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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

April 15, 2005 PERMALINK
Ready To Nuke?
(posted April 15 1 AM ET)

Last week, LiberalOasis said it looked like the GOP, under pressure from corporate conservatives, was backing down from using the “nuclear option” to end filibusters of judicial nominations, to the chagrin of social conservatives.

It may be that LO spoke too soon.

Now it appears -- in the battle between the Fat Cats and the Fringe Fundamentalists, the pillars of the GOP coalition -- the tide may have turned.

According to today’s W. Post, Sen. Maj. Leader Bill Frist is “all but certain” to push the button in the next few weeks.

But has the frenzy of the Fringe Fundamentalists really won out over the money from the Fat Cats?

It is clear that the social conservatives, livid that even GOP judges won't do their bidding 100% of the time, are putting massive pressure on Frist and GOP to push the button.

(Last week, Sen. Rick Santorum was trying to quell right-wing outrage at the prospect of the GOP flinching, insisting that Frist was “committed” to the nuclear option.)

What is unclear is if Frist has the 50 votes needed under Senate procedure to change the filibuster rules. Several GOPers are reluctant to take a clear position.

If he doesn’t have the votes, it would be somewhat embarrassing for Frist, who wants to run for prez, to call a vote and lose.

But the upside may beat the embarrassment: he could tell the Fringe Fundamentalists that he did all he could for them, while telling the Fat Cats that their legislative agenda won’t be stalled.

If he does have the votes, he appears to be trying to mollify the Fat Cats by delaying the moment of reckoning, in order to squeeze out a few more corporate-friendly bills.

So we won’t know which GOP faction is in greater control until Frist follows through (or chooses not to).

Furthermore, all those calculations only involve managing this increasingly fraying GOP coalition, not about winning broader public support.

On that score, the GOP is worried, according to yesterday’s report in The Hill:

Senate Republican leaders were due to meet last night amid rising concern that they are being beaten on the “nuclear option” by Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) public-relations war room...

...“I think there’s a realization that this particular [Democratic] effort has to be countered and they’re in full-scale attack mode,” a GOP aide said, adding, “I think that people know that we’ve got a serious problem here...

At a closed-door luncheon Tuesday, members of the Democratic caucus were presented a stack of more than 260 press editorials from 41 states…arguing against changing Senate rules to prohibit judicial filibusters.

That’s quite a change from a year and a half ago, when many editorial boards criticized Democrats for blocking confirmation votes on President Bush’s judicial nominees.

The turnaround has flummoxed Senate Republicans and conservatives...

...“They turned it around,” the aide said, and “one can suggest that it’s because of our lack of organized countermessaging.”

As awful as it would be in the long run to have the nuclear option implemented, there are big short-term political risks for the GOP.

And that’s in large part because the Dems have done a pretty good job making clear what’s at stake.

Which, of course, makes it all the more inexplicable that a handful of Dems are sending mixed signals about Reid’s strategy.

The GOP is all turned around, blindsided by Dem attacks, scrambling to keep its base together and taking their eye off the general electorate.

Reid’s game plan is working. Accommodation should be the last thing on Dem minds.

April 14, 2005 PERMALINK
This 'n' That
(posted April 14 1:30 AM ET)

That Commie Pinko Estate Tax

Why are we so close to having the inheritance tax repealed, or mostly repealed, by Congress?

The W. Post helpfully informs us: it’s because the tax is just so very wrong:

The secret of the repeal movement's success has been its appeal to principle over economics.

While repeal opponents bellowed that only the richest of the rich would ever pay the estate tax, proponents appealed to Americans' sense of fairness, that individuals have the natural right to pass on their wealth to their children.

Ah yes, glorious right-wing principles will trump that infernal liberal bellowing any day.

It certainly has nothing to do with the fact that half the country has been wrongly led to believe that “most families” pay the estate tax, and that 7 of out 10 repeal supporters think they will be directly affected. (See this PDF file of a 2003 NPR poll)

Those Convenient Permanent Military Bases

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s "request" for stronger military ties with us is another step on the path to permanent military bases there.

