The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Are Dems Macavity or falling down on the job?

Macavity is TS Eliot's feline variation of Conan Doyle's Moriarty, of course:
the bafflement of Scotland Yard, The Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime-- Macavity's not there!

The Democrats' task is not to avoid detection after committing a crime but avoiding a stiff sentence for a crime they did not commit: killing Terri Schiavo.

And the weight of the evidence seems to be that a Conventional Wisdom has crystallised to the effect that, in order for the Dems to achieve their goal, making themselves as scarce as Macavity was the Right Thing to Do.

The mendacious Swift Boat Veterans showed (as if it needed showing) that mud sticks; that the Big Media will report gums that flap loudly enough even given a lack of evidence or credibility or any worthwhile support for the story told.

It's a little depressing to think that Dem wise men are afraid of repeating the pisspoor performance of the Kerry campaign in dealing with the Swifties' fairy tales; but no doubt, after three botched campaigns on the trot (2000, 2002 and 2004), no one wants to take chances.

But was that the only way to go?

First, it's not a parliamentary system: there are 535 parties represented in the Capitol, and one or two of them, in the Senate, could have made a stand, surely, without staining the party [1]. Senators like Barbara Boxer who are (I'm surmising) not planning to run again; old lags like Ted Kennedy. Registered wackoes control of whose actions the leadership might claim plausible deniability.

Second, how will this play with the Dem base into 2006? The Dems in the Senate have sat on their hands on nominations, on the tort reform bill, on the bankruptcy bill and now on Schiavo. We'll know by then whether this was masterly inactivity or dither and funk, I suppose: but a few lower court judges filibustered may be a hard sell as success.

Judicial appointments are speculative - the damage a judge can do depends on the cases he gets, the panels he sits with and - as Republican presidents have found in particular - on whether the judge proves to live up to his ideological rep.

On the other hand, the bankruptcy bill (S 256) alone - discussed several times here - will do real damage to American working people (oops, middle class, that should be...); the case against that bill was in the Democratic wheelhouse - it was a chance to revisit those New Deal glory days, and get a genuine Big Tent movement against the money interests.

And the Dems deliberately decided to pass by on the other side.

Moreover, I'm not clear that keeping their powder dry does anything for Dem chances of balking those judicial appointments anyway: surely, what is needed is high morale born of victories, not the frustration of inertia and eternal promises.

Besides, these days, a filibuster does not generally involve hi-jinks of the Huey Long sort: senators can stop a bill in its track with a hold implicitly threatening a filibuster without the need to follow through [2].

My hypothesis is that, if they really wanted to, Senate Dems have much more leeway to screw up GOP legislation short of shutting down the government than they would like folks to believe.

  1. Of course, if keeping the crime scene free of Dem fingerprints was the aim, that was screwed by the Dems who voted against S 686 (in RC 90 - the score was 203-98, D47-53, R156-5). More than half of House Dems who expressed a preference voted to 'murder' Schiavo!

    Sounds to me like a Democratic Mission Accomplished...

  2. CRS report of March 2003; also Fisk and Chemerinsky's article The Filibuster I mentioned on December 6 2004.

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