Monday, May 23, 2005

Empty Accusations of Hypocrisy

This is a revised version of my comment on Will Saletan's article on the filibuster fight in the Senate in Slate. As he's done dozens if not hundreds of times before, Will Saletan sets up his frame game to nail politicians as hypocrite. Here the Republicans are "framing" the battle over judicial nominations in terms of "principles" of majority rule only to hypocritically use majority stalling tactics to block legislation they don't like such as Mike Castle's legislation on stem cell research. La De Da! Needless to say, Saletan thinks the Democrats are being just as hypocritical in their own way. Luckily for us, Saletan didn't feel the need to pull that particular rabbit out of the hat. Saletan's method actually gives the Republican leadership in the Senate much more credit than they deserve. Nothing could be farther from the case. First, it's not the Republican Senate leadership that's framing the issue. Conservative talk shows, web sites, activist groups, and consultants had been framing the fight over Bush's right wing appointments in terms of "obstructionist democrats," "majority rule" and an "up and down vote" since before the 2004 elections. The Bush administration picked up on the grass-roots ferment and renominated the worst of Bush's right-wing judicial nominees after Bush was re-elected. The Republican Senate leadership neither set the agenda or defined the terms of debate for judicial nominations. That's why Frist and Santorum are using a lot of talk radio language about tyranny, Nazi's and "destroying" nominees. They're speaking to an audience of the conservative activists who originally framed the issue in right-wing terms. As one of the most "stuck in the Beltway" journalists in the country, Saletan completely misses the role of activist initiative in setting up the current debate.Second, who really believes that the Bush people, the Senate Republican leadership, or conservative activists care about majority rule or up and down votes? Nobody!!! What they care about is is appointing right-wing judges who won't accomodate judicial precedent on abortion, prayer in schools, public displays of religion, homosexuality, and environmental issues. The right-wing of the Republican Party has been disappointed time and again by the "appeasement" of traditional conservatives like Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor. They want to start filling up the federal judiciary with its own people on the bench and are fervently calling for changes in Senate procedure to overcome Democratic opposition. Here's where Saletan does Republicans a favor. By focusing on majority rule, Saletan ignores the ugly history of right-wing objections to "judicial tyranny" going back to Brown v Board of Education, Griswold v Connecticut, and other decisions that have made life a lot better for most Americans. Few things have been better for this country than "judicial activism" and conservative activists would like us to forget that in the debate over "majority rule."Third, Saletan's sterile emphasis on hypocrisy does nothing to capture the particular blend of authenticity and deceptiveness that characterizes conservative activists. There's few things that are less hypocritical than the conservative approach to the judiciary. They want the judiciary to overturn Roe v Wade on abortion, Griswold v Connecticut on contraception, Miranda v Arizona on the rights of criminal defendants, the whole range of public religion decisions, and the recent Texas case on sodomy. They want a judiciary that makes conservative values the basis for judicial interpretation. No hypocrisy there. What's deceptive about conservatives is that they are not willing to specifically argue that Bush's judicial selections should be nominated because they're going to pursue a right-wing agenda. Instead, they have created a rhetorical mirage about "majority rule," and "up or down votes" as a way to appeal to majority values and induce the majority to acquiesce to the conservative agenda even if they completely disagree. By focusing on the rhetoric of majority rule while ignoring right-wing values, Saletan completely misses the underlying dishonesty of the Republican leadership and therefore makes zero contribution to the debate.


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