Monday, January 30, 2006

Of Principles and Poseurs

This ridiculous little kabuki about voting AGAINST Alito and FOR cloture is a sham."
-- Jane Hamsher,
Pundits have expended a lot of ink and bandwidth over the last five years bloviating over what's wrong with the Democratic Party.

The public perception is said by some to be that Democrats are weak on national defense. Yet, no one has done more to break the U.S. army than George Bush.

Others say the public trusts Republicans more than Democrats to keep us safe from our enemies. Yet, it was George Bush, not Al Gore or John Kerry or Bill Clinton, who deliberately ignored repeated warnings that al Qaeda was planning an attack on the U.S., and who so badly miscalculated the aftermath of the Iraq war that, now, Afghanistan is backsliding into Taliban control and we are nearly impotent in dealing with the larger threat of Iran.

Some claim Republicans stand for a smaller Federal government, but no administration in history has so vastly exploded the size and reach of the Federal Government than George Bush, or wasted more federal tax money on a confusing Medicare prescription drug program that gave the bank way to the drug industry, or overspent revenues so much that future generations of Americans -- your grandchildren's grandchldren -- will be left with crushing debts run up by ill-advised tax cuts for corporations and the super-wealthy.

Yet, there is something definitely wrong with the Democratic Party. As a national party it has lost control of all three branches of Government. Large parts of its D.C. contingent sit idly by while Mr. Bush admits he is violating the statutory law of the land and the Bill of Rights -- and will continue doing so. Democrats (rightly) complain about a Republican 'culture of corruption' but in the last five years what did they do to blow the whistle as Abramoff Republicans were stealing the silverware?

Perhaps worst of all, Democrats remain in embarrassing disarray over a disastrous 'war of choice' begun because of -- take your pick -- deliberate falsehoods or rank incompetence by the Bush-Cheney administration. When Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), well-known known as the voice of choice in Congress for the military brass, called for an end to Mr. Bush's Iraq misadventure, most in his own party just hunkered down in their own foxholes, hiding from view.

At bottom, what is wrong with the Democratic Party is that too many Democratic office holders no longer act on principle. Instead, or so the public perception is, they act and vote according to cold political calculations of what is popular at the moment.

No better example was offered than Monday's cloture vote by Florida Senator Bill Nelson. Senator Nelson announced late last week that he would vote against confirming radical right-winger Samuel Alito to take the place of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. His official statement says:
Sen. Nelson has voted for almost all of President Bush's judicial nominees; and, he greeted Judge Alito's nomination with an open mind. But Judge Alito's many legal writings and judicial opinions convinced Sen. Nelson he would tilt the scales of justice in favor of big government over the average person. Because Judge Alito is not the centrist voice Sen. Nelson believes this nation needs to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who fiercely defended the rights and liberties of all Americans, Sen. Nelson is going to vote no on his confirmation. * * *
Yet, late Monday Sen. Nelson voted against the one thing that would have kept Alito off the court: the filibuster. Cloture was invoked, on a vote of 72 to 25. Alito most likely will be confirmed Tuesday by a slightly narrower margin.

By voting to end debate, Nelson and other Democrats have exposed themselves to opposition charges that they are mere opportunists, unprincipled scalliwags who want to have it both ways. Check this early analysis from the San Francisco Chronicle:
Besides being a hopeless cause, Senate Democrats and consultants worried a filibuster would put Democrats in Republican-leaning states in a bind during a mid-term election year when they have a chance to retake their Senate majority. Kerry's filibuster robbed these "red state Democrats" of anywhere to hide, forcing them to cast two conflicting votes -- one pro-Alito vote today to end the filibuster, and another Tuesday against Alito's actual confirmation.

One of those Democrats up for re-election this year is Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who voted to end the filibuster, but said he would vote against Alito.
Nelson may be a scalliwag. Or, maybe he had some really good reason for voting to shut off debate by his fellow Democrats that hasn't been articulated yet. If so, he'd best get out there and start explaining because to the average voter it makes no sense to vote against a nominee because his judicial record shows he is unfit to serve, but also vote for a motion that all but ensures the nominee will be promoted to the U.S. Supreme Court.

'But,' you say, 'the filibuster was bound to fail. Why waste a vote in a losing cause?'

Yes, it always was a long shot to round up 40 votes out of 100 to continue the filibuster. The Senate is now dominated, as the House has been for a decade, by a neo-conservative, doctrinaire majority with ruthless discipline. "This is not your father's Republican Party," as a widely discussed essay put it last November.

But defeating Alito's nomination on the up-or-down vote taking place Tuesday is, if anything, a much longer shot. 51 votes are needed, not 40. Even chad-impaired voters can understand that if the prospect of being on the losing end of the Alito filibuster vote is reason enough to vote with the Republican majority, why not vote with it during the confirmation vote itself?

Nelson continues to promise he will cast a vote against confirmation. If that turns out to be a futile vote it will be because his own vote today guaranteed it. As Brad Delong says "Samuel Alito owes a debt of gratitude" to Democrats like Bill Nelson.

This was not Senator Nelson's finest hour. It does not enhance his reputation as a man of principle. Moreover, what he apparently can't see yet is that it also does nothing to enhance prospects for his reelection.

Voting for cloture won't fool anyone into thinking Nelson sides with them. It looks only like Bill Nelson doesn't have the strength of his own convictions -- whatever they may be. He sides only with himself.

Voters may be stupid but they're not crazy. Most of them can tell a poseur from a man of principle. They won't mistake Senator Nelson's vote in favor of cloture as a vote of conscience. They will see it for what it is: a pathetic attempt to have it both ways.

That's what's wrong with so many Democrats at the national party level. Voters believe they stand for nothing because too many of them don't have the courage to consistently stand for anything.

Mike over at Florida News has a point, of course. If we want better senators and congressmen, then we have to get out and contribute what we can to their campaigns -- money, or shoe leather, or envelope-licking, or whatever. The connundrum is this: Who among us is willing to work, or even vote for, a political poseur who stands for nothing but getting himself relected?

Unless, of course, the opponent is even worse. But, doesn't that make for one helluva campaign slogan?

"Vote for me. I'm less unprincipled than she is."


Crewdem said...

Clinton didn't ignore threats from bin Laden. If you listen to his interviews, he knew that bin Laden was a major threat to the United States and wanted to bomb him. However, unlike some Presidents, Clinton knew that the public would not have supported military action and decided against it.

Bryan said...

For whatever good it does, I've told Nelson he can take me off his list for support of any kind.

His game didn't fool anyone who was paying attention.