On the subject of national politics, I come from the blind loyalty wing of the Democratic Party. When I look at the sort of things Democrats do when they have power compared to the sorts of things Republicans do, it seems clear to me that the Dems do a far better job of running states and countries. I have no patience for people who think that what is needed is a third party, or who think that voting for Ross Perot or Ralph Nader makes then independent and above the fray. Politics is a dirty business under the best conditions, but to the extent that there is any hope that the government will do the right thing in a given circumstance, that (frequently dim) hope lies with the Democratic Party.
But some days that “blind” part really comes in handy.
Since the Democrats took over Congress at the start of this year, they have been criticized for not doing more to end the war. I regard this as unfair. They have razor thin majorities in both houses, and when you consider people like Joe LIeberman, who is nominally a Democrat but who nearly always votes with the Republicans, they have no majority at all. There is little they can do short of completely cutting off all funding for the war, but that would simply be a bad idea on pracitical grounds.
There is more justice in the charge that they caved on FISA. They could have used procedural gimmicks to keep the bill from coming to a vote, and they should probably have done that. But there is a principled argument to be made for the proposition that on a major issue like that the Congress should be allowed to vote, thereby at least getting everyone on record one way or the other (and recall that all but two Republicans voted in favor of the new FISA law, while eighty percent of Democrats rightly voted against it.)
But now we have the Mukasey nomination for Attorney General. And even though he has refused to take a stand on the most important legal and moral issue of the day, the use of torture on terror suspects, we have the spectacle of Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein greenlighting his nomination. They had a real opportunity to do something both simple and significant on an important issue. With a simple no vote they could have said that the torture issue is important, and they will not tolerate the state of affairs in which the nation’s chief law enofrcement official refuses to take a stand on it. But this was asking too much, apparently.
Schumer defends himself in an op-ed today in The New York Times. It’s deeply pathetic. Schumer writes:
We are now on the brink of a reversal. There is virtually universal agreement, even from those who oppose Judge Mukasey, that he would do a good job in turning the department around. My colleagues who oppose his confirmation have gone out of their way to praise his character and qualifications. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, for one, commended Judge Mukasey as “a brilliant lawyer, a distinguished jurist and by all accounts a good man.”
Basing an argument for ignoring the torture issue on the basis of the sort of perfunctory praise heaped upon any nominee for high office is not very convincing. And we can pretty much dismiss out of hand the thought that he is likely to restore the Justice Department to its former stature. The sort of person who would do that simply isn’t the sort of person President Bush appoints to such posts.
Schumer also writes:
Should we reject Judge Mukasey, President Bush has said he would install an acting, caretaker attorney general who could serve for the rest of his term without the advice and consent of the Senate. To accept such an unaccountable attorney general, I believe, would be to surrender the department to the extreme ideology of Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington. All the work we did to pressure Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign would be undone in a moment.
Right. So rather than accept an AG installed without the consent of the Senate, we should have the Senate simply rubber stamp whomever the President sends up. That’s a big improvement. And at least if Bush made a recess appointment everyone could see the desperate lengths to which he was forced to go to put one of ideological confreres into power. You wouldn’t have the Congress endorsing the idea that torture is not an issue worht taking a stand on.
And the sheer grovelling here is simply not to be believed! We can’t take a principled stand on this very important issue because if we do the President will simply work wround us? Ugh!
It’s very annoying. I think Schumer and Feinstein really believe what they are saying here. Surely the politically expedient thing would have been to vote no. Surely that is what large majorities of New York and California voters would have wanted. Instead while they are wringing their hands over finding a reasonable administrator for the DoJ, the President continues to run amok, claiming ever more power in the face of a Congress that seems completely unwilling to do anything at all to stop him.