May 22, 2005

Does Armageddon Begin With The Nuclear Option?

Most Americans are confused about the Republican-coined phrase "nuclear option" but this week there will be a showdown in the U.S. Senate. Basically, the Repubs want to eliminate the filibuster, that is, the minority's option to object. Presently 60 senators are needed to end the filibuster and to proceed to an up-or-down vote on the nominee. Senator Frist, the majority leader, wants to reduce this number to 50 (remember, Cheney, the VP, can break a tie).
The filibuster is not new. It has been used by both sides effectively, some to prevent Civil Rights legislation. Members of both sides have expressed hostility to this senate rule and wanted to end it--surprise, surprise, they took this position only when their party was in the majority! So, there are hypocrites in both parties. However, it is now that the Repubs are dead serious in altering the senate rules, because they have no respect for democracy, civil rights, and the rights of the minority. The few mainstream Repubs are an endangered species and usually don't have the guts to stand up to the totalitarians in their party.
Why should the minority have rights? Shouldn't the majority always prevail? Well, in a democracy, what is a majority today may not be tomorrow, but certain rights and the interest of the country should be safeguarded. Can the democratically elected representatives pass laws and turn the country into a totalitarian state? Of course, not, but that's what the far right, the theologs and the powerlogs of the Republican party want.
In college, in addition to reading De Tocqueville's Democracy in America and John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, you needed 60 as a passing grade. Why can't we have the same standard especially for the federal judges with life appointments? Laws can be revised by the next Congress, but a federal judge can stay on the bench for the next 30 or 40 years, and, any judge who's not qualified can be very harmful when ruling on issues that really matter in our lives.

The current president, despite his whining, has a greater number of nominated judges approved by the Senate than president Clinton had in his 8 years in office. Out of Bush's 215 conservative judges, 205 have been approved, no filibuster used. Ten, the most extreme and unqualified, were not, though he re-nominated most them anyway! The Dems are not giving in and the Repubs want to change the rules of the game to get their way. Actually they've already done so, little by little, but they now want more power so they're going ballistic, er, nuclear! I guess they have to hurry up, because they realize that by the end of next year, they may not be in such a strong position again. The country is largely dissatisfied with the performances of both the Congress and the president.
We have to discuss the issue on principle here regardlesss of partisan interests. One party rule is not good for the country, especially when this party is so utterly convinced that it's doing "God's work" and that the opposition is not worth anything. Anyone who's appointed for life to perform a very sensitive job should be under greater scrutiny.
The U.S. Senate is supposed to be a deliberative body, it's members elected to a 6 year term, and theoretically not subject to the passions of the day. The framers of the constitution sought to safeguard the interests of the minority by having 2 senators from every state regardless of its population. So, California with 35 million people gets to have just 2, as many as Vermont with a population of only 600,000. And, if you want to be technical about it, the 55 Republicans in the Senate today represent fewer voters than the other 45 Senators!
John Stuart Mill advised us that our freedoms may not be taken away by a social revolution, but that there is a greater danger our freedoms may be usurped by the majority. It has happened before, you know, like in pre-WWII Germany--Hitler was democratically elected and then parliament passed all the laws he wanted to turn the country into a Nazi state!
Unfortunately, the national press hasn't clearly explained the issue to the public. Most people want the Senate to scrutinize the president's nominees, but the workings of the senate is an esoteric matter to them, not realizing that the outcome of the impending battle will hugely affect all Americans. We had the Armageddon election in 2004, and I advised the liberals and all progressives (now it should include all moderates and non-apocalyptic religious people) to be prepared to get stoned. What's at stake here [someone will be tied to the stake if this trend continues] is the future direction of our country. I'm talking about judges who will decide whether science prevails over superstition, whether consumers need protection, whether the environment deserves preservation, whether individual privacy should be safeguarded, whether civil rights (including minority rights) are not taken away, and whether our government should be held up to the rule of law! Ultra-conservative and radical judges appointed for life is not common sense. We're not appointing judges based on life stories, as the conservatives are arguing, but people with long judicial records. Here are the two most controversial Bush choices, Priscilla Owen, and Janice Rogers . The neo-cons always talk about activist judges, who instead of basing their rulings on a ..dead legal document, they promote their own agenda! Really? If it weren't for an activist judge on the Supreme Court--Cheney's hunting partner, A. Scalia--G. W. Bush wouldn't be president today. Both Brown and Owen are activist judges who, like their mentor Scalia, don't see any conflict of interest when deciding cases involving their benefactors! The Dems must do a better job explaining that it is possible for a person (ie. Justice Clarence Thomas) to benefit from certain laws and social programs and, once ontop, turn around and pull the ladder up so others can't follow. Judges like Brown and Owen have ruled against the rights of workers, the environment, but for fat corporations, and have been seeking to impose the views of the fringe fundamentalists on the private matters of individuals.
The winning strategy may be that since the Dems can make life very difficult for the Repubs in the Senate in the nuclear fallout stage. Business can grind to a halt thus preventing the neo-cons from passing other legislation beneficial to the socio-economic elite. Perhaps the pressure from the money-hungry social Darwinists may be enough to tip the balance and prevent Frist from coming up with 51 votes to end the filibuster. The Dems have limited choices given their numbers in the Senate so they can't prevent all bad legislation. Heck, they couldn't prevent the far-reaching and anti-privacy Real ID law--attached to a ..military spending bill and passed with no debate in the Congress! Despite the damage bad laws can inflict on the country those laws can be reversed someday, hopefully sooner than later. However, federal judges if inept and radical can ruin America for decades to come. That's too high of a price to pay.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if most Americans understand the significance of ending the filibuster. They hear that 60 votes needed for "cloture" and they roll their eyes...

