February 7, 2006


The Alito confirmation: How Democrats lost the political battle (Steven Lubet, February 1, 2006, San Diego Union Tribune)

Unfortunately, Senate Democrats consistently misplayed, overplayed and underplayed their strengths, until they virtually assured their own defeat.

In 2001, when Democrats briefly took control of the Senate (following Sen. Jim Jeffords' defection from the Republicans), they began stalling President Bush's judicial nominations. At the time, that must have seemed only fair, given that Republicans had taken the same approach (and worse) to President Clinton's nominees. But in fact, it was a disastrous decision. Rather than restore fairness to the confirmation process, the Democrats instead set the stage for years of counterproductive acrimony.

When Republicans resumed control of the Senate, following the 2002 mid-term elections, Senate Democrats were not willing to concede defeat, at least on the matter of judicial appointments. Rather, they embarked on the unprecedented course of using the filibuster to block President Bush's nominations to federal appellate courts. Again, the tactic seemed reasonable, perhaps even necessary, at the time. Bush's nominations increasingly came from the far right, and the filibuster was the only way to defeat the most extreme among them. Eventually, Democrats blocked 10 nominees, bragging that the successful filibusters would demonstrate that they also could derail any non-moderate Supreme Court appointment.

In fact, the tactic backfired badly. Senate Democrats came across as petulant obstructionists, perhaps the cause of Minority Leader Tom Daschle losing his Senate seat in the 2004 election. Even worse, Republicans were so enraged by the repeated filibusters that they began to reconsider the sanctity of the filibuster rule itself. Eventually, they threatened the “nuclear option” of abolishing the filibuster through a simple majority vote. That would have thrown the Senate into chaos, repealing a century-old tradition of comity and cooperation. Republicans surely would never have contemplated such a drastic measure, but for the Democrats' seeming refusal to respect the prerogatives of the majority.

The filibuster, it turned out, was a scorched-earth technique that could not be employed and re-employed endlessly. But rather than hold it in reserve for the Supreme Court, Democrats squandered it on a series of ultimately insignificant lower court appointments.

To the precise extent that Democrats act on their core ideology they estrange themselves from most Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 7, 2006 12:37 PM

They really do need to run a further left version of Walter Mondale in 2008 who'll campaign on what the party's activists are saying right now and end the delusion that the Democrats are true to themselves, the rest of the country will follow.

Posted by: John at February 7, 2006 2:00 PM

Blatant misrepresentation in the reporting -- the "nuclear option" would disallow the filibuster of judicial nominees, not completely eliminate the filibuster in the Senate.

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 7, 2006 2:43 PM

And when at the start of the next session they change the Senate rule that allows a filibuster of nominations, the Dems will have lost their last talking point, since it won't be a "nuclear option" at that point, but just the normal course of Senate business.

These guys just WILL NOT ever look more than one step ahead.

Posted by: fred at February 7, 2006 3:45 PM

The "nuclear option" is simply a scary sounding pejorative invented by the Dems and picked up the MSM. It is more aptly named the Byrd option, in honor of the former Kleagle who used the same procedural tactic to end Republican filibusters in the 70s.

Posted by: Gideon at February 7, 2006 3:49 PM