Dispatches from the Creation Wars

How Not to Tell a Lie

This is just perfect, Bill Frist babbling on the floor of the Senate yesterday trying to explain why 5 years ago he was voting to sustain a filibuster against Richard Paez, a Clinton judicial nominee, when today he keeps claiming that it’s unprecedented, unconstitutional and obstructionist to do the very same thing:

SEN. SCHUMER: Isn’t it correct that on March 8, 2000, my colleague [Sen. Frist] voted to uphold the filibuster of Judge Richard Paez?

SEN. FRIST: The president, the um, in response, uh, the Paez nomination – we’ll come back and discuss this further. … Actually I’d like to, and it really brings to what I believe – a point – and it really brings to, oddly, a point, what is the issue. The issue is we have leadership-led partisan filibusters that have, um, obstructed, not one nominee, but two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, in a routine way…

The issue is not cloture votes per se, it’s the partisan, leadership-led use of cloture votes to kill – to defeat – to assassinate these nominees. That’s the difference. Cloture has been used in the past on this floor to postpone, to get more info, to ask further questions.

Someone needs to remind him that the Paez nomination had been waiting for a vote for 4 years at the time, so his excuse is nonsense. And that if something is unconstitutional, as he claims, then it’s unconstitutional to do once, not just multiple times. I’d love to hear the opposite too. I’d love to hear Sen. Lieberman babble as he tries to explain why 10 years ago he said:


“I know that some of our colleagues will oppose the alteration, the amendment, that Senator Harkin and I are proposing on the grounds that the filibuster is a very special prerogative that is necessary to protect the rights of a minority. But in doing so, and I say this respectfully, I believe they are not being true to the intention of the Framers of the Constitution, which is that the Congress was the institution in which the majority was to rule, not to be effectively tyrannized by a minority.”

Senators Kerry, Kennedy, Boxer, Feingold and 15 others voted to end all filibusters in the Senate, not just for judicial nominees, in 1995. And every single current Republican voted against it. But they’ve exchanged scripts now, reading the same words they feigned such outrage at a few years ago. And the followers of both parties lap it up without question, their short memories and partisanship-addled brains shrugging off the cognitive dissonance.

Mr. Mencken, where are you now? Never have your words been truer: “The two parties spend most of their time and effort attempting to convince us that the other is corrupt and unfit to lead, and each succeeds admirably at this task.”

Comments

  1. #1 Jay
    May 19, 2005

    The hypocrisy runs amok in Washington, and this is a perfect illustration. Thankfully, at least Barbara Boxer has said that she was plain wrong in her previous attempt to eliminate the filibuster (she said she had misguided notions about trying to make the senate like the House), and is not stumbling in an attempt to draw distinctions between what she once called for and is now denouncing. (Except, that Harkin proposition was a proposition to change the rules with the normal 67 votes, not a ‘nuclear option’ type situation. I think that’s a reasonable distinction.)

    Alas, the fact that the Dems would have sung a different tune if they were in power doesn’t take away from the validity of this particular argument (though it really doesn’t help).

    And about their argument, and other rhetorical skills: OK, so they’ve mounted a good argument for why the filibuster should be kept around, but this is like shutting the barn door after the horse gets out. The real issue they need to be addressing is the growing popularity of so-called “orginalism” and “strict interpretation.” Rather than attack the intellectual inconsistency of those who call themselves ‘Orginalists’ and explain the dangers this philosophy presents to the welfare of our nation, Democrats are just recycling the same over-simplified rhetoric of the Republicans. Bill Frist will say he wants judges the interpret law, not make law, and condemn activist judges. Then Harry Reid will say, no, WE want judges that judges the interpret the law, not make law, and condemn activist judges. These are terribly unhelpful terms–they have no defined boundaries.

    This is a lot to ask of a politician, but where the hell is the nuanced argument? When politicians volley the same hollow rhetoric people don’t know who to believe and revert to their party identification.

    People are confused, and a lot are frustrated, because they don’t know why judges should decide issues of gay rights, or abortion, or school prayer, or “Under God.” People don’t know why they can’t put minority rights up to a popular vote. They think everything should be subject to an up-or-down vote!

    That is the sentiment to which the Repubs are appealing, and the Democrats could easily dismantle their arguments. Instead, they criticize the judicial nominees, rather than detailing the specific dangers of the philosophies they represent.

    I think there’s a proposal floating around about asking each state to assemble a team of legal scholars and lawyers to create pools of lawyers from which the President could choose. I think that’s a great idea, though I’m not sure how easily it can be implemented nationwide. But it should take some of the partisanship out of this process, and eliminate extreme judges.

  2. #2 Dave S.
    May 20, 2005

    And then there’s Rick Santorum bringing out the ‘Hitler Defense’ yesterday –

    “It’s the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying: ‘I’m in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It’s mine.”

    What a freaking hypocrite.

    It’s always a sure sign your position is vacuous and you have no response when you haul out the corpse of Hitler. Apparently, he’s just recently criticised another senator for doing the exact same thing.

    He’s claiming he only used to to dramatize their position. Funny thing that nobody hardly ever uses Hitler references to dramatize their own position.

  3. #3 CPT_Doom
    May 20, 2005

    What irks me the most about this whole current debate is not specifically ending the filibuster for nominees, but rather the means the GOP is using to get to that place. Rather than follow the established Senate procedure of 67 votes to change rules, they are trying a parliamentary end-run around the established Senate system.

  4. #4 GeneralZod
    May 20, 2005

    Just out of curiousity, how many moderate judges did Clinton nominate? how many far left ones did he nominate? How many of Clinton’s nominees were blocked by the GOP thru committees and other non-fillibuster means? I am genuinely curious as I have no idea. Could someone point me to a good source for this info? Or just tell me.
    Thanks

  5. #5 plemeljr
    May 20, 2005

    The difference between now and then, was that the Democrats tried to end Filibusters according to the Senate Rules, instead of breaking Senate Rules like Frist et al are attempting to do. That is a big difference. Yes, yes, there has been change in who supports Filibusters, but that isn’t the point. The point is that there is already is a “Constitutional Option” to change Senate Rules: you need 67 votes at the beginning of the legislative session, and Frist obviously doesn’t have that. That is what makes what Frist plans to do Nuclear.

    Personally, I am ambivalent to the Filibuster, but I lean toward keeping it in order to slow down debate, make the Senate a deliberative body, and to force compromise. That, and I think legislation has an already too easy way to pass Congress as it is in the age of Bushism, let’s slow it down some.

    Eliminating the Filibuster is just a proxy battle in the Executive’s quest to consolidate power. See the VP’s Energy Task Force, the “K Street Project” by Santorum and Delay, and the Bolton nomination.