Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Column on Nuclear Option, etc.

Let?s Keep Them Quarreling

Tibor R. Machan

A few columns ago I lamented how American politics has gone nuts and I
had quite a lot of reaction to this. One was an invitation to talk to talk
show host John Batchelor of WABC-AM 77, New York City, a no holds barred
supporter of President George W. Bush and his Republican allies in the
Congress. He conducted a prerecorded interview with me and immediately
jumped to the topic of the Republican inspired ?nuclear option? in the US
Senate, one whereby a threatened filibuster to block Bush?s judicial
nominees by Democrats would be squashed by a rarely used parliamentary

Frankly, I am no expert on this and turned the discussion to something
else?namely, what my column was actually about. (I don?t know if the
segment was actually used, but never mind that.) After the mention of the
nuclear option, I decided to research and consider it in some detail and
have come to the conclusion that the Republicans and Democrats are pretty
much alike?they will resort to whatever play they can to get their way and
neither has the moral high ground.

Once again, this particular battle is about getting President Bush?s
judicial nominees before the full Senate and the Republicans?with the
support of Mr. Batchelor?are all upset that the Democrats will not simply
yield. One thing they are complaining about is that the Democrats refuse
to play by the rules of democracy?in particular, by majority rule. And
this is where things get pretty silly again.

When in 2000 Al Gore won more votes in the presidential election than
George W. Bush, yet Bush became president, the Republicans, if I recall
right, kept stressing how this is not a democracy but a republic.
Republicans tend also to be the ones who still welcome the electoral
college, which is clearly a restraint on pure majorities in the
presidential election process. Furthermore, it is Democrats who keep
complaining about how the apportionment of senators is anti-democratic.
And, yes, it is, but Republicans in general tend not to see much wrong
with this because, again, they understand this country to be a republic,
not a democracy.

Except, it seems, now, when the majority did elect George W. Bush and so
supposedly his nominees have the support of that majority. This time
Republicans are bellyaching about the Senate being unable to implement
majority rule because there are rules, namely, the filibuster, that can be
used to restrain the majority.

The nuclear option, so called, is, of course, perfectly constitutional
and if the Republicans deploy it, then it will be the Democrats who will
be complaining about not making it possible for them to engage in the full
measure of the advise and consent process. Batchelor himself said in the
interview with me?as well as during some other segments of his Tuesday
night program?that, after all, the framers only meant to have the Senate
give their ?advice and consent? in the case of presidential nominations,
not to block them.

Of course, if the consent of the Senate is needed and there are various
constitutionally sanctioned measures that may be deployed to forestall a
majority of the Senate giving its consent, that?s tough. Such is the US
Constitution. Not, certainly, fully democratic, fully majoritarian. If the
Senate is authorized to exercise its power by refusing to consent to a
nomination or even if through legitimate Constitutional measures the
consent-giving is somehow blocked, that, too, is just how it is. Live with
it, one might say.

The point of my column was that American politics seems to lack nearly
any measure of civility?of simply working with the rules and arguing the
issues. This fracas about the judicial nominations supports the point?once
again instead of engaging in the civilize process of following the rules
wherever they lead, each side is calling the other nasty names, impugning
to it vicious motives.

But perhaps in the meanwhile we can benefit from something akin to a
gridlock, a condition when the citizenry is able to carry on with its
tasks while the politicians are dickering in Washington, DC.

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