Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Phil E. Buster recuperates after Terri Schiavo's death

Since King George began his second term, the Republicans have prepared a number of diversions for the Democrats, the media and the public. Foremost has been their Social Security initiative, the purpose of which I've written about before. Then there was the threat of baseball players bulked up and hopped up on steroids, to be followed by the Terri Schiavo constitutional crisis, which was only put to rest by the awe-inspiring death of the Pope.

I wish I could write "When the smoke and mirrors had cleared ...," but I can't. You see, the smoke and mirrors really never clear. And if there is a role in our political life for bloggers, it is this: to grope about in this blazing funhouse to identify the real actors, the real issues, the real bodies, the real exits. Perhaps that's what we mean by "reality-based."

Of all their diversions I have been able to take only one seriously—the threat to end the Senate filibuster for judicial nominations. While I marveled at the short-sightedness of the proponents of this change in Senate rules, I also realized that such myopic vision has guided our path for some time now so that any thought that the Republicans would not be so foolish is clearly contradicted by the foolishness that they have already evidenced.

Lately, however, I've had the sense that the threat is largely foreclosed. One very big reason for this is—Terri Schiavo. Almost no one seems to have noticed the relationship between Schiavo and the filibuster, but that relationship not only exists, it seems to me to be a very strong one indeed.

Perhaps one reason that the link has been ignored is its absence in the now-famous Mel Martinez Schiavo memo, which so many pundits took so seriously. This very poorly worded document is really quite narrow, and the ABC News copy of it is larded with sics. These were not the thoughts of the Republican leadership but of a toadying cheerleader.

I do not for a moment believe the Republicans did all their grandstanding merely to "excite the pro-life base," as the Schiavo memo suggests. Rather, the Schiavo case looked to them to be the ideal vehicle for their assault on the federal judiciary. This was the real exploitation of Terri Schiavo. And, of course, one of the essential ingredients of that assault is the ending of the filibuster rule.

If they had indeed been able to generate popular support for their interference in the court system, many of the Democrats would have folded, and I would not be writing this post. In fact, if the popular support had emerged as they anticipated, it might not have been necessary to end the filibuster rule, since they would likely have found some Democratic defectors to support even the most odious candidates for federal judgeships. But in any case, if the filibuster rule had to be ended, the Schiavo case was to be the green light.

Happily for the republic the ploy failed, and in failing did not merely leave the evangelical Republicans where they were but put them on the defensive. The Schiavo case finally hit people with the fact that what the Republicans were trying to do to the judiciary might have an impact on their lives. And they didn't like it.

Of course, the assault on the judiciary has continued in the speeches, in the conferences, but that really is for the benefit of the religious-right base. The real threat—a cave-in by frightened Democrats and the few moderate Republicans—has been allayed, and the issue has now become just one more twist and turn in the smoke-filled funhouse into which Tom Delay and his minions hope to escape.

All this coalesced as I was reading an AP story that appeared this morning: "Two Groups Break Ranks on Changing Filibuster Rules Over Blocked Judges."

According to Jesse J. Holland,

Two groups normally allied with Republicans have bolted from the party's effort to ban judicial filibusters -- the first major defections from a conservative push to prevent Senate Democrats from blocking President Bush's judicial nominees.

The National Right to Work Committee, a 2.2 million-member group critical of unions, and the Gun Owners of America, with 300,000 members, say they fear eliminating judicial filibusters could eventually lead to doing away with filibusters altogether.

Both groups have benefited in the past from use of the Senate parliamentary tactic to block gun control and labor bills. A filibuster technically is unlimited debate, and requires 60 votes from the 100-member Senate to stop.

... National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix said in a letter last month to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., that the filibuster "has been and remains a vital safety net" for his group.

"If a bare majority of senators vote now to eliminate judicial filibusters, legislative filibusters will not stand for long," Mix predicted. "We would be extremely foolhardy to stand by while anyone, regardless of how good their intentions, proceeds to tear holes in it."

I think you will agree that the wording here is quite strong. It's also worth noting that the letter has been made available to the public—which means they mean business.

Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, said filibusters like the one performed by Jimmy Stewart in the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" are worth protecting. "We think it's kind of nice to have these traditions that have protected good guys and bad guys," he said in an interview.

Here we have the executive director of Gun Owners of America referring to an ad put out by People for the American Way. You have to love it.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., said on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday that Republicans need to consider the repercussions.

"You want to think down the road," Dole warned. "The Senate's going to change. It's not always going to be Republican. It changes back and forth. History shows that."

And one far-sighted Republican.1

The writer identifies the effort to end the filibuster as a "conservative push." This is very loose language. Libertarian-style conservatives do not appear to be making any such effort. It is the religious right, in league with the Neocons, who are behind all this.

The religious right needs to remake the courts in order to establish "dominion" here at home. The Neocons need to remake the courts in order (1) to eliminate one of the few risks2 to their imperialist endeavors, and should those endeavors fail anyway, (2) to stay out of jail.

Holland's article hints at this, if you ignore his use of the word "conservative" and look at the organizations involved—

Most conservative and Republican organizations, however, have rallied around Frist's threat to ban judicial filibusters, especially with a possible Supreme Court vacancy on the horizon. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, is fighting thyroid cancer.

"End the judicial filibusters at the earliest possible moment and well before a Supreme Court vacancy should occur," was the message in a Tuesday letter to GOP senators from the American Conservative Union, American Values, Americans for Tax Reform, Free Congress Foundation, Focus on the Family, Eagle Forum and the Family Research Council.

These are overwhelmingly organizations of the "culture warriors" of the religious right. Aside from lining their own pockets, most of these culture warriors are not interested in the principles of capitalism. Against them we have the National Right to Work Committee, which is very much a part of the capitalist vanguard, and the Gun Owners of America, which shows a strong libertarian streak.

The Republican coalition has held together longer than I had expected and certainly longer than I had hoped, but what we are seeing here is a major fissure brought about by two conjoined wedge issues—the treatment of Terri Schiavo and the ending of the filibuster.

Meanwhile, the problem for the Democrats and progressive organizations is that the Republican diversions easily cause them to spend a great deal of time and money fighting unreal threats (privatization of Social Security, for example) while the real threats to their constituencies go unchallenged. However real the threat to the filibuster may have been, it is certainly now abated. Let the Republicans fight among themselves on this one.

Follow-up post
A stealth attack on the courts, with an allusion to Schiavo (4/14/05)
Will the Republicans "go nuclear"? (updated) (4/22/05)

Related posts
Right-wing takeover of the judiciary in the fall? (9/3/04)
Is the Republican volcano about to erupt? (10/22/04)
Another Bush attacks the courts (3/17/05)
The smell of fear (3/25/05)


1 It may be argued that the Republicans are not being short-sighted, as I suggested earlier, so much as being over-confident. Karl Rove envisions an enduring Republican majority that has overtones of the thousand-year reich. (See "Bad idea of the century.") And the Christian Right imagines an enduring dominion until the Rapture. In either case they would not be needing the filibuster. [back]

2 The risk to the Neocons is in the federal courts' powers to command discovery. This can be circumvented if the Congress restricts the range of cases they are allowed to consider or if like-minded justices can be sprinkled about who will impose these restrictions upon themselves. [back]

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