The Great Senate Con Job of 2005

The denouement of the filibuster kerfuffle has caused an epidemic of twisted britches, purple faces and befuddled expressions. Observers are perplexed and divided for a very good reason. It is a quite deliberate outcome, reflecting a long established if seldom—admitted political strategy.

Harry Truman:

"If you can't convince them, confuse them."

Dwight Eisenhower:

"Don't worry Jim, if that question comes up, I'll just confuse them,"

to press secretary James Hagerty, who was concerned about a news conference on March 23, 1955 about the Formosa Strait crisis.

The question of Constitutional original intent cannot be resolved because of the Seventeenth Amendment (1913), which provided for the direct election of Senators. When the "advice and consent" clause was written, Senators were presumed to be creatures of the state legislatures and acting at their direction. In effect "advice and consent" amounted to consulting the states for approval. The "world's greatest deliberative body" meme is a 20th century construct, to replace the former role of the Senate as the representatives of state governments.

The core issue at hand is that the minority attempted to assert a new power. This has been tried before and been defeated by sometimes peremptory actions by the majority. In this case the minority persisted.

The issue was decided by the elections of 2004, and when the current Senate convened with 55 Republican Senators the show began. Unfortunately, the minority had gotten themselves into a very sour pickle. Their base was so fired up that anything that looked like surrender would have disastrous consequences. The Democrats were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. If they voted to invoke cloture, it would look like surrender. If they filibusterd, the nuclear option would set off a battle that would last for years. And it would be a senseless battle because the issue had been decided at the polls.

Both sides rightly wanted to avoid this at most any cost. Thus "the compromise" was really a negotiated surrender. The whole charade was masterfully choreographed, and the actors gave almost flawless performances. Fourteen courageous moderates put the interests of the country ahead of petty partisan bickering. The majority leader is miffed and disappointed. The minority leader rails in defiance of the sellout. All acted out the script artfully.

The gang of fourteen was carefully selected as the ones least likely to be adversely affected by fallout. The minority was given the fig leaf of "I'd love to, but I can't" when pressed by the base to filibuster the "extremists." The line is "these seven courageous senators have given their solemn promises to their colleagues and they can't be swayed."

What is the evidence of this con job? It is scant and slight, I admit, but there is some to be found in peculiar, incomplete, and suggestive answers to media inquisitors. Senator Graham, when asked on Monday evening whether there had been outside influence on the group, answered "more than you will ever know" (paraphrase). This apparently led to some "guidance." On Tuesday, May 24, both Senator Graham and Senator Frist were guests on the Sean Hannity radio show. To the question "were the conferees talking to the leadership" both essentially refused to answer. If they had said "no" they would be lying. If they had said "yes" the cat would be out of the bag. When Frist was asked "whether his authority had been undermined," he said "no".

As to the compromise, it is just like the one the State of Utah offers its
condemned: be shot or hung, pick your poison. The seven Democrats have promised to vote for cloture except in "extraordinary cases." The seven Republicans have pledged not to vote for the nuclear option unless it happens to come up for a vote.

The lament is that "extraordinary" is not defined. Au contraire, it is precisely defined: if 50 senators decide that it is not an extraordinary case then it is not an extraordinary case and the nuclear button is pushed. The nuclear option is much more likely to pass when the justification is bad faith rather than the current arguments.

As to the political implications, I believe that the 81—18 vote in favor of cloture on the Owen filibuster is a clear sign that the obstructionist wing of the party is being tossed. I would not be surprised if Dean, Reid and Pelosi are gone by the end of summer.

Roy Lofquist lives in Titusville, FL. His email is roylofquist@msn.com

The denouement of the filibuster kerfuffle has caused an epidemic of twisted britches, purple faces and befuddled expressions. Observers are perplexed and divided for a very good reason. It is a quite deliberate outcome, reflecting a long established if seldom—admitted political strategy.

Harry Truman:

"If you can't convince them, confuse them."

Dwight Eisenhower:

"Don't worry Jim, if that question comes up, I'll just confuse them,"

to press secretary James Hagerty, who was concerned about a news conference on March 23, 1955 about the Formosa Strait crisis.

The question of Constitutional original intent cannot be resolved because of the Seventeenth Amendment (1913), which provided for the direct election of Senators. When the "advice and consent" clause was written, Senators were presumed to be creatures of the state legislatures and acting at their direction. In effect "advice and consent" amounted to consulting the states for approval. The "world's greatest deliberative body" meme is a 20th century construct, to replace the former role of the Senate as the representatives of state governments.

The core issue at hand is that the minority attempted to assert a new power. This has been tried before and been defeated by sometimes peremptory actions by the majority. In this case the minority persisted.

The issue was decided by the elections of 2004, and when the current Senate convened with 55 Republican Senators the show began. Unfortunately, the minority had gotten themselves into a very sour pickle. Their base was so fired up that anything that looked like surrender would have disastrous consequences. The Democrats were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. If they voted to invoke cloture, it would look like surrender. If they filibusterd, the nuclear option would set off a battle that would last for years. And it would be a senseless battle because the issue had been decided at the polls.

Both sides rightly wanted to avoid this at most any cost. Thus "the compromise" was really a negotiated surrender. The whole charade was masterfully choreographed, and the actors gave almost flawless performances. Fourteen courageous moderates put the interests of the country ahead of petty partisan bickering. The majority leader is miffed and disappointed. The minority leader rails in defiance of the sellout. All acted out the script artfully.

The gang of fourteen was carefully selected as the ones least likely to be adversely affected by fallout. The minority was given the fig leaf of "I'd love to, but I can't" when pressed by the base to filibuster the "extremists." The line is "these seven courageous senators have given their solemn promises to their colleagues and they can't be swayed."

What is the evidence of this con job? It is scant and slight, I admit, but there is some to be found in peculiar, incomplete, and suggestive answers to media inquisitors. Senator Graham, when asked on Monday evening whether there had been outside influence on the group, answered "more than you will ever know" (paraphrase). This apparently led to some "guidance." On Tuesday, May 24, both Senator Graham and Senator Frist were guests on the Sean Hannity radio show. To the question "were the conferees talking to the leadership" both essentially refused to answer. If they had said "no" they would be lying. If they had said "yes" the cat would be out of the bag. When Frist was asked "whether his authority had been undermined," he said "no".

As to the compromise, it is just like the one the State of Utah offers its
condemned: be shot or hung, pick your poison. The seven Democrats have promised to vote for cloture except in "extraordinary cases." The seven Republicans have pledged not to vote for the nuclear option unless it happens to come up for a vote.

The lament is that "extraordinary" is not defined. Au contraire, it is precisely defined: if 50 senators decide that it is not an extraordinary case then it is not an extraordinary case and the nuclear button is pushed. The nuclear option is much more likely to pass when the justification is bad faith rather than the current arguments.

As to the political implications, I believe that the 81—18 vote in favor of cloture on the Owen filibuster is a clear sign that the obstructionist wing of the party is being tossed. I would not be surprised if Dean, Reid and Pelosi are gone by the end of summer.

Roy Lofquist lives in Titusville, FL. His email is roylofquist@msn.com