Why would we want bases in Afghanistan?

The NY Times offers it’s first-rate analysis:

Those bases could be used as necessary to continue the hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda...

Another grand advancement in the War on Terror! Well who wouldn’t that?

Why put a damper on the whole thing by mentioning how the neocons want bases so they can exert influence in the region by unilaterally threatening and pressuring Iran and China?

That Crazy Newt

Why might have Newt Gingrich gone out of his way to knock Tom DeLay for blaming his predicament on Dems?

Perhaps because DeLay was a leader in the botched coup attempt to oust Newt as Speaker in 1997 (which eventually worked a year later).

Newt’s jab is not a sign of weakening support for DeLay among right-wingers.

(Though it may be a sign that Newt is more interested in payback than in positioning for a presidential run.)

As far as leading conservatives are concerned, DeLay is still the embodiment of conservatism.

And there is no reason why we should disagree.

April 13, 2005 PERMALINK
Attacking Judges Is Hard
For Conservatives and Liberals
(posted April 13 1:45 AM ET)

As conservatives try to whip up anger against the judiciary, they’re running into a problem that liberals have struggled with for years.

People generally like judges.

Certainly more than they like politicians.

Judges are seen as above politics, all dignified and stately with their fancy robes, not like money-grubbing two-faced pols.

So it doesn’t easily resonate when you argue that the judiciary should have less power, and Congress should have more.

For example, there were no riots in the streets after Bush v. Gore.

Sure, hard-core Dems still burn with anger at the intellectually bankrupt ruling.

But many people, even some Dems, were thankful that the Court stepped in and took care of messy situation.

Same thing with the Schiavo case.

Sure, right-wingers are livid that judges up and down the chain refused to intervene.

But the vast majority of people, including some Republicans, were relieved that the dignified judges kept lowly politicians from meddling any further in the private business of a married couple.

Right-wingers, with their trademark tenaciousness/cluelessness, aren’t bothering to step back and ask themselves how they missed the mark so badly.

They’re plowing ahead, and then some.

They’re calling for the impeachment of judges, legislation that would prevent judges from even hearing cases on issues like gay marriage, and intimidation of judges by threatening to slash judicial budgets as well as call congressional hearings to scrutinize judges’ decisions.

But instead of searching for a compelling message that would persuade the majority of the country why such steps should be taken for the good of the public, the Right seems content stressing that, under their interpretation of the Constitution, such steps can be taken for their own selfish ends.

That’s how people lose power, by taking the public for granted.

While the Right’s missteps on judges will likely slow their momentum heading into an expected summertime Supreme Court nomination battle, that does not automatically translate into added momentum for us.

Because we still have similar obstacles to overcome.

You can bet that no matter how extreme Bush’s Supreme Court pick is, he or she won’t be wearing that extremism on his or her sleeve. (Everyone has learned what Robert Bork learned the hard way in 1987).

The choice will undoubtedly be spun as a “mainstream conservative,” and the burden will be on the opponents to argue otherwise.

For years, liberals have struggled to explain what exactly is so bad about the Rehnquist court: how are civil rights being rolled back, how does that impact people’s lives?

The issues involved can be very arcane, and the public’s innate respect for the high Court adds to the uphill nature of the task.

But seeing the Right sputter and flounder should be a lesson in what not to do.

When we fight Bush nominees this summer, we must do our best to avoid getting bogged down in technical, procedural matters.

And we have to find a way to explain how each Bush nominee is part of a larger conservative agenda to take rights away from the people in order to satisfy their fat cat and fringe fundamentalist backers.

Most importantly, we’ll have to show how that agenda will directly harm people’s lives.

By establishing such narrative, it would give Dems an broad, substantive basis for opposing several nominees, as opposed to having a litmus test on a couple of issues, or having to dig up unique bits of salacious info for each nominee.

Easy to say, hard to do.

