power here and move another step closer to the omnipotent imperial presidency, so the White House was fully engaged. Bush didn't get the neutered Senate he and Cheney were hoping for, and instead are being told by the moderates in his own party that two of the seven are dead, and that he and Cheney can have their Owen/Brown/Pryor nutcases for the appellate courts, but no further. Neither Cheney's schemes nor Frist’s presidential ambitions got served tonight. Instead, an endangered species re-emerged tonight: the Senate moderates. Not only did they emerge, but the elder statesmen from both parties (Warner and Byrd) stepped in and took the car keys away from Frist and to a degree, from Cheney. Yes, the GOP can now have their votes on the nutcases, but again Bush will only get five of the seven through his own caucus. The moderates in both parties knew that if the Senate dissolved into simple majority rule they would be ignored from this point on. Instead, the moderates out of self-survival grabbed the agenda. The moderate center finally got tired tonight of what they were being force-fed from the White House and the American Taliban, and took back control.
And Bill Frist’s 2008 campaign ended tonight. John McCain, with an assist from John Warner and Lindsey Graham, got a chance to make Frist look like a Kool-Aid drinking Taliban cultist tonight, and this has big ramifications for 2008 among the Senate GOP caucus. This was a win-win for McCain, and you will see now a larger and larger block of the Senate GOP caucus splinter away from First and the White House. McCain effectively took over the Senate GOP tonight without having to take on the burden of being Majority Leader.
Lastly, the truth is that the public by and large isn’t engaged on this battle. Sure, those who were paying attention were siding with the Democrats according to the recent polls. But the vast majority of the public only really cares about judges when a Supreme Court nomination is pending that will change the ideological balance on the court. Reid preserved the beachhead on that tonight. What the public does care about now is why the GOP congress is spending more time on Terri Schiavo, attacking the independence of judges, and trying to eliminate the filibuster than they are about health care, gas prices, immigration, education, and creating good high paying jobs here at home.
The smartest play that Reid can make after tonight is to come out and take credit along with John McCain specifically (that’ll give Dobson fits and kill off Frist as Majority Leader) and the moderates generally for turning the Senate away from the Religious Right’s agenda and back towards the real issues now. Reid should remind the media how many days the GOP Senate has spent on American Taliban issues since Bush’s second inauguration and specifically how few days Frist and Company have spent on real solutions for health care, jobs, gas prices, and tax fairness. And Reid should tell everyone how glad he and the Democrats are now that the attention of the Senate can turn towards real issues and away from the policies of division that have been the mainstay of this White House and this GOP congressional leadership.
Again, it wasn’t a satisfying victory tonight for many on the left, but such a victory in a 55-44-1 Senate would have resulted in a victory on principle and nothing else. We live to fight another day, in a better position now in the court of public opinion than before, while protecting the Supreme Court beachhead. And Bill Frist lost face with the American Taliban and lost the car keys to the Senate at the same time.
Trust me, we’re doing fine.
Good job, Senator Reid.