Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Partisan Stupidity and Hypocrisy

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.


  1. #1 Jay Davies
    April 27, 2005

    What’s irritating is to hear the Democratic senators make broad claims about the historical use of the filibuster, and not cover their asses by explaining the nuances of these examples. This is irritating when the republicans do it too, but more so from the Left because I believe they’re generally right on this issue. When they omit certain details it just gives fodder to the Republicans so they can appear to poke legitimate holes in their arguments. A good rhetorician acknowledges the counter-claims of their opposition and addresses them pre-emptively.

    The filibuster needs to be kept around, but it certainly needs to be employed judiciously. I’m sure a number of these nominees don’t deserve to be on the court, but if we filibuster too many of them it weakens the filibuster’s importance. It should be a last resort measure.

    The big problem here, however, is not that the filibuster is being employed by Democrats, it’s that the Republicans have the audacity to nominate judges which are this controversial. If judges got blocked in Bush’s first term–GIVE UP! Regardless of Bush’s post-election speech, there have been no efforts to “reach across the aisle.” And the majority party is certainly the one who needs to do that. The minority can only be expected to hold its ground.

    Lastly, doesn’t it only take 60 votes to end a filibuster? If the Repubs can’t get four Democrats to support a judge–and there are some conservative Democrats *cough* Lieberman–then they should know that they’ve crossed the line with that particular nomination.

  2. #2 spyder
    April 27, 2005

    If one of those Hollywood liberals had any gumption, he/she would take out “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” re-edit it, by cutting out the filibuster scene suggesting that this is how the movie would play under the proposal, and show Jimmy Stewart collapsing in total mindnumbing defeat; then out to the people who suffer egregiously.

    There is something ludicrous about the desperation some are demonstrating in the support of these few people up for Appeals Court roles. Of the ten, six are held by their own peers as being incompetent at best. The GOP is acting like a fraternity being run by a pack of bullies who are putting their members through a little hazing ritual to see who is loyal and who needs to be beaten. ‘”You will confirm these idiots, or else!!”

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2005

    I don’t doubt for a moment that some of the judges are being blocked not because they’re too extreme in their views but just because of politics. There is credible evidence that my own Democratic senators from Michigan, Levin and Stabenow, have been blocking two judges strictly as payback for judges blocked a few years ago. And the Republicans have done the same thing. For crying out loud, Jesse Helms used to block any judge in his home judicial district that was black. This is politics, folks, full of petty bullshit. It’s the howls of self-righteous outrage at the other side that sound so ridiculous.

  4. #4 Grumpy
    April 27, 2005

    The all-around hypocrisy is very discouraging, even for someone already cynical about politics. But the Democrats in this case can claim to be at least a lighter tint, if not virgin pure. See, Harkin & Lieberman sponsored a *bill* to change filibuster rules. They didn’t seek to rule filibusters out of order with a simple procedural vote.

    I have to get myself worked up about the tactics being used, because there’s no use feeling strongly about the root issue, given how mutable one’s opinions can be (especially if one is a US Senator).

  5. #5 eon
    April 27, 2005

    To me, the most depressing facet of the current state of American politics as you’ve described it is that the electorate is so jaded over — even tolerant of — the nonsense that goes on endlessly in full public view. That any pundit or caller to an AM radio talk show would defend a megomaniacal bonehead like Tom Delay, just because he’s on “my side” of the polemic, is just beyond my ability to comprehend. The far left’s tendencies in that regard are, for the record, equally vapid and ridiculous.

    The fact that the Democrats couldn’t field a candidate that could beat one of the shining examples of incompetence in the history of the American presidency is depressing enough. The more salient point, though, is that the American voter is ultimately to blame for all of it. A friend of mine is fond of saying that, in our profession as Family Court attorneys, we have “front row seats to the decline of Western Civilization.” While I cannot but conclude that he’s right about that, I think the context in which he expresses that sentiment is entirely too narrow. What we all see daily at the level of national government is the systematic marginalization of rational, thoughful dialogue on every subject imaginable. It’s not enough for the public at-large to put hypocrites and demagogues into office: we do everything possible to keep them there once their absurdities are laid out on the table.

    The only thing in nature more remarkable than the intellectual capacity of human beings is their ability eschew the gift. What we have in modern American politics is a broad movement to create a parody of a civilization, one that debases every aspiration of the Enlightenment and “the American experiment.” Cynicism has become the only reasonable point of view, and that aggravates me to no end.

    End of rant.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2005

    To me, the most depressing facet of the current state of American politics as you’ve described it is that the electorate is so jaded over — even tolerant of — the nonsense that goes on endlessly in full public view.

    That’s not the worst part of it for me. I expect politicians to be hypocritical and self-serving and dishonest. It’s that such a huge portion of the electorate is easily manipulated by them – that’s the real problem. Politicians are like salesmen, using any tactic to win. If such dishonesty didn’t work, they wouldn’t use it. But in fact it does work, and the fault lies with the electorate, not with the politicians.

  7. #7 eon
    April 27, 2005

    I thought that was what I was saying, after a fashion.

  8. #8 Andrew Reeves
    April 27, 2005

    I also like when those at the extreme ends of left and right share essentially the same script. My favorite is:

    [Bill Clinton/George Bush] is a [Communist/Nazi] whose illegal war in [Kosovo/Iraq] is part of a sinister plot to make himself dictator!

  9. #9 Treban
    April 27, 2005

    Some more examples of Repug fillibusters of judicial nominees.


    I wish it was in fact true that if you just repeat something enough times and with increasing indignation it willjust magicaly come true.

  10. #10 Ginger Yellow
    April 28, 2005

    If you like your humour dark, Italian fascism was quite amusing in the contrast between its grandiose ambitions and pageantry and its actual accomplishments.

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