April 12, 2005 PERMALINK
DeLay Turns To (His) Ethics Committee
(posted April 12 1:15 AM ET)

Yesterday, LiberalOasis argued that Sen. Rick Santorum’s Sunday comments were not really intended to slap DeLay, as they have been portrayed throughout the media.

On the contrary, they were in sync with DeLay’s own call to have the House Ethics Cmte (which has been packed with DeLay loyalists) look at the allegations.

After that post, on CNN’s Inside Politics, we saw that strategy continue.

First, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal exploited his paper’s newfound cache (as it’s editorial board recently criticized DeLay) to dutifully drum the same talking point:

I think that there is some questions about these trips and some questions about the funding of them that should be answered.

That's probably best handled by an Ethics Committee that's divided evenly between the two parties. That's how we've handled previous things.

And the Ethics Committee has been reconstituted, they should be given the chance to go back and look at all of this.

He even had the chutzpah to spin the recent purge of independent GOPers from the ethics panel as some sort of cleansing “reconstitution.”

Following Fund’s sorry performance, DeLay ally Rep. Roy Blunt went on CNN to echo the same talking points.

[DeLay is] eager to go to the Ethics Committee and let them look at these things that have generally been previously cleared by them.

This passes for fair and balanced on CNN.

The conservative DeLay “critic” supports turning the matter over to the neutered Ethics Cmte. The conservative DeLay buddy wants the same, as apparently does DeLay himself.

The message is patently clear: conservatives sure believe in ethics!

Anyway, the point here is that pushing for and wishing for a conservative rebellion to take down DeLay may not be the best area of focus.

Yesterday, Bob Novak wrote that, “the campaign to get DeLay still needs a major anti-DeLay Republican to go public” and Fred Barnes made similar remarks on Fox News, noting that the moderate Rep. Chris Shays doesn’t qualify.

It is doubtful that either would make such a comment if they thought a top conservative would shortly go public. They set the bar at a place that they think would be tough to clear.

Meanwhile, we need to make sure that any attempt to dump this in the joke of an Ethics Cmte is quickly called out for what it is.

April 11, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted April 11 1 AM ET)
(edited April 11 11 AM ET)

Santorum and DeLay: Wrist-Slap or Hand-in-Hand?

The media, and some bloggers, parsed comments from Sen. Rick Santorum on ABC’s This Week to infer that he was trying to distance himself from House Maj. Leader Tom DeLay.

What Santorum said was (video at Crooks and Liars):

I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves.

But from everything I've heard, again, from the comments and responding to those, is everything he's done was according to the law.

Now you may not like some of the things he's done.

That's for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior or not.

But as far as the focus on him, I think clearly, when you have a leader of Tom DeLay's passion and Tom DeLay's effectiveness, you have a media that's very much going after him and tracking him and dogging him and trying to find what they can about him.

Many are zeroing in on the first sentence, as it is safe to assume that Santorum would know that a call for DeLay to “come forward” would generate more headlines than the repeating of GOP talking points that followed.

But before you assume everything is falling apart around DeLay, note this:

Santorum’s call was echoed yesterday by none other than DeLay’s spokesman. As the AP reported:

DeLay's spokesman, Dan Allen, told AP that the congressman "looks forward to the opportunity of sitting down with the ethics committee chairman and ranking member to get the facts out and to dispel the fiction and innuendo that's being launched at him by House Democrats and their liberal allies."

Of course, the AP story did not mention that the GOP has turned the Ethics Cmte into essentially a stacked deck -- guaranteed to deadlock along party lines and neglect to investigate anyone, especially DeLay.

So Santorum, who is headed for a tight re-election race in the swing state of PA next year, may be doing a clever two-step:

Score the headlines that make him look independent and ethical, while laying the groundwork for DeLay to be “cleared” by the Ethics Cmte.

Mouths Foaming Over Judges

Meanwhile, the right-wing continues to get unhinged over judges.

