The great charm of democracy, HL Mencken famously wrote, is that it’s the only truly amusing form of government ever invented. That amusement grows exponentially when one isn’t a political partisan. Folks like me who think that the two major parties are, for all practical purposes, equally corrupt and incompetent can find endless amusement in watching the party faithful routinely flip positions on issues and become outraged at behavior they themselves exhibited not long ago. It’s a show of the first caliber.
When Hillary Clinton’s fundraiser is indicted, the Democrats respond with admirable rationality, reminding us that the man is innocent until proven guilty and that even if he is guilty, it doesn’t prove that she had any knowledge of his wrongdoing. And don’t forget, there’s a vast right-wing conspiracy against the Clintons and Ken Starr is probably behind the whole thing anyway. Republicans, on the other hand, crow with delight at the fix she finds herself in and they wonder aloud how on earth those “libs” could follow such an obviously corrupt person. Now flip it around…Tom DeLay is now accused of campaign finance irregularities, including having trips paid for by lobbyists, a violation of House ethics rules. And now it is Republicans who are the voice of reason and sobriety, reminding us that these are merely accusations at this point, not proven in a court of law, and shame on those Democrats for leaping to conclusions! Besides, the good Congressman says he’s innocent and it’s all part of an evil liberal conspiracy to bring him down because he’s so successful at foiling their infernal plans. And the Democrats, naturally, think it’s quite telling that those “neo-cons” would follow a morally bankrupt man like DeLay. One has to wonder if they actually meet somewhere in the middle to exchange scripts.
The current brouhaha over filibusters is another textbook example. The Republicans are shocked – shocked! – that the Democrats would play political games with judicial nominees. It’s a travesty, a mockery of our Constitutional system, and they will not rest until this hideous distortion of all that is good and decent has been ended once and for all. The sacred principle of an up and down vote for each and every nominee shall be preserved, as God is their witness. And the Democrats are beside themselves with outrage that those small-minded Republicans would dare to tamper with 200 years of Senate tradition solely to insure the success of their political agenday. How dare you, gentlemen? How dare you? Uh huh. But let’s set the wayback machine for the mid 1990s and what do we find?
Well, we find Republicans using nasty procedural rules to prevent over 60 Clinton judicial nominees from even getting a hearing on their nominations, much less a floor vote. We find them attempting to filibuster numerous judges and giving the same righteous speeches now being given by Democrats. Congressman Bob Smith thundered on the floor of the house:
“Don’t pontificate on the floor of the Senate and tell me that somehow I am violating the Constitution of the United States of America by blocking a judge or filibustering a judge that I don’t think deserves to be on the circuit court … . That is my responsibility. That is my advice and consent role, and I intend to exercise it.”
Gee, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It sounds exactly like what the Democrats are saying today. And George Mitchell, the former Senate Majority Leader who has been trotted out to defend the filibuster today was calling for limits on them in 1994. And Tom Harkin and Joe Lieberman were putting in a bill in 1995 to limit filibusters. But you see, they were in the majority then. Again, they must just meet in the middle and exchange scripts, making the same impassioned appeals to principle that they were feigning such outrage against a few years ago. How could this not be funny?
There are larger party-wide examples as well. And so we get the spectacle of George Bush, hailed by “conservatives”, pushing through the largest new entitlement program in 40 years, putting tariffs on steel, passing a huge increase in Federal control of education, and signing the campaign finance reform bill that he once claimed was unconstitutional. And if you point out those things, the pedestrian right will laugh and dismiss you as a “lib”. And that was just on the heels of the allegedly ultra-liberal Bill Clinton, the man who signed GATT and NAFTA, deregulation of the financial industry and welfare reform. Flip flop, flip flop. And the punchline to the whole thing is how the partisans on both sides just keep using the same stupid rhetoric while defending an entirely opposite agenda.
Myself, I go back and forth. I do find it endlessly amusing, of course. On the other hand, these morons actually run this country. And that’s pretty damn depressing.