I am not as convinced as some of my liberal friends that this was necessarily a good compromise, either for Democrats or the nation. I wish I could be as optimistic as they are. Hell, I could use some positive feel good emotions right about now. And pessimism is always a bummer.
But to me this compromise feels more like a defeat – or at least a Phyrric Victory – than an actual win. The bottom line is that three fairly awful and out of the mainstream judicial nominees will now be seated on the federal bench
This is not just about the so-called culture wars and abortion rights. These judges will make many decisions that will affect the laws of our land, the way those laws are interpreted, and the way those interpretations affect the lives of millions of ordinary Americans.
They will get to rule on labor laws, civil and human rights laws, First Amendment issues of freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and, yes, stem cell research, and reproductive freedom.
Some of the future cases that may come before them include over-zealous pharmacists who want the right to deny birth control pills to women (and not just single women anymore); those seeking redress for workplace violations of overtime rules, harassment, and the right to join a labor union; police violations of civil rights; death penalty legislation such as whether a minor can be executed as an adult offender; and so many other major constitutional issues. I am also left wondering what would have happened in the Terri Schiavo case if one of these Bush nominees had been on the bench?
And, of course, that is what the right is wondering and thinking too. Some of us have irreconcilable differences in this country about whether we are going to become a theocracy or maintain separation of church and state. And some of these judges will come down on the wrong side of those issues. But under this compromise, they will not be filibustered.
According to the compromise, the judicial filibuster will be reserved for only the most extraordinary of cases. But when President Bush’s own Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, has criticized one of them, Priscilla Owen, as being too much of a judicial activist, it’s hard to imagine a case more extraordinary or extreme.
So I will not pop the cork on the champagne bottle to celebrate this compromise as a victory. As somebody at DailyKos said, it feels more like a coup than a compromise.
And in the end, I think it will hurt the Democrats more than the Republicans. According to polls, 47 percent of people are not paying much attention to this issue. But of those who are, about half supported the Democrats on saving the filibuster even if it meant shutting down Senate business. That half also opposed these judicial nominees as being too extreme.
Right now, both President Bush and the Republican Congress are suffering their lowest approval ratings. Unfortunately, the Democrats are not doing much better in the public’s opinion. I believe this is because Americans don’t think our country is heading in the right direction. They are fearful about Social Security reform. They hated the Congressional interference with the Schiavo case and considered it to be overreaching.
But did they see the Democrats as their champions, fighting the Republicans for them on these and other issues?
Just the opposite. They have seen Democrats talk tough but then run for cover when the going got tough.
It’s like watching somebody’s body language while they speak. If the person is saying no and nodding his head yes, observers are going to believe the body language before the words. So, no matter what the Democrats say, if they don’t walk their talk, they are going to continue to be seen as the party that stands for nothing and will say anything to get elected.
It’s what the public thought about John Kerry in the last election. It’s what they told the pollsters. They may not have liked Bush but they trusted him because they felt they knew where he stood. Republicans spent years taking hits for their ideas, but they never wavered from their core beliefs. They were willing to be seen as backbench bomb throwers in the Congress but they stood firm, drew a line in the sand, and never made dubious compromises. And that’s what gained them the respect of voters even when those voters disagreed with them.
Unfortunately, the Democrats continue take the wrong lessons from the Republicans with each defeat they suffer. They keep thinking they’ve got to tack right and adopt Republican principles. But it’s really the Republican tactic of standing up for their beliefs and sticking to their guns that they need to emulate not the Republicans’ ideology.
Right now the public perceives Democrats as wishy-washy and unable to stand for any belief. This compromise did not help their cause in the long run. It made them look like more of the same flip floppers who care more about their political careers than the nation.
And that perception will kill them every time.