Dispatches from the Creation Wars

One of the things that is endlessly amusing to me is watching the two parties do their dance of feigned outrage at the tactics of the other party when they have engaged in the same tactics when the tables were previously turned. The latest example is the frantic hand-wringing of the Republicans about Democrats in the Senate blocking 10 Bush judicial nominations in his first term. They’re shocked, I tell you, absolutely shocked that the Democrats would dare to impede the nominations of so many judges and they are considering changing the Senate rules to rule out the use of the filibuster so this outrage cannot be repeated. And the Democrats, on the other hand, are positively overcome with the vapors at the notion that the Republicans would consider changing the venerable senate rules for their short-term political gain. But let’s set the wayback machine, shall we?

While Bush has had 10 nominees not receive a vote on the Senate floor due to filibusters or other political maneuvering by Democrats, Bill Clinton had 60 nominees who didn’t even receive a hearing before the Judiciary committee, much less a vote on the Senate floor. And the Democrats were shocked, shocked!, at such shameful treatment of judicial nominations. In fact, in 1995, Democratic senators Harkin and Lieberman proposed the same rule change that Senate Republicans are now considering to prevent Republicans from using the Senate rules to block an up or down vote on such nominations.

Time and time again, I return to Mencken’s statement that democracy is the only truly amusing form of government ever invented. The amusement is in watching grown men go on TV and say things they know are hypocritical and false, and in watching their partisan followers lap it up mindlessly. Neither party cares a bit about intellectual honesty or consistency. Politics elevates sophistry to an art form.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave
    February 24, 2005

    I’m always stunned at people’s evident failure to understand that politics is theater. See this for my take on the phenomenon.

    Shouldn’t this be obvious to all?

  2. #2 Morat
    February 24, 2005

    Those two scenario’s aren’t actually equivilant.

    To compare the GOP and the Democrats here would require two things: One, that Harkin and Lieberman’s 1995 proposal had fairly broad (although far from complete) support. I have no idea if this is true or not, although offhand I don’t recall anyone seriously entertaining the idea of the Democrats being successful. That certainly isn’t the case now, where the Frist is seriously pushing it.

    Two, the GOP does not actually use the “nuclear option”.

    Even if the Dems did push it in 95, and the GOP fails to change the rules now, you’re still left with one pretty egregious case of active hypocrisy and another of passive.

    I’d suggest the fascinating history of the “blue slip rule” under Orrin Hatch as a good addendum to this post, especially in light of the Democratic Party’s control of the Senate after Jefford’s switched.

  3. #3 raj
    February 24, 2005

    Shouldn’t this be obvious to all?

    Apparently not to Democrats.

    A Stanford linguist, George Lakoff (I believe his name is) has recently opined that one reason that Republicans are taking Democrats to the cleaners–electorally speaking–is that Republicans have learned that the art of getting elected is the art of persuasion, which, in turn, is the art of issue-framing. How people react to the proposed resolution of the issue is in large measure determined by how the issue is framed. Example: estate tax ok, death tax bad. It’s all in the art of selling.

    Of course, the art of bait-and-switch doesn’t hurt, either. The Republicans have become masters at that. Get people to believe that you will rein in the federal budget and federal deficits and apparently there are enough Americans who will believe you to get elected–which is the only point of the exercise. And they’re also masters at just baiting, as their recent gay-baiting ads in regards AARP show.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    February 24, 2005

    To compare the GOP and the Democrats here would require two things: One, that Harkin and Lieberman’s 1995 proposal had fairly broad (although far from complete) support. I have no idea if this is true or not, although offhand I don’t recall anyone seriously entertaining the idea of the Democrats being successful. That certainly isn’t the case now, where the Frist is seriously pushing it.

    Two, the GOP does not actually use the “nuclear option”.

    I disagree. The hypocrisy is in the fact that both parties pretend that only the other party does it and they make the exact same arguments for how unfair it is – but only when the other side does it. That’s the source of the hypocrisy. If Frist actually goes through with it in this case, that would of course be worse. But the fact that the very same arguments were used by Democrats 10 years ago still shows the basic hypocrisy at the core of partisan thinking.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    February 24, 2005

    A Stanford linguist, George Lakoff (I believe his name is) has recently opined that one reason that Republicans are taking Democrats to the cleaners–electorally speaking–is that Republicans have learned that the art of getting elected is the art of persuasion, which, in turn, is the art of issue-framing. How people react to the proposed resolution of the issue is in large measure determined by how the issue is framed. Example: estate tax ok, death tax bad. It’s all in the art of selling.

    I think Lakoff is essentially correct. The right has become very adept at framing the debate, particularly through the development and constant repetition of buzzwords and catchphrases. The left attempts the same thing, of course, but they’re not nearly as good at it yet. I deal with this every day in terms of the evolution/creationism debate, where the ID advocates are extraordinarily good at using the tools of PR through clever marketing slogans like “teach the controversy” and “Darwin-only lobby”. Phrases like “judicial activism” and “judicial tyranny” are perfect examples in the legal realm, essentially meaningless phrases that are invested with emotional content to get the desired response.

