The new status quo

One of the only good things about a long morning commute is that it affords one the time to listen at length to morning talk radio. The longest—running national morning political/current events talk show may be Imus in the Morning.  It's an entertaining mix of news updates, entertainment, song parodies, and interviews with newspaper/magazine columnists, network analysts, authors, and politicians. Imus himself can be infuriatingly wishy—washy at times and he unabashedly runs with the front—runner, but there is no denying that he routinely gets outstanding guests to appear on his show. It can make for informative listening at times.

A week ago or so, Imus was speaking with Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball about the upcoming filibuster showdown in the Senate regarding President Bush's stalled judicial nominees. Matthews' take was fascinating, because his assessment of the situation was so stunningly off the mark. His contention was that if the Senate could vote by secret ballot, the Republicans' effort to stop the filibuster would not pass by a few votes as currently projected, but instead, would fail by a wide margin. Matthews reasoned that most senators are so proud to be members of that great body that their primary, true loyalty is to the Senate first, and to their party second. He feels that most senators would rather uphold the traditions and history of the Senate than participate in transitory partisan gamesmanship.

His notion—that today's politicians are secretly more interested in quaint Senatorial procedural processes than the dramatic party—centric battlefield victory—is laughable. Perhaps his early job training as a member of the Capitol police force too thoroughly indoctrinated him in the majesty of the institution.

Newsweek's Howard Fineman ( also on the Imus program that same day), put it best when analyzing the transparently arbitrary brouhaha over the John Bolton U. N. nomination: 'The [Senate] Democrats are just interested in bloodying Bush any way they can.' So much for quaint procedures.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist seems reluctant to pull the trigger on a vote to end judicial filibusters. Some of the rhetorical fog obscuring the bare—knuckle conflict underway suggests that deference to the supposed courtly nature of the the body is the wiser long—term choice. The implied reason for Frist's not calling for the vote (in addition to his being less than 100% certain of a favorable outcome) is that if he and the Republicans show gentlemanly restraint now and work with the opposition towards a reasonable compromise, then the same good—sport behavior can be expected from the Democrats when they are back in the majority in the inevitable not—too—distant future.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, blatting the party line, said, '...And the problem is today you've got 35 of the 55 Republican Senators, and I say this with all due respect to these new members, they haven't been here long enough. None of the 35 have ever served in the minority in the United States Senate. One day they will, and when they're in the minority they'll understand the value of having a place where minority voices must be listened to.' 

If Frist falls for that, then he is truly misguided. When it comes to take—no—prisoners political maneuvering, the Democrats are simply better than the Republicans. Given every example of hardnosed, unrelenting, no—compromise tactics the Democrats have employed in the last several years, there is absolutely no reason to think that the Democrats won't invoke the rules change eliminating the filibuster the nanosecond they're back in the majority, even if the Republicans do the 'gentlemanly thing' now and not call for a vote. The Democrats will call for the vote, as soon as they're able, and unlike the many soft Republicans like Rhode Island's Chaffee or Maine's Snow or Pennsylvania's Spector, they will vote as a solid block, cementing their majority advantage with unerring finality.

That's the new status quo of today's political landscape: victory is what counts and courtesy and deference to tradition are weaknesses that are never repaid by the opposition. The Republicans control both houses of Congress and the Presidency. If they're serious about appointing judges who will make a meaningful, positive societal impact by reshaping the courts for a generation to come, they need to stop asking for permission from the minority party and start taking the control that was given to them by the American electorate.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.

One of the only good things about a long morning commute is that it affords one the time to listen at length to morning talk radio. The longest—running national morning political/current events talk show may be Imus in the Morning.  It's an entertaining mix of news updates, entertainment, song parodies, and interviews with newspaper/magazine columnists, network analysts, authors, and politicians. Imus himself can be infuriatingly wishy—washy at times and he unabashedly runs with the front—runner, but there is no denying that he routinely gets outstanding guests to appear on his show. It can make for informative listening at times.

A week ago or so, Imus was speaking with Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball about the upcoming filibuster showdown in the Senate regarding President Bush's stalled judicial nominees. Matthews' take was fascinating, because his assessment of the situation was so stunningly off the mark. His contention was that if the Senate could vote by secret ballot, the Republicans' effort to stop the filibuster would not pass by a few votes as currently projected, but instead, would fail by a wide margin. Matthews reasoned that most senators are so proud to be members of that great body that their primary, true loyalty is to the Senate first, and to their party second. He feels that most senators would rather uphold the traditions and history of the Senate than participate in transitory partisan gamesmanship.

His notion—that today's politicians are secretly more interested in quaint Senatorial procedural processes than the dramatic party—centric battlefield victory—is laughable. Perhaps his early job training as a member of the Capitol police force too thoroughly indoctrinated him in the majesty of the institution.

Newsweek's Howard Fineman ( also on the Imus program that same day), put it best when analyzing the transparently arbitrary brouhaha over the John Bolton U. N. nomination: 'The [Senate] Democrats are just interested in bloodying Bush any way they can.' So much for quaint procedures.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist seems reluctant to pull the trigger on a vote to end judicial filibusters. Some of the rhetorical fog obscuring the bare—knuckle conflict underway suggests that deference to the supposed courtly nature of the the body is the wiser long—term choice. The implied reason for Frist's not calling for the vote (in addition to his being less than 100% certain of a favorable outcome) is that if he and the Republicans show gentlemanly restraint now and work with the opposition towards a reasonable compromise, then the same good—sport behavior can be expected from the Democrats when they are back in the majority in the inevitable not—too—distant future.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, blatting the party line, said, '...And the problem is today you've got 35 of the 55 Republican Senators, and I say this with all due respect to these new members, they haven't been here long enough. None of the 35 have ever served in the minority in the United States Senate. One day they will, and when they're in the minority they'll understand the value of having a place where minority voices must be listened to.' 

If Frist falls for that, then he is truly misguided. When it comes to take—no—prisoners political maneuvering, the Democrats are simply better than the Republicans. Given every example of hardnosed, unrelenting, no—compromise tactics the Democrats have employed in the last several years, there is absolutely no reason to think that the Democrats won't invoke the rules change eliminating the filibuster the nanosecond they're back in the majority, even if the Republicans do the 'gentlemanly thing' now and not call for a vote. The Democrats will call for the vote, as soon as they're able, and unlike the many soft Republicans like Rhode Island's Chaffee or Maine's Snow or Pennsylvania's Spector, they will vote as a solid block, cementing their majority advantage with unerring finality.

That's the new status quo of today's political landscape: victory is what counts and courtesy and deference to tradition are weaknesses that are never repaid by the opposition. The Republicans control both houses of Congress and the Presidency. If they're serious about appointing judges who will make a meaningful, positive societal impact by reshaping the courts for a generation to come, they need to stop asking for permission from the minority party and start taking the control that was given to them by the American electorate.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.