Although, GOP Sen. John Cornyn, who recently argued that recent judicial homicides may be connected to rising anger about judges making “political decisions,” tried extra hard not to sound insane yesterday.

On Fox News Sunday, Cornyn responded to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s observation that some right-wingers are calling for the impeachment of judges they don’t like by saying:

...no one is suggesting that impeachment occur. That has not been suggested in Senate at all.

Oops! Guess Santorum didn’t get that memo. Here he is on ABC yesterday:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: …at [a conservative] conference [this past week] there were several speakers who said … Congress ought to consider impeaching judges, including [Supreme Court] Justice Kennedy.

Do you go along with that?

SANTORUM: Well, I don't necessarily go along with impeaching Justice Kennedy.

But should we impeach judges who violate the law? We have in the past.

Should we look at situations where judges have decided to go off on their own tangent and disobey the statutes of the United States of America?

I think that's a legitimate area for oversight -- sure.

Back on Fox, Cornyn tried to clean up his earlier insane comments about judicial homicides:

...my point was, maybe unartfully stated, is that the founders thought that judges would be what they call the least dangerous branch because they wouldn't be making policy decisions.

They'd be enforcing policy decisions made by Congress.

This “least dangerous branch” talking point is a right-wing favorite when claiming that the founders wanted the judicial branch to be subservient to Congress (except, of course, when Congress does liberal things, then judges can screw over Congress all it wants).

But it’s another classic “up is down” talking point.

It’s true that Alexander Hamilton, in one of the Federalist Papers, called the judiciary the “least dangerous [branch] to the political rights of the Constitution.”

But he was trying to make the point, now commonplace in 8th grade classrooms across America, that the judicial branch’s job is to independently interpret the Constitution.

And that the judiciary’s inherent “least dangerous” status requires it to be protected from the Congress -- not be subservient to it -- in order to carry out its responsibility.

Hamilton wrote:

-- the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks.

-- the general liberty of the people can never be endangered … so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the Executive.

For I agree, that “there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.”

-- The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts … It belongs to them to ascertain [the Constitution’s] meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body.

-- this conclusion [does not] by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power.

It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former.

So basically, Hamilton was warning against exactly what the GOP Congress is trying to do right now.

Note to journalists: you’re allowed to confront those who regularly distort the original intent of the Founders through selective quotation.

More Straight Talk!

Sen. John McCain, so-called practitioner of straight talk, had this to say on CBS’ Face The Nation about his position on using the nuclear option to end filibusters of judicial nominations.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Would you oppose this if Senator Frist decides to do it, Senator McCain?

McCAIN: I would listen to my leaders.

I believe that these judges should be confirmed. I think that they are good people. And as I said, elections have consequences.

Having said that, the Senate is different ... We have traditionally protected the rights of the minority...

...and if we don't protect the rights of the minority, someday history shows that we won't always be in the majority...

SCHIEFFER: Well, can I just ask you the direct question? Are you opposed to doing away with the filibuster, Senator?

McCAIN: Yes.

SCHIEFFER: You are.

McCAIN: Yes, but I will listen to our leadership.

Is there such a thing as a “straight-waffle”?

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Liquid List: "It is a cliché in American newsrooms that "If it bleeds, it leads." Sadly, despite the amount of blood shed in Darfur, the genocide has received very little coverage."

The Washington Note finds Sen. Hagel may be reconsidering his support for John Bolton, while Talking Points Memo says Sen. Chafee is leaning towards supporting Bolton

Salon gives Tom DeLay a slew of articles about him for his b-day

Arkansas Tonight: Behind Closed-Doors At The Wal-Mart Media Conference

MyDD: Brian Darling, Republican Senator Martinez, and the Schiavo memo

Democracy Arsenal: "progressives and the military could learn a lot from each other ... the two could become allies in developing a new civil-military relationship for the post 9/11 era"

Tapped on DeLay: "The United States of America cannot have one of its top congressional leaders taking money from people advocating for Russian military-intelligence and defense interests as part of a lobbying deal."

**************

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