Monday, December 20, 2004

Nuke 'em

Much has been written about the Democrats' use of the filibuster to block President Bush's judicial nominees and of Republican options for preventing similar tactics in 2005. Robert Novak lays it all out and puts it in perspective in a column in the Chicago Sun-Times:

A scenario for an unspecified day in 2005: One of President Bush's judicial nominations is brought to the Senate floor. Majority Leader Bill Frist makes a point of order that only a simple majority is needed for confirmation. The point is upheld by the presiding officer, Vice President Dick Cheney. Democratic Leader Harry Reid challenges the ruling. Frist moves to table Reid's motion, ending debate. The motion is tabled, and the Senate proceeds to confirm the judicial nominee -- all in about 10 minutes.

This is the "nuclear option" that creates fear and loathing among Democrats and weak knees for some Republicans, including conservative opinion leaders. Ever since Frist publicly embraced the nuclear option, he has been accused of abusing the Senate's cherished tradition of extended debate. In truth, during six years as majority leader, Democrat Robert C. Byrd four times detonated the nuclear option to rewrite Senate rules.

Thus, Frist would set no precedent, would not contradict past Republican behavior and would not strip the GOP of protection as a future Senate minority. The question is whether Republican senators will flinch from the only maneuver open to confirm Bush's judges.

The unprecedented Democratic plan to filibuster judicial nominations that do not meet liberal specifications has exceeded all expectations. None of 10 filibustered Bush appellate court nominees has been confirmed, and another six are all designated filibuster victims. This is intended to have a chilling effect on Bush in filling Supreme Court vacancies.

All 16 of these nominees are dead under present procedures. Even with the net gain of four Republican senators in this year's elections, Frist falls short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. After early skepticism, I have come to agree with Frist's conclusion that the old-fashioned filibuster-breaker of round-the-clock sessions is a non-starter. Today's Republican senators lack the will to undergo this ordeal. They would have to maintain a heavy presence on the floor while a single Democrat could hold forth.

Frist drew a line in the sand Nov. 11 in addressing the conservative Federalist Society: "One way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominees must end." The way he indicated was a rules change -- the nuclear option.

That generated speculation that, when the new Senate convenes Jan. 4, the Republican leadership will propose a rules change. Reid, the Senate's reigning master of parliamentary tactics, has promised to "screw things up" by bringing the chamber's activities to a standstill. Frist would only tell me he wants "a full set of options, ready and available." However, Senate sources believe Frist will bide his time on opening day and wait to make a point of order to change the rules.

This is precisely what Byrd did as majority leader, as explained in an article by Martin Gold and Dimple Gupta to be published in the January issue of the Harvard Journal on Law and Public Policy. They write that Byrd "developed four precedents that allowed a simple majority to change Senate procedures governing debate without altering the text of any standing rule." In each case, Byrd successfully overcame dilatory tactics by the Republican minority.

It remains an open question whether Frist can mobilize Republicans as effectively as Byrd commanded Democrats to get even 51 votes. The ''New England Three'' of liberal Republican senators from Maine and Rhode Island may vote no. John McCain and Chuck Hagel have misgivings, with Hagel recalling the dark Republican days of the '70s when only a handful of Republican senators stood up against the Democratic tide.

Most worrisome to Frist is criticism from respected conservative voices -- George F. Will and the National Review -- that the nuclear option undermines a bulwark of limited government. But Republicans never employed the filibuster to block liberal judges. The failure to confirm Lyndon Johnson's nomination of Abe Fortas as chief justice was caused not by a Republican filibuster, but by inability to get a majority of votes in a heavily Democratic Senate. Using the filibuster to block judges is something new, and the Frist scenario looks like the only way to end it.

Our view is that the President has the right to have his nominees voted up or down. It is a circumvention of the rights of the people to have the nominees stonewalled simply because they are not pro-choice - which is, when we get right down to it, the sole reason why any of these nominees have been filibustered. We hope that Senator Frist and the Republicans will do whatever has to be done to prevent the minority from exercising a persistent veto over the majority. Otherwise, what use is there in being the majority party.

The Dover ID Debate

The Intelligent Design controversy at Dover School District in central Pennsylvania has taken a turn against the proponents of ID. The Discovery Institute, the foremost organization in the country promoting Intelligent Design, has come out with an statement critical of Dover's approach:

"While the Dover board is to be commended for trying to teach Darwinian theory in a more open-minded manner, this is the wrong way to go about it," said Dr. John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC). "Dover's current policy has a number of problems, not the least of which is its lack of clarity. At one point, it appears to prohibit Dover schools from teaching anything about 'the origins of life.' At another point, it appears to both mandate as well as prohibit the teaching of the scientific theory of intelligent design. The policy's incoherence raises serious problems from the standpoint of constitutional law. Thus, the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten."

Apart from questions about its constitutionality, West expressed reservations about the Dover School Board's directive on public policy grounds.

"When we first read about the Dover policy, we publicly criticized it because according to published reports the intent was to mandate the teaching of intelligent design," explained West. "Although we think discussion of intelligent design should not be prohibited, we don't think intelligent design should be required in public schools.

"What should be required is full disclosure of the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory," added West, "which is the approach supported by the overwhelming majority of the public." See here for more on the Discovery Institute's recommendations on how evolution should be taught.