Anonymous said...

But, wouldn't you prefer radical activists judges on the left?

Andros said...

I don't know what all the "left" wants, but from a liberal standpoint, it's not radical (thank goodness) to want to protect minority rights.
Also, we have labor laws protecting the workers, we have child welfare laws, consumer protection, etc. Radical is one who wants to undo civil rights progress, wants to give more rights to corporations than to individuals. It's radical to want to impose religious fundamentalism, and decide cases not based on the rule of man but the rule of God (whatever this means, and we know it means different things to different religions). Scalia has said that he recognizes only those rights "derived by the grace of God"... well, excuse me, but that's radical.
Further, we have established an America, envy of many peoples around the globe.... though our image has been tarnished by the neo-cons and Bush. It takes a long time to built progress but destroying it can be done alot faster.... This rapid destruction is radical I'd say.

I do believe that the Constitution, for example, is not a dead document. It has to be interpreted taking into account present conditions. The right to bare arms is one example. Back in the 1887, there was no airforce, tanks, uzis, nuclear weapons! Obviously, we don't think citizens should have these arms today!
Judicial activism is not the issue really. It's what you do with this power. You can use it to further civil rights, to rule that laws should be applied regardless of race or skin color.
The Constitution does not mention God once, yet, there are those radical far right judges who think religion should be a ruling factor (I assume they want the Christian version) in public policy.
Personally, I'd oppose anyone who wants to curtail freedom and democracy no matter if he came from the left, right, up or down, American or ..extraterrestial.

Tuli said...

Brown believes that the U.S. Constitution is not only dead, but merely a piece of parchment and that laws should be derived from a higher order.

She is part of the activist fringe.

What I don’t understand is why any Senator would give his/her power in Congress to the Executive thus neutering the Senate and eliminating the checks and balances of our government.

And you are right; the Democrats do represent more Americans in number than do the 55 Republicans.

No one should be appointed to a lifetime position in government with only 50 votes.

Andros said...

It is a question of checks and balances, and the separation of the three branches (executive, legislative, judiciary).
The extreme right wants to take over the judiciary too. Frist and Delay have attacked moderate Republican
judges--like judge Grier in Florida who decided the tubes to be removed from Terri Schiavo.
This is another difference between us, the progressives, and the American Taliban: we don't threaten the lives of those who disagree with!

A person can believe in a "higher order" but when it comes to the law, I'm more comfortable with having a judge follow the written law.

Justice Owen is another case. As Molly Ivins says, Texas is the vanguard of a theocracy & plutocracy, and this is reflected in all 3 branches. Owen stood out even among the archconservatives for her extreme positions.

As to your question why a senator would give up his powers to the executive... well, it started back in the ..Roman Senate when it gave Ceasar all its powers! Today's Republicans don't care about representing the people but to implement a certain religious and economic agenda--with the known beneficiaries.
They don't believe in checks & balances either. They hope that by the time they lose the majority, they'll have enough judges in place to control things. THe courts, especially the D.C. (which overseas all other federal courts) deals with questions of power and public policy..... so even when a new majority forms in the Congress, it'll change a very long time to change things around.