Another Democratic Cave

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.


  1. #1 Bert Chadick
    November 6, 2007

    Owing to the leadership of the Democratic Party in both houses nothing is going anywhere. Pelosi and Reed are classic minority leaders thrust into majority leadership, and they aren’t equipped for the job. The whole “please don’t hit me, sir.” ideology has got to go. Dare I say, we need our Newt. We need a list of reforms that the House and Senate candidates can run on. End the war. Balance the budget on the backs of the super rich. Create new employment and industries. Health care for all. Restore America’s moral leadership by prosecuting torturers and mercenary murders. No more picking unnecessary fights. Restoration of national service for all.

    It’s going to take a revolt among the Democrats to replace their leadership, and get back on track. Otherwise we’ll get another decade of closely divided government that may well be ruled by Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats.

  2. #2 Tyler DiPietro
    November 6, 2007

    I think the real disappointment comes from the fact that the Democrats are unwilling to go for the throat in true opposition party fashion. From a tactical standpoint, I’d like to see the Democrats mimic the Republicans after the 1994 landslide. They did pretty much everything in their power to obstruct Clinton, and this even some good peripheral effects (e.g., when Clinton wanted PATRIOT-esque surveillance powers).

    Sometimes the line between principles and spinelessness is blurred beyond recognition. Like you say, politics is a dirty business, and the Dems need to learn how to operate it.

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    November 6, 2007

    We need a Democratic Contract with America, and instead we get this “please don’t hit me, sir” ideology (nice turn of phrase, that).

  4. #4 Sven DiMilo
    November 6, 2007

    “Quick, Robin! To the Democratic cave!”

  5. #5 Craig
    November 6, 2007

    If the Democrats could be cold and heartless like this they wouldn’t be Democrats. They’d be Republicans.

  6. #6 Chris Bell
    November 6, 2007

    The ‘please don’t hit me’ phrase comes from one of the best parts of The West Wing (season 3, I believe) although Sorkin may have gotten it from somewhere else.

    But please don’t say that we need our Newt. Uggh. Newt is (a lot of) what is wrong with America.

  7. #7 Valhar2000
    November 7, 2007

    Actually, Chris, the right sort of psychopath would probably be the best political leader (even if they were totally repugnant as a person).

  8. #8 Tom
    November 7, 2007

    Democrat vs. Republican = as much of a choice as Coke vs. Pepsi! The democrats need to be punished for doing such an awful job of opposition. You need to send the message that until they become more radical then they can’t rely on the votes of ‘natural’ democrat supporters.

  9. #9 Ginger Yellow
    November 7, 2007

    What I don’t get is why the Dems, particularly Feinstein and Schumer, don’t get that if they nominate Mukasey without demanding a clear answer on torture they’re making themselves complicit in it. They are surrendering to the extreme ideology of Cheney and Addington by allowing a nominee to the highest law enforcement position in the country to refuse to say whether or not the executive branch broke the law. That’s insane.

  10. #10 bmkmd
    November 7, 2007

    An interesting Liberal point of view on the Electoral college, third party influence and the equality of Democratic and Republican ineptitude can be found at Lawrence Velvel’s blog site. He’s the dean of a law college in Massachusetts.

  11. #11 Pierce R. Butler
    November 7, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse: There is little they can do short of completely cutting off all funding for the war…

    Boy, you really don’t give much attention to politics, do ya?

    Even in terms of the war, there are many more viable options being neglected by Congress, including intensive investigations into the waste, incompetence and corruption already well documented; rejecting all the other nominations than Mukasey they’ve already surrendered to; putting strict conditions on war funding, as was done with Clinton’s ex-Yugoslavia adventure; initiatives such as the Webb amendment, which if passed would have limited troop deployments to 12 months out of each 24; and generally standing up on their hind legs and speaking out against torture, criminality and lies.

    One or two Democrats have made a few feeble efforts in such directions, but the net effect has been on a par with a butterfly pushing against a tank.

    As for the Dems’ supposedly razor-thin majority, never forget that Lieberman probably would have lost his seat, as the Democrat voters in Connecticut’s primary clearly preferred, if not for unstinting support from Hillary Clinton and other top-level Democratic insiders.

    The same situation applies in the House, where DCCC chair Rahm Emmanuel has repeatedly gone out of his way to recruit and promote pro-war, pro-megacorporation candidates against progressive, genuine grassroots citizens who actually spoke out against the Bush-Cheney agenda.

    It should go without saying that if the unspeakable Speaker of the House had followed through on her clearly defined Constitutional duty in the presence of blatant high crimes and misdemeanors, rather than becoming an accomplice in their perpetration and protection, the future of this once-great country would not look one-quarter so dismal as it does now.

    By your logic above, we should support the politics of James Dobson because he’s not quite as deranged as Pat Robertson. Guess what: the problem is systemic, not just a matter of bringing in difference faces.

