Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Escalation

As of yesterday we have heard the final word from Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republican senators, particularly those on the Judiciary Committee that would be responsible for vetting and forwarding any Supreme Court nominee for confirmation: President Obama can nominate a candidate to fill the court's vacancy if he wants, but the Senate will not hold hearings, will not consider any nominee, and there will be no votes. Republican committee members have pledged this position in a signed letter, at the behest of majority leader McConnell. Republican senators, indeed, will not extend the usual courtesy of even meeting individually with the president's nominee, should there be one.

McConnell acknowledged that President Obama has "every right to nominate someone," but also that the president "has the right to make a different choice. He can let the people decide and make this an actual legacy-building moment rather than just another campaign roadshow."

And there it is: If Obama moves forward to fulfill his constitutional obligation, the move should be construed as a "campaign roadshow." Somehow in McConnell's mind Obama would burnish his legacy by knuckling under to this latest and most extreme Republican obstructionism.

At the risk of seeming Trumpesquely crude, allow me to recount an anecdote from Obama's first term, when the pattern was developing that Republicans were bent on obstructing, by crippling the functioning of the Senate, everything the president attempted to accomplish. A friend told me that one thing, at least, was clear: Mitch McConnell should be strung up by his nuts.

Indeed, McConnell has been the masterful architect of Senate dysfunction lasting many years. His deliberate gumming up of the works has brought the institution almost to a halt. Recent Congresses have been the least productive in modern history. This is not your father's Republican party.

McConnell has asserted that, were the shoe on the other foot, Democrats would behave the same. Except there's no evidence for anything of the sort. There is no symmetry between the parties; no precedent for claiming Democrats are so thoroughly and systematically hostile to good governance in the manner of present day Republicans.

Where does it end? Chris Hayes has referred to the present situation as a one-way ratchet. Mitch McConnell is leading us into a new era of ever greater governmental dysfunction, the likes of which we've not seen since the Civil War. With bipartisan governance slayed and buried, it seems the only way to achieve any national progress is to control both Congress and the presidency. Gone is the possibility of big achievements like moonshots and interstate highways. Nothing substantial or politically difficult is now possible. Strong unified action on climate change? Forget it.

One sometimes hears that there are a few moderate Republican senators who have their doubts about stonewalling the nomination and confirmation process. But what does "moderate" even mean, beyond a little private and mostly subdued fretting about the current course? McConnell's obstruction has been going on for almost the entire Obama presidency, with nary a public whimper of any note from any Republican senator.

If there are actually any Republican moderates remaining in the Senate, now is the time to hear forcefully from them. If there's any integrity left, let's see it.

How about this: Is it possible that being a Republican no longer means what it used to? That it's time to say enough of destructive polarization? Do you, dear Senator, feel perpetually dirty, in need of a cleansing shower? Perhaps a party defection or two, a la Specter, could get the ball rolling for a Democratic takeover of the Senate in the coming elections. What better way to say you're sick and tired of the direction our government has been going, driven by a party you no longer recognize? How about it, Susan Collins? Or are you, in the end, just like all the rest, except with a little discrete hand wringing to assuage your conscience?

Dumb question.

 Copyright (C) 2016 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

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