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.