    Accepting the continually declining standard of “not quite as bad as the Republicans” is exactly what has allowed the Democratic Party to deteriorate to its present venality, weakness and complicity with the Republicans. My opinion is that the party is beyond salvage; many of my friends think that it can be rescued – but nobody I respect thinks supporting it in its present course can do anything positive at all.

    Get yourself some political eye surgery, Prof. Rosenhouse – America needs its citizens to be at their best!

  12. #12 Kevin
    November 7, 2007


    I agree with much of what you say, but MANY democrats are really trying to stop the war and hold the regime accountable. AND ONLY democrats even care about that.

    you say “Accepting the continually declining standard of ‘”not quite as bad as the Republicans’ is..” but Jason never said that. He said and I agree that “When I look at the sort of things Democrats do when they have power compared to the sorts of things Republicans” the dems get the nod every time. EVERY time. not that they actually succeed or something but they are trying. NOT HARD ENOUGH

    “By your logic above, we should support the politics of James Dobson because he’s not quite as deranged as Pat Robertson.” Hmmm maybe you should study math so you can brush up on “logic”

    Schummer was always a media hogging fixer and now he’s fixed himself good. that was a horrible vote. Feinstein has consistently voted against my interests and those of the dems and rather more for big war/defense and monied interests.

    Some history:

    “Associated Press Wednesday, July 5, 2006; Page A02
    ALBANY, N.Y., July 4 — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), a longtime supporter of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, said Tuesday that she will not back the Connecticut Democrat’s bid for reelection if he loses their party’s primary.

    “I’ve known Joe Lieberman for more than 30 years. I have been pleased to support him in his campaign for reelection, and hope that he is our party’s nominee,” the former first lady said in a statement issued by aides.

    “But I want to be clear that I will support the nominee chosen by Connecticut Democrats in their primary,” Clinton added. “I believe in the Democratic Party, and I believe we must honor the decisions made by Democratic primary voters.”

    and after the primary:

    A spokeswoman for Mrs. Clinton restated the senator’s announced intention to support the party’s nominee in Connecticut

  13. #13 Pierce R. Butler
    November 8, 2007

    Kevin –

    Good call on my Clinton/Lieberman error: both Clintons had supported Holy Joe during the CT senatorial primary race, but it seems it was Schumer who stuck with him afterwards (though Clinton’s Lamont support – gee, $2,500!) was typically tepid).

    MANY democrats are really trying to stop the war and hold the regime accountable.

    Most of those “many” are citizens, not office-holders. Among the office-holders, even fewer hold the key levers. Just why do you think Pelosi & even Conyers turned anti-impeachment this year?

    AND ONLY democrats even care about that.

    Ron Paul is not a Democrat. Hagel showed some signs of caring, but not enough to stay and try doing anything about it.

    I stand by my critique of “Dems aren’t so bad as Repubs” as an ever-shrinking yardstick. Absolute measures in politics are rare, but setting one’s standards relative to a steadily sinking benchmark does lead straight into the mud. I only wish I had the math skills to express that in a formula pretty enough to draw our host’s attention.

    When the Dems held power, they (hypothetically) could have enacted serious campaign finance reform, mandated fair & independent redistricting, and otherwise cleaned up the political process – but they were too greedy for short-term advantages even when they knew which way the Big Money winds blew. This time, all their “reforms” have done is re-direct a little lunch money, while the big bribes continue to flow (yes, we’re back to Clinton again).

    Even with a change in both houses of Congress, not one of the three governmental branches is responding to the majority of the citizens regarding impeachment, the war on Iraq, the pending war on Iran, torture and the loss of basic rights, health care, the financial crisis, unemployment, homelessness & hunger, etc, etc. The system is obviously broken; so is the Democratic Party (at least as a part of democracy – as a self-feeding entity, it’s doing all too well).

    Please note: this is not a covert pitch for any of the “third” parties, none of which strike me as presenting a viable remedy. It’s just a call for recognizing the size and shape of the trouble we’re in, the sine qua non of realism.

  14. #14 Kevin
    November 8, 2007

    A pox on both their houses!

    I would agree with the repthugs if they weren’t a bunch of lying, thieving, earth-destroying imbiciel closet perverts.

    I like all the positions the dems take, and then I cry to see them hem and haw and backtrack and bend over.

    can no one stand up and lead? say what you will about Hitler, I mean Hillary, at least she is talking about doing this and doing that. I think she is working on ideas more detailed than “class warfare” or “we need god to reconcille us to rule” or whatever obama is selling.

  15. #15 Pierce R. Butler
    November 8, 2007


    As for Ms Clinton, she has a track record of talking good and doing bad. Lately, she’s been slacking off on the first part of that.

    Of all the Democratic candidates, she’s the most Republican.

  16. #16 tuba büyüküstün
    November 16, 2008

    thansk you

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