This week, the Senate dealt President Obama a humiliating defeat. His nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division was derailed by a 47-to-52 talley with eight Democrats among the “no” votes. This outcome is tragic for all concerned; the president, the nominee, the Senate and the American people.
This is a tragedy for the president because, at the worst possible time, this rebuff is a reflection on his rapidly declining influence as a leader. He’s being ignored, mocked and ridiculed by leaders around the world. Disdain for our president and a dismissive attitude about America’s resolve and capabilities encourage our enemies and render the world a more dangerous place than it was eight years ago.
No doubt, the Senate’s rejection of President Obama’s nominee with support from members of his own party will be additional ammunition for those who regard him as a weak match in the “play-for-keeps” world of international struggle for advantage.
The humiliation of this defeat is all the more painful as the Senate, back in November, changed its longstanding rules to make it easier for the president. This change was intended to choke off the minority’s ability to oppose the president’s nominations which should allow his choices to sail through on a simple majority vote. Since the Democrat president has the advantage of a Democrat majority in the Senate, approval of his nominees should be a “cake walk.” If the president could muster even a modest level of influence, he should have had smooth sailing. Even with the help of a dramatic rule change, Mr. Obama wasn’t able to get this nomination through.
This is tragic for Mr. Adegbile because he never should have been exposed to this humiliation in the first place. On the surface, it appears that Mr. Adegbile, an attorney, is being penalized for diligently representing his client. But this nomination amounted to the deliberate waving of a red cape in the face of a frustrated bull looking for any excuse to charge. The atmosphere in Washington is so adversarial that the president’s opponents will seize on any pretext to erect roadblocks.
By this nomination, the president erected blocks of his own. Mr. Adegbile’s involvement as the high-profile defense attorney for a nationally known thoroughly unapologetic “cop killer” made him the perfect target for an all-out political feeding frenzy.
Then, there’s the “Eric Holder” complication. There are deep reservoirs of mistrust and resentment seething around the Holder Justice Department. There’s no need to catalog them all here, but the lingering contempt of Congress charge stemming from the “Fast and Furious” program, the false statements contained in search warrant applications, the appointment of an Obama donor to investigate executive branch misbehavior — all this contributes to frustration levels that provide fertile ground to those on the lookout for political “payback.”
Even if the president had been successful in getting this nominee confirmed, his appointment would have been poisoned by a virtual tidal wave of ill feeling. Mr. Adegbile was a needless sacrifice in a totally unnecessary battle.
The Senate is a loser because this latest debacle is the most recent act in a series of sad, undignified exhibits amounting to tawdry political theater.
Rather than come to grips with the real dynamics leading up to this struggle and regrettable outcome, the losers slide into the petulant role of “name callers.” In a sad display of “sour grapes” attitude, Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, demeaned anyone with justifiable reservations about Mr. Adegbile’s nomination by suggesting the nominee would have been confirmed if he had been white. Sen. Harkin now joins the growing list of those cynical partisans willing to apply the term “racist” to anyone who disagrees.
This situation is tragic for the American people because at this time in our history, we want and need to have confidence in our president. This defeat in the Senate is another alarming demonstration of how fast he is declining. It’s also tragic that Mr. Adegbile’s rejection is being seized on by provocateurs who profit by creating, nurturing and spreading the seeds of racial mistrust and resentment. At a time when we yearn for leaders who have the ability and will to unite the American people, we find ourselves plagued by politicians committing countless diplomatic, political, social and mathematical blunders while working overtime to exploit our differences.
This was never really about Mr. Adegbile. For the last few years, Senate confirmation hearings have been proxy wars testing which special interest groups could exert the most muscle. In this particular conflict, everyone involved was a casualty.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.