Steals and deals

There is a surprising amount of ambivalence among the pundits about the last—minute deal fashioned by 14 Senators yesterday to avoid a decisive end to the conflict over the filibustering of judicial appointees. Almost all are certain that their side didn't win, though some on both the left  and the right  take comfort in the fact that their antagonists on the other side are unhappy. Cold comfort, but better than abject loss. Still, there is an undeniable sense among conservative enthusiasts that an impending triumph has been stolen, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Today will be a high point in the annals of media cliché—slinging. Bromides about politics as the "art of the compromise" are even now being dragged out of dusty closets and prepared for triumphant re—entry into the national discourse.  The backroom where the negotiations took place, smoke—free for the past couple of decades, will be praised as an example of  the pragmatic genius of those who put the national interest (in avoiding conflict) above party.

The Senate, steeped in self—regard, will once again be touted as an example to us all in wisdom, in contrast to the People's House, where issues are openly and vigorously confronted. Nevertheless, it is only a matter of time until the hoariest and phoniest cliché of all is employed, that of the Senate being the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. That would be 'deliberation' in the sense of behind—the—scenes deal—cutting.

There are three immediate winners: Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor, whose nominations will be allowed an up or down vote by the Democrats. All three are potential nominees for a Supreme Court vacancy, so their prospective confirmation to an appeals court seat carries some political weight. On the other hand, the GOP has spent a lot of energy focusing on their eminent qualifications, and continued obstructionism could have made the Democrats look silly, mean, anti—black, anti—woman, and anti—Catholic, had a filibuster been attempted.

Of course, the Fat Lady hasn't even begun to warm up her voice, much less sing. Democrats retain the option of filibustering any nomination they consider to be an 'extraordinary circumstance' — a category which they have already demonstrated they believe to encompass the nomination of any mainstream conservative to the federal judiciary. The pending nominations of Henry Saad and William Myers to appellate bench, far less familiar names may soon raise the filibuster and rules change options once again.

So, other than giving a free pass to three appealing nominees for the appeals court, what has been accomplished? Quite simply a power play.

Majority Leader Bill Frist has lost power, because it has been publicly demonstrated that 7 of his 55 votes will not follow him when the stakes are very high indeed. His counterpart Harry Reid, in contrast, has managed to salvage plausible deniability for his defeat on the matter of the three nominations about to sail through confirmation, and avoid a catastrophic loss of the threat of the filibuster option today. Reid has averted a loss of power, while Frist has lost power.

But the biggest winners of all, for today at least, are Robert Byrd and John McCain, who have gained leverage and further praise in the press. Byrd, the master of the Senate mutual back—scratching deal, has avoided becoming an embarrassing spectacle as he reprised his filibuster role from the 1960s Civil Rights Act drama, a compelling portrait of an anti—black, ex—KKK Kleagle. Unlike the original, the Twenty—first Century remake would have been televised on C—SPAN II in glorious color, making far greater the damage to the Democrats' hold on the essential lock on the black vote.

As for John McCain, once again he is in a position to make himself seen and heard, and to demand whatever he wants from the Senate Republicans and even from President Bush. He now holds hostage GOP solidarity on future judicial nomination filibusters, so they had better pay attention to his wants and needs. He and his Merry Band can defeat a rules change.

The mystery is what he will demand and get in return. He long ago lost any hold on the hearts of the conservative voting base, but he has renewed his claim on the voters in the middle of the political spectrum, Republicans, Democrats, and independents. For a man who loves the spotlight, praise from the media, and the ability to bend the powerful to his will on selected occasions, it is a very nice victory indeed. For the moment.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.

There is a surprising amount of ambivalence among the pundits about the last—minute deal fashioned by 14 Senators yesterday to avoid a decisive end to the conflict over the filibustering of judicial appointees. Almost all are certain that their side didn't win, though some on both the left  and the right  take comfort in the fact that their antagonists on the other side are unhappy. Cold comfort, but better than abject loss. Still, there is an undeniable sense among conservative enthusiasts that an impending triumph has been stolen, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Today will be a high point in the annals of media cliché—slinging. Bromides about politics as the "art of the compromise" are even now being dragged out of dusty closets and prepared for triumphant re—entry into the national discourse.  The backroom where the negotiations took place, smoke—free for the past couple of decades, will be praised as an example of  the pragmatic genius of those who put the national interest (in avoiding conflict) above party.

The Senate, steeped in self—regard, will once again be touted as an example to us all in wisdom, in contrast to the People's House, where issues are openly and vigorously confronted. Nevertheless, it is only a matter of time until the hoariest and phoniest cliché of all is employed, that of the Senate being the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. That would be 'deliberation' in the sense of behind—the—scenes deal—cutting.

There are three immediate winners: Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor, whose nominations will be allowed an up or down vote by the Democrats. All three are potential nominees for a Supreme Court vacancy, so their prospective confirmation to an appeals court seat carries some political weight. On the other hand, the GOP has spent a lot of energy focusing on their eminent qualifications, and continued obstructionism could have made the Democrats look silly, mean, anti—black, anti—woman, and anti—Catholic, had a filibuster been attempted.

Of course, the Fat Lady hasn't even begun to warm up her voice, much less sing. Democrats retain the option of filibustering any nomination they consider to be an 'extraordinary circumstance' — a category which they have already demonstrated they believe to encompass the nomination of any mainstream conservative to the federal judiciary. The pending nominations of Henry Saad and William Myers to appellate bench, far less familiar names may soon raise the filibuster and rules change options once again.

So, other than giving a free pass to three appealing nominees for the appeals court, what has been accomplished? Quite simply a power play.

Majority Leader Bill Frist has lost power, because it has been publicly demonstrated that 7 of his 55 votes will not follow him when the stakes are very high indeed. His counterpart Harry Reid, in contrast, has managed to salvage plausible deniability for his defeat on the matter of the three nominations about to sail through confirmation, and avoid a catastrophic loss of the threat of the filibuster option today. Reid has averted a loss of power, while Frist has lost power.

But the biggest winners of all, for today at least, are Robert Byrd and John McCain, who have gained leverage and further praise in the press. Byrd, the master of the Senate mutual back—scratching deal, has avoided becoming an embarrassing spectacle as he reprised his filibuster role from the 1960s Civil Rights Act drama, a compelling portrait of an anti—black, ex—KKK Kleagle. Unlike the original, the Twenty—first Century remake would have been televised on C—SPAN II in glorious color, making far greater the damage to the Democrats' hold on the essential lock on the black vote.

As for John McCain, once again he is in a position to make himself seen and heard, and to demand whatever he wants from the Senate Republicans and even from President Bush. He now holds hostage GOP solidarity on future judicial nomination filibusters, so they had better pay attention to his wants and needs. He and his Merry Band can defeat a rules change.

The mystery is what he will demand and get in return. He long ago lost any hold on the hearts of the conservative voting base, but he has renewed his claim on the voters in the middle of the political spectrum, Republicans, Democrats, and independents. For a man who loves the spotlight, praise from the media, and the ability to bend the powerful to his will on selected occasions, it is a very nice victory indeed. For the moment.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.