  6. #6 Matthew
    February 24, 2005

    The amusement is in watching grown men go on TV and say things they know are hypocritical and false, and in watching their partisan followers lap it up mindlessly.

    I remember watching the floor debates on c-span when this issue first arose (around) a year ago and thinking the same thing. It went from one republican stating their outrage that the democrats would block the nominations, then to a democrat stating their outrage that the republicans had done it to clinton, then back to another republican who ignored the opposing argument and just repeated, nearly verbatim, what his previous partisan had said, and then to another democrat who repeated what his previous partisan had said, and so on for nearly 2 hours. I don’t particular have high regard for Jefferson, Hamilton, and that lot, but they actually did approach the opposing argument. It would be nice to see that, for just once, today.

  7. #7 ~DS~
    February 24, 2005

    This is shocking I tell you. Shocking!

  8. #8 Morat
    February 25, 2005

    I disagree. The hypocrisy is in the fact that both parties pretend that only the other party does it and they make the exact same arguments for how unfair it is – but only when the other side does it. That’s the source of the hypocrisy. If Frist actually goes through with it in this case, that would of course be worse. But the fact that the very same arguments were used by Democrats 10 years ago still shows the basic hypocrisy at the core of partisan thinking.

    So, just to get your argument straight: Two Democratic Senators — out of, say, 58 that session of Congress — propose this bill and it has no other Democratic support, and Republicans vigorously oppose it. It dies a quick death, since no one other than it’s two sponsers support it.

    Now, say two Republican senators — out of 55 or so that session — propose it 6 years later. It’s being discussed by the highest levels of Senate leadership, frequently threatened, and opposed by a single Republican — and all the Democrats.

    Those are equivilant?

    Sorry, man. You can make the case that Lieberman is a hypocrite — I’ll even help, because he’s a tool — but to tar all the Senate Democrats (or the party as a whole) requires a hell of a lot more than you’ve got.

    Which is why I suggested the blue slip rule as an excellent example. Orrin Hatch controlled the process for not quite 10 years straight, and it’s instructive to read what Hatch, the Democrats on the Committee, and the Republicans on the Committee had to say about the blue slip rule as it went from two to one to two to none depending on who occupied the White House and controlled the Senate.

    Matthew:It went from one republican stating their outrage that the democrats would block the nominations, then to a democrat stating their outrage that the republicans had done it to clinton, then back to another republican who ignored the opposing argument and just repeated, nearly verbatim, what his previous partisan had said, and then to another democrat who repeated what his previous partisan had said, and so on for nearly 2 hours. I don’t particular have high regard for Jefferson, Hamilton, and that lot, but they actually did approach the opposing argument. It would be nice to see that, for just once, today

    From your example, it appears the Democrats were approaching the opposition. What more did you want?

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    February 25, 2005

    Those are equivilant?

    So far, the Republicans have only talked about it. The Democrats actually put in a bill to do it in 1995. And there was of course Democratic opposition to it, but there is also Republican opposition to changing the rules now. But you’re still missing the much more important point – when Republicans obstruct Democratic nominees to the courts, Democrats howl in outrage at this abominable behavior. When Democrats obstruct Republican nominees to the courts, Republicans howl in outrage at this abominable behavior. It’s the ease with which the two parties just exchange scripts when the tables are turned that highlights the utter hypocrisy of both. If it’s an outrage for Republicans to obstruct Democratic nominees, then it should also be an outrage when Democrats obstruct Republican nominees, and vice versa. But it’s not, of course, and that is the crux of the shared hypocrisy on both sides.

    As far as the Harkin-Lieberman bill was concerned, you are dramatically understating the situation. There were 19 Democratic senators who supported it, and it was even endorsed by the New York Times. Among the Senators who supported the bill were many of the most prominent Democrats in the Senate today, including Barbara Boxer and John Kerry. And that proposal actually went much further than the proposed rule does today, it ended the use of filibusters in all circumstances, not just in the case of nominations. The vote to table the measure was 76-19, with all the Republicans voting against it. Now, of course, a sizable portion of them are for it. In both cases, it is simply a matter of whose ox is being gored at the moment.

  10. #10 Matthew
    February 25, 2005

    From your example, it appears the Democrats were approaching the opposition. What more did you want?

    For both sides to approach the opposition, on every issue, so that there can be actual debate.

  11. #11 Ron Zeno
    February 25, 2005

    A Stanford linguist, George Lakoff (I believe his name is) has recently opined…that Republicans have learned that the art of getting elected is the art of persuasion

    The Republicans have worked for decades on this, and it’s certainly paying off. Newt Gingrich’s word lists is an example of a concerted effort to use simple persuasion techniques. Does anyone have more recent examples that I could add to my References on Propaganda?