OK, OK, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away. My dream of a Militant Moderate Caucus (even a third party!) shoving the hard-right Republican and hard-left Democratic leaders to the margins, fixing Social Security and health care, and listening to mainstream voters instead of special-interest screamers remains forlorn. But the bipartisan, May 23 deal among 14 mostly moderate senators to bring some sanity to the judicial confirmation process has promise.
Like testosterone-crazed teenage drivers locked in a game of chicken, Democrats and Republicans seem on course toward a collision that could do grave damage to our democracy’s distinctive blend of majority rule and minority protections.
The constitutional argument advanced by Senate Republican supporters of the so-called "nuclear option" to end Democratic filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominees — which is that any nominee who has majority support must be confirmed — is weak.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed last month to end (in California, at least) the incumbent-protection racket that is congressional and legislative redistricting, some Democrats accused him of a Texas-style power-grab for more Republican seats.
Consultation. Conciliation. Compromise. Such concepts are in eclipse these days in Washington. Everyone is getting ready for the mother of all confirmation battles. As soon as one of the nine aging Supreme Court justices retires, sports fans expect, President Bush will pick a clone of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas. Liberal groups will "Bork" the nominee as a retrograde, right-wing judicial activist bent on forcing women into back-alley abortions, pushing gays back into the closet, resegregating higher education, imposing a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, and promiscuously paving the habitats of endangered species. And then there will be all of the oppo dirt-digging for ethical lapses, libidinous excesses, and other embarrassments.
My last column explored some reasons for the bitter liberal-conservative polarization of our political class, which has helped spawn the anger, mendacity, and emotionalism that make our politics so ugly. Here I explain how the Supreme Court and the media have made this polarization worse, and sketch possible remedies.
The air is thick with lies, deceptions, distortions, demagoguery, sleaze, and vicious rhetoric, uttered every day by President Bush, John Kerry, or their surrogates. Both candidates offer evasion and snake-oil non-remedies for dire national problems, ranging from the existential threat of nuclear terrorism, to the war in Iraq, to global warming, to the looming Social-Security-Medicare-deficit disaster. And each campaign is whipping its most partisan supporters into a frenzy of hatred for the opposing party.
On judicial nominations, Democrats accuse President Bush of fomenting racial division. On tax cuts, Bush and other Republicans accuse Democrats of "class warfare."
More than 90 percent of the nation’s voters will go (or not go) to the polls on November 5 knowing that, as far as the House of Representatives is concerned, the elections in their districts will be largely a symbolic exercise. The main reason is that the winners in most states have been predetermined by the state officials and party operatives who drew the congressional district lines.
Would you like to see the estate tax repealed so that more people will be so flush with family money that they will never need to work? How about spending $100 billion or more on an easily circumvented missile shield that would wreak havoc with arms control? Or securing major cutbacks in federal environmental laws? Or speeding up executions of accused murderers without bothering to give them fair trials? Or returning to huge budget deficits? Then you should be rooting both for George W. Bush and for solid Republican majorities in Congress.