Monday, April 25, 2005

Fear of Mandate 

If "Justice Sunday" rallied nationwide support for the anti-filibuster "nuclear option," we would hate to see where support for the nuclear option stood before Justice Sunday:

[B]y a 2 to 1 ratio, the public rejected easing Senate rules in a way that would make it harder for Democratic senators to prevent final action on Bush's nominees. Even many Republicans were reluctant to abandon current Senate confirmation procedures: Nearly half opposed any rule changes, joining eight in 10 Democrats and seven in 10 political independents, the poll found.

The wide-ranging survey also recorded a precipitous decline in support for the centerpiece of Bush's Social Security plan -- private or personal accounts -- despite the fact that the president and other administration officials have been stumping the country in a 60-day blitz to mobilize support. The Post-ABC poll found that a bare majority -- 51 percent -- opposed such accounts, while 45 percent supported them.

The poll also registered drops in key Bush performance ratings, growing pessimism about the economy and continuing concern about U.S. involvement in Iraq.

On the issue that has consumed the capital's political community this spring, four in 10 said that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, under fire for alleged ethics violations, should resign his leadership post, while a third of the public said he should remain in his job. Among the 36 percent who said they have been following the allegations against DeLay, nearly two in three said DeLay should step down.

Taken together, the findings suggest that Bush is off to a difficult start in his second term, with Democrats far less willing to accommodate him and his agenda than his reelection victory last November may have foreshadowed. Beyond that, the survey highlights the divisions within the Republican Party, whether that involves Bush's signature Social Security proposal or the intersection of religion and politics that has become a defining characteristic of today's GOP . . . .

On several other key measures of performance, Bush's standing with the public was at or near new lows, with less than half the public supporting the way the president is handling the economy, energy policy and Iraq. Four in 10 approved of Bush's handling of the economy, down six points since the start of the year. Slightly more than a third of the public approved of Bush's energy policies, and Americans were more inclined to blame the president rather than oil companies or other countries for soaring gasoline prices.
And how has the leadership of the Democratic party responded to this stroke of good fortune? As usual, an expression of overwhelming public support is apparently all it takes to set them quaking in their boots with terror:

Maneuvering in advance of a Senate floor showdown on judicial nominees intensified Monday as Senate Democrats prepared a compromise offer to Republicans that would allow votes on some judges and showcased new tactics for confronting Republicans should filibusters be barred.

Congressional officials said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, could make a proposal as early as Tuesday to allow votes on two of three Michigan nominees for a single appeals court. It could be coupled with other guarantees to Republicans, potentially including a vote on one of four candidates drawing the deepest opposition. In return, the majority would have to forswear any rules changes that prevented filibusters.

"There is a way to avoid the nuclear shutdown, and I'm working with my colleagues to put that plan in place," Mr. Reid said in a statement issued Monday evening, though he and his aides refused to provide details.

At the same time, Democrats, fearing a backlash, suddenly abandoned talk of using the chamber's arcane rules to bring the Senate to a standstill in the fight over judges. Instead, they said they intended to call up their measures on health care, education and veterans' benefits with the hope of making Republicans take what could be politically awkward votes.
"A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel."

--Sen. B. Goldwater

UPDATE (4/26): Frist has rejected any possibility of a compromise. Our 600-lb. colleague Kos reads this development as a win for Reid and the Democrats:
[I]n order to avoid looking like obstructionists, Demcorats had to make efforts to "find a compromise", lest the chattering class get the vapors from such Democratic intransigence.

Had Frist accepted the offers for compromise, Bush would've gotten the majority of his judges through, and Democrats would've gotten -- who knows what. All published compromise offers didn't seem to give our side anything.

So Democrats would've faced a sea of criticism from our own side for snatching defeat out of the hands of victory. Frist and Co. would've finally gotten a procedural victory against Reid (who has run circles around them thus far). And all that good will Reid had built in the netroots over the past four months would've evaporated in one fell swoop.

It was one heck of a gamble, but the Senator from Nevada played his cards right.

Frist painted himself into a corner, having whipped up the forces of wingnuttery into a froth, he could not back down without damaging his White House aspirations for 2008. He's banking on the crazies to get him the nomination.

So Reid got the Democrats to look conciliatory, forcing Frist and his Republicans to look even more inflexible than before.
If the point of the entire exercise is perception management, then Reid may have scored a victory. Does making the Democrats look "conciliatory" and the Republicans "inflexible" tip enough Republican votes our way to preserve the filibuster? Does it prevent any of Bush's dismal nominees from taking seats on the federal bench for life? Does it help the Democrats pick up any Senate seats eighteen months from now? If, as polls indicate, the public is catching on to the nature of the GOP's naked grab for power, it is not much of a payoff for the opposition party to "avoid looking like obstructionists."

We assume that this is an early skirmish in what Sen. Reid envisions as a larger campaign. We will have to wait and see how it unfolds.

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