On Feb. 12, 2003, Miguel Estrada became the first federal judicial nominee whose appointment was derailed by a filibuster in the Senate. His nomination was opposed by a group of Senate Democrats determined to obstruct as many of President Bush’s appointments as possible. This first defeat by filibuster was proof of the effectiveness of this Democratic campaign.
Statistics indicate during President Bush’s first term, 67 percent of his Court of Appeals nominees were confirmed where President Reagan’s success rate was 85 percent and President Clinton’s was 71 percent during their first terms.
At that time, Republicans held a majority in the Senate. In a show of frustration over this obstruction, Republicans floated the idea of implementing the so-called “nuclear option.” This procedural maneuver would bring presidential appointments up for a vote on the strength of a simple majority rather than the 60 votes required by long-standing cloture rules.
Had the nuclear option been employed, President Bush and the Republican majority would have been able to ram the president’s nominations down the minority’s throat without offering meaningful opportunity for reasonable compromise. But leaders drew back from introducing this level of raw spiteful partisan payback, which would certainly leave hateful footprints on all future administrations. Rather than resort to this cynical alteration of 200 years of revered senatorial practice, the parties got together and worked out a compromise.
This Thursday, Senate Democrats, frustrated by Republican efforts to obstruct President Obama’s appointments, pulled that trigger and voted to impose the nuclear option. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama were both outspoken opponents of the nuclear option when it threatened to curtail Democratic obstructionism. Even so, both these men made separate appearances before television cameras justifying use of the nuclear option now that it suits their purposes. In their words, this departure from centuries of senatorial practice is required by necessity. To paraphrase the words of an esteemed British statesman, necessity is the stated justification for every infringement of human freedom. Necessity is always the argument of tyrants.
For the moment, let’s leave aside any discussion of rank hypocrisy. The vile nature of politicians cynically condemning a form of behavior when it interferes with their desires and worshipping that same behavior when it gets them what they want speaks for itself.
But let’s talk about the melting away of public trust. Today, this country is reeling under the weight of the most onerous legislative regime ever imposed on American citizens. A Democratic majority swept aside all calls for caution and imposed, on an unwilling public, a massive bill heavily freighted with incomprehensible provisions that hardly anyone claims to understand. Every day, Americans are shocked by news that there are unintended consequences orbiting abound this bill that threaten to impact their day-to-day health care decisions in unwelcome and mostly negative ways.
Every new financial analysis discloses that the ultimate costs to the nation are going to exceed all former expectations. The health care savings that American families were told they might expect are proving to be an illusion. The repeated promises of the president and his legislative allies that people could keep their health care plans is now shown to be an outright falsehood. At a time when millions of American families are carefully monitoring how every household dollar is spent, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are being flushed down the drains of technological incompetence.
Again and again when Americans turn to their president for answers to disturbing questions, they are met with shrugs of executive shoulders and given answers like: I didn’t know; I just read it in the paper like you did; No one told me; I’m unaware; No one’s more surprised than I am. I’ll get to the bottom of this; Someone will be held accountable. Meanwhile, there are no answers, there are no firings or demotions, there are no satisfactory explanations and apologies are constantly followed by maddening, implausible excuses.
At a time when Americans desperately want someone to hit the proverbial “reset” button and start leading for a change, they see, instead, an unprecedented partisan game of “gotcha.” Unfortunately, the reverberations from this will send shocks into future administrations and these won’t do anything to promote the people’s business. It will, regrettably, start a new round of “Pay back is hell.”
Eric Hoffer once observed, “The benevolent despot who sees himself as a shepherd of the people still demands from others the submissiveness of sheep.” Because the president and the Senate majority can’t find a way to use the tools at hand to devise a compromise, they will demand that all political opponents simply submit. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.