Friday, February 03, 2006

Playing For Keeps

This New Republic piece about the failed Alito filibuster oozes such horrifying Beltway cynicism that I can hardly get through it without losing my sight to the red mist.

One hatemaking quote, selected almost at random, interrupted only by unavoidable snorts of incredulity...

[T]he Alito nomination had already put vulnerable Democratic incumbents and candidates from red states in an awkward position...
Poor, poor red-state Democrats. I weep hot, bitter tears for them. Here’s the question, though—if you have no desire to actually make a difference on any issue, then why the hell did you go into politics in the first place?
--pulled between pro-Bush voters and the demands of liberal interest groups, activists, and bloggers.
...or, as we used to call them, “constituents.”
Forcing those Democrats to choose sides on yet another vote would only heighten their agony.
Again: huh? Politics is all about choosing sides.
Even Barbara Mikulski, a Kennedy-style paleoliberal, argued that Democrats should worry more about electoral realities than about taking bold stands for their own sake.
Note that “for their own sake”—as if putting Alito on the Supreme Court won’t have political and social ramifications that will affect the lives of ordinary Americans for decades to come. Nice touch... though it gives me reason to suspect that Barbara Mikulski and I have differing views on what constitutes “reality.”

The naked careerism here would be refreshing if it weren’t so tragic. Mikulski’s unspoken assumption is that tipping the Supreme Court to the right for the next two or three decades is not worth losing an election over. To which I ask: If that’s not an issue worth taking a bullet for, then what is? Is anything?

The problem here, as always, is that the Democrats have fallen into the trap of letting the other guys define the issue. As Michael Kinsley points out in a devastating Slate article, Republicans love to paint the Dems as “...mired in trivial lifestyle issues like, oh, abortion and gay rights and Americans killing and dying in Iraq”—or whether it’s a good idea to appoint, for life, a Justice who is so inclined to bend over for the Executive—“while the Republicans serve up meat and potatoes for real Americans, like privatizing Social Security and making damned sure the government knows who is Googling whom in this great country.”

Back to TNR: This bit of Democratic self-loathing just makes me nuts:

At the site, the influential blogger Matt Stoller called Kerry's decision "a classic example of 'get points for trying' politics ... a way for Senators to get credit from the left-wing of the party without having to actually do anything or stop anything."
This seems to me precisely backwards. Forty-two Democratic Senators had reservations about Sam Alito grave enough to make them vote against his confirmation. Only twenty-five signed on for the filibuster. But, y’know, those seventeen others were really concerned. Which is good to know.

But for all their concern, they knew full well that in a simple-majority up-or-down vote, they were going to lose—making a “No” vote into a symbolic gesture of opposition, i.e., points for trying. The filibuster, though, could have actually derailed the appointment, instead of simply registering displeasure with it. It was, in fact, the only way to “actually do anything or stop anything.”

One thing we should have learned by now from the other side: Noble failure is no substitute for winning ugly.

We can no longer afford to look noble—if we ever could. Mencken said it best, I think (as he did so many things)—“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin cutting throats.”

Knives out, boys—it’s a long thousand days ‘til 2009.

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