If the Discovery Institute is not behind Dover's board in their attempt to insert ID into the high school science curriculum, indeed, if they're actually recommending that the policy be withdrawn, it's hard to imagine a court ruling sympathetically when the case comes to trial.

There have always been two issues at play in this controversy. One is the nature of ID and its suitability for public school classrooms and the other is the strategy and motives of the Dover school board. Viewpoint has argued that these should be considered separately, but unfortunately few observers and commentators have done this. We believe Dover's intentions are appropriate and commendable, but they would have done well to have secured advice from people who have some experience with the scientific and philosophical issues involved before formulating their policy statement. This document suffers from a regrettable lack of precision and coherence and shows all the signs of having been patched together from recommendations by several disparate groups.

Whether the board will continue to stick to their plans to implement the new policy despite the Discovery Institute's recommendations remains to be seen, but whatever course they follow they would help themselves by revising the policy statement before embarking upon it.

Thanks to Byron Borger for drawing our attention to a couple of the above-cited articles.

Victor David Hanson on the Left

Victor Davis Hanson has a must-read column at National Review Online for anyone interested in the moral decline and increasing irrelevancy of the left both at home and in Europe. The temptation is to post the whole piece but for the sake of brevity we'll offer only a part of it:

So both here and abroad, the Western public believes that there is a double standard in the moral judgment of our left-leaning media, universities, and politicians - that we are not supposed to ask how Christians are treated in Muslim societies, only how free Islamists in Western mosques are to damn their hosts; or that we are to think beheading, suicide murdering, and car bombing moral equivalents to the sexual humiliation and roguery of Abu Ghraib - apparently because the former involves post-colonial victims and the latter privileged, exploitive Americans. Most sane people, however, privately disagree, and distinguish between a civilian's head rolling on the ground and a snap shot of an American guard pointing at the genitalia of her terrorist ward.

What is preached in the madrassas on the West Bank, in Pakistan, and throughout the Gulf is no different from the Nazi doctrine of racial hatred. What has changed, of course, is that unlike our grandfathers, we have lost the courage to speak out against it. In one of the strangest political transformations of our age, the fascist Islamic Right has grafted its cause onto that of the Left's boutique "multiculturalism," hoping to earn a pass for its hate by posing as the "other" and reaping the benefits of liberal guilt due to purported victimization. By any empirical standard, what various Palestinian cliques have done on the West Bank - suicide murdering, lynching without trial of their own people, teaching small children to hate and kill Jews - should have earned them all Hitlerian sobriquets rather than U.N. praise.

"Imperialism" and "hegemony" explain nothing about recent American intervention abroad - not when dictators such as Noriega, Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein were taken out by the U.S. military. There are no shahs and Your Excellencies in their places, but rather consensual governments whose only sin was that they came on the heels of American arms rather than U.N. collective snoozing. There really was no secret Afghan pipeline behind toppling the Taliban, nor a French-like oil concession to be had for the United States from the new Iraqi interim government.

Many of Michael Moore's heroic "Minutemen" of the Sunni Triangle are hired killers - hooded fascists in the pay of ex-Baathists and Saddamites, along with Islamic terrorists and jihadists who hate the very idea of democracy in the heart of the Arab world. The collective cursus honorum of these Saddamite holdovers during the last two decades - gassing the Kurds, committing atrocities against the Iranians, looting and pillaging in Kuwait, launching missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia, slaughtering Shiites and again Kurds, and assassinating Western and U.N. aid workers - rank right up there with the work of the SS and KGB.

It won't do any longer to attribute American outrage over the U.N. to a vast right-wing conspiracy led by red-state senators and Fox News. All the standing ovations for Kofi Annan cannot hide the truth that the Oil-for-Food scandal exceeds Enron. Indeed, Ken Lay's malfeasance never involved the deaths of thousands, while cronies siphoned off food and supplies from a starving populace. The U.S. military does not tolerate mass rape and plunder among its troops, as is true of the U.N. peacekeepers throughout Africa.

There can be no serious U.N. moral sense as long as illiberal regimes - a Syria, Iran, or Cuba - vote in the General Assembly and the Security Council stymies solutions out of concern for an autocratic China that swallowed Tibet. Millions were slaughtered in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur while New York bureaucrats either condemned Israel or damned anyone who censured their own inaction and corruption. Rather than faulting those who fault the U.N., leftists should lament the betrayal of the spirit of the liberal U.N. Charter by regimes that are neither democratic nor liberal but who seek legitimacy solely on their ability to win concessions and sympathy from guilt-ridden Westerners.

So it is also time to take a hard look at the heroes and villains of Hollywood, liberal Democrats, and the Euro elites. Many are as obsessed with damning the senile dictator of Chile as they are with excusing the unelected President for Life Fidel Castro. But let us be frank. A murderous Pinochet probably killed fewer of his own than did a mass-murdering Castro, and left Chile in better shape than contemporary Cuba is in. And the former is long gone, while the latter is still long in power.

This is great stuff and there's much, much more of it at the link. The left has made itself irrelevant because of its moral inanity, its proclivity for seeing evil only in the U.S. and its allies, and its alacrity in blaming America for all the world's ills. It has discredited itself by sacrificing truth on the altar of political advantage and by following, supporting, or defending a burgeoning array of mountebanks, charlatans, thugs, tyrants, and thieves. The left believes themselves to be ascending the slope of a new and glorious future when in fact their climb is leading them to the crest of the ash heap of history.