In an op-ed in last week’s New York Times, Senator Bob Dole has performed his customary role: of emerging at crucial times to lend weight to the unconscionable.
He says he hopes things will not reach a point where Frist and Co. will have to reach for the nuclear option. But if they do, he adds, they would not be doing anything too terrible. He quotes Article 1 of the Constitution to inform us that the Senate is, after all, authorized to make its own rules.
Through his long public career, at least twenty years of which I’ve watched him in action, Senator Dole has struck me as a virtuoso in the art of stating the obvious, which is saying something in an age and town where the skill is the first recourse of practically every politician. What sets Dole apart is that he infuses some novelty into triteness with his own special brand of sardonic wit.
Through all that, though, Dole, like most Republicans, is a loyal trooper.The Patriot Act. Yes. The attack on Iraq. Yessir. Most recently, who can forget his dirty role in supporting the lies of the Swift Boat Veterans, all the while declaiming, Antony-like, his exculpatory "I-like John-Kerry…John-Kerry-is-a-friend-of-mine". No matter what the situation, for Dole, it is Party Uber Alles.
Aside from other arguments, one wishes old Bob would answer this one: how does a self-professed ‘Conservative’ like himself (and superconservatives like Cheney, Delay, Frist, et al) work so hard to throw away a 200-year tradition — all just for getting a couple of judges into federal appointments? Aren’t conservatives supposed to resist easy toying with tradition? If Senate procedure means nothing to you, at least movie classics should — you must remember this — the filibuster is at the core of Jimmy Stewart’s "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". Do we play so lightly with an American Icon?
Back to Dole’s article. The point is not what the rule permits. If this is all that mattered, surely Hitler’s decisions were all duly endorsed by the Reischstag. What of it? Does that make it legitimate? And one can be certain the Iraqi parliament passed all Saddam’s laws. Bob Dole’s article serves to remind us that the mainstreaming of George W. Bush’s nonsense presidency was not an overnight happening. We were primed for it by the likes of a Senate Majority Leader and Presidential contender who can write such trite literalisms in the oped-page of the country’s newspaper of record.
Bob Dole is a lawyer. He should know a mala-fide application even of a well-established law is never legal. What is bad in faith is always bad in law. And there is nothing more odious than the way Cheney, Delay, Frist and others have pitched the nuclear option as a defense against an attack on faith. The Republican brandishing of faith as a political tool is cheap, tawdry, and completely disingenuous, but where is it being challenged?
For this is huge — it is almost as big as changing the constitution. But the only email I got mobilizing against it, asking me to call my senator, was from moveon.org. Nothing from John Kerry, whose permanent campaign was sending email after email durng the ANWR vote a few weeks back. Nothing from Internet-meister Howard Dean, now Chairman of the Democratic Party. And zip from my own Democratic Senator.
Whether the filibuster is prserved or not, it will not get the fight in its defense that it deserves. At worst, it will be done away with. At best, it will be preserved by compromising on a few judges, which Harry Reid is on the verge of doing, and which Bob Dole has written is the best way out. An obvious strategy occurred to me (Bob Dole has no monopoly on the obvious!). After all, what better weapon to oppose the abolition of the filibuster than — filibustering the vote on the filibuster?"
The strategy is not original. It is from the Mahabharata. When Yudhishtira, an inveterate gambler, gambles away himself, his kingdom, his wife, brothers — all, the victors show up at his wife’s door to fetch her away. Now you belong to us, they say, explaining how her husband had gambled away everything. She asks an eminently logical question — do you know if he lost me in the gambling before he lost himself, or after? It was an vital point, because, as she pointed out, in the latter case he had no longer any right to place her as a bet. Similarly, the Democrats may lose the right the filibuster, but they might use it to prevent its abolition.
Republicans accuse the Senate Democrats of using the filibuster too much. In retrospect, they have used it too little. The filibuster is Senatorial Satyagraha. That it may have been used by the likes of Strom Thurmond to oppose civil rights does not besmirch its genius. Whether it can be actually used in procedural debates, I don’t know. But I do know the Democrats must throw their heart and soul into the effort to beat back this travesty.
NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. His writings can be found on http://www.indogram.com/gramsabha/articles. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.