So now we have the worst of all worlds: the prospect of some rotten new federal judges and the survival of the filibuster, which the Republicans have consented not to abolish and the Democrats have pledged almost never to use.
As Senator Russ Feingold said, “Democrats should have stood together firmly…. Confirming unacceptable judicial nominations is simply a green light for the Bush Administration.”
Since I spent my youth reading fervent denunciations of the filibuster as a tool of Southern reaction, I found it beyond my powers to take the urgent advice of liberals over the past month, shed the prejudices of a lifetime and promote the filibuster to the status of progressivism’s stout bulwark.
Besides which, given the collapse of liberalism as the ideological framework for any vigorous advocacy for the better things (war on the palaces, peace to the cottages, etc.), why should we expect Democratic nominees to the federal bench to offer any last-ditch relief? The culture that produced Douglas, Brennan and Black is long gone. Happy “accidents,” if they come at all, will come from the right in the shape of libertarians like Souter.
Rather than get drawn into the recent unseemly haggling, it would be a rather more honorable and even realistic approach for the left to attack the whole corrupt system of judicial selection, from top to bottom. What possible justification can there be for a system in which all federal judges are within the gift of state delegations of the Democratic and Republican parties? Let’s have popular election of all judges.
The Senate, on the other hand, should abandon its comical pretensions to being a body reflecting any democratic mandate. Senators should be installed by some version of the phone-book approach. Probably the best method was the one obtaining at the former House of Lords, now destroyed by Tony Blair: incumbency by birthright, handed down the generations. Within not too many decades this simple method produced useful numbers of decent, independent-minded people. After Blair’s “reforms,” the place has become a quango, meaning a creature of the government of the day.
But these are mere dreams. Can there be anything more dismal than what we do have, Democrats in the House and Senate apparently brain-dead? These are times ripe with opportunity. The people largely hold the Republicans in derision and contempt. Bush huddles on the ledge of a 41 percent popular approval rating, heartened only by the fact that the Republican who not long ago towered above him in popular regard, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is perched on a 40 percent rating. The Congressional Republicans’ popular standing is somewhere in the 30s.
Day by day the news gets worse for Bush. He plunges into pits of his own making, like the Schiavo case. The economy turns to rubble. He nearly lost his main prop, Laura, to a coalition of the Sons of the Prophet and the Friends of Jonathan Pollard.
Yet there’s no sign of a vigorous Democratic onslaught. They surrendered on the nomination of the appalling John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN. Senator Barbara Boxer indicated on May 24 that she’s lifting her hold on the nomination. Senator Chris Dodd added the same day that there’s no desire for a filibuster. This is the same day that Republican Senator George Voinovich sent out a Dear Colleague letter assailing Bolton and urging all to vote against the man.
So it’s scarcely surprising that the testimony of the newly elected independent MP for London’s East End, George Galloway, had every person with any snap left in their stride cavorting in jubilant satisfaction. Here at last was a man who could deploy coherent sentences of well-merited, well-structured and richly detailed abuse at the nearest available representative of the Bush Administration. This happened to be Senator Norm Coleman, who doubtless rose that morning without the slightest apprehension that in a few hours a genuine parliamentary roughhouser would give him some whacks on the back of the neck whose bruises won’t fade for many a long year.
Another man who rose from his bed presumably no less confident of the shape of the day was Christopher Hitchens, who repaired to the Hill with the plan of garnering himself headlines by confronting Galloway. He tried to do so but ran into witheringly accurate small-arms fire, with Galloway chanting, “You’re a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay. Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink.”
This was the biggest thing to happen to popinjays since Hemingway defined one in Death in the Afternoon as “a writer who appreciates the seriousness of writing so little that he is anxious to make people see he is formally educated, cultured or well bred.” The routed popinjay, plumage adroop, fluttered wanly off to the offices of The Weekly Standard, where Murdoch paid him to retaliate with 3,900 distinctly less memorable words, dedicated to showing Galloway to be a shady fellow, using the stock arsenal of “filthy,” “mark the sequel” and other familiar popinjabber. At that length, using Hitchens’s standards of evidence and innuendo, I reckon I could make a pretty good case for Hitchens being the Armstrong Williams of high-end punditry.
One odd bit in Hitchens’s defensive diatribe was a wail about Galloway’s “main organizational muscle” being “provided by a depraved sub-Leninist sect called the Socialist Workers party.” In a slightly earlier incarnation the SWP was the organizational home port of the drink-soaked former Trotskyist C. Hitchens.
So Galloway showed what a man with fire in his belly can do. The Democrats have no one with that capacity. They have Nancy Pelosi, whose idea of a constructive approach to the Middle East was to tell AIPAC this week, “There are those who contend that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This is absolute nonsense…. In the words of Isaiah, we will make ourselves to Israel ‘as hiding places from the winds and shelters from the tempests; as rivers of water in dry places.'” She must have meant arms and cash. Israel already has the water.