May 01, 2005

Column International Worker's Day 2005 Commentary

Reading this column should give those brave souls who regularly venture forth into the wilds of David Brooks's writings a strong feeling of deja vu. Blah blah blah compromise, blah blah blah civility, blah blah blah special interest groups are bad, tied together by the insistence that both Republicans and Democrats are equally at fault: if the reader finds this familiar, it's because it is the basis of every column that Brooks writes about politics these days. I don't really feel like going over familiar ground again, and anyway I've already covered the main points of this column that need to be addressed -- the Democrats are not abusing the filibuster, the radical Christian right is the main force driving the move towards the nuclear option -- in a previous piece, so I'm just going to make a couple of key points here. First point: while civility and compromise are important in the Senate, they are important solely as tools for governing, not as ends of their own. Senators are not elected to be civil and compromise: they are elected to govern. Second point: if one party has blocked a handful of extremist court nominees using the only tool available to it and the other party is attempting to overturn years of tradition to remove that tool at the behest of a group of radical Christians who want to turn the country into a theocracy, the second party is to blame for the situation. Brooks does his best to hold up the fiction that radical leftist interest groups are pushing the Democrats just as hard as the fundies are pushing the Republicans, but the fundies keep undermining him by holding events like Justice Sunday to air their claim that the filibuster is being used against "people of faith". Who knew that the 200 or so Bush nominees who were confirmed in his first term were all atheists? And remember that in Clinton's second term the Republicans prevented 65 nominees from obtaining floor votes by various methods, all of which they eliminated as soon as Bush became president. The Democrats, by comparison, have blocked exactly ten nominees, and all of them because they would make bad judges. This last point sounds obvious, but during Clinton's second term the Republicans would often deny hearings to Clinton appointees simply because something Clinton had done -- his continuing to exist, for instance -- had annoyed them. Really, these two points are all you need to understand the fundamental dishonesties of Brooks's approach.

Finally, a historical note: at the end of the column, Brooks urges that the Senators look back to Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser. Interestingly, Clay's reputation for compromises stems from his involvement in the Missouri Compromise and Compromise of 1850, both of which were ultimately futile attempts to patch over the fundamental differences between the pro-slavery South and the anti-slavery North. I'm not sure if this is exactly the model Brooks thinks the Senate should emulate. Also, it should be noted that Clay was extremely partisan at times and waged a political war with Andrew Jackson that was easily as bitter as anything between Democrats and Republicans today.

I apologize for the general shortness of my recent posts, but life has me by the hind leg, as they say. I hope to resume regularly scheduled service shortly.