The faux indignation and outrage Republicans are spewing over Democratic opposition to the elevation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is a perfect illustration of the self-inflicted governmental dysfunction that is currently gripping the country. Whether or not Supreme Court judges should be held to a supermajority (in this case 60 vote) standard most likely depends upon which side of the aisle you sit on. That is not so much the issue here. Rather it is the current operating standard which now very much seems to be in peril. The consequences of changing the rules of the game while the game is still in progress begs the question as to how committed our leaders are to setting an exemplary path for others to follow.
Moving the goal posts to the goal line, thereby reducing the length of a field goal by 10 yards, in the third quarter to benefit the home team would by any reckoning be unfair, especially if you moved in back 10 yards when the opposing team was about to kick. The perversion of rules strikes the most dispassionate observer as unfair and invoking the nuclear option to require 51 votes instead of 60 is exactly that, a perversion of democratic procedure and protocol. In a very real sense caving to such perversion makes a mockery of our democratic system and signals that in a very real sense the anti-democratic campaign waged by Putin’s provocateurs in the recent election is having an significantly adverse impact.
Judge Merrick Garland was nominated by President Obama to fill the seat vacated by Antonin Scalia on March 16, 2016. That nomination languished the legislative Siberia for 293 days without so much as a hearing let alone a vote. The stalling and obstructionist tactics Republicans exercised during the past eight years was not only unfair but damaging. It deepened an already critical lack of confidence in both our leaders and institutions among the electorate. This is one of the factors that helped influence the outcome of the Presidential election. A consequence of the Trump election is a growing bipartisan concern over the abject incompetence of an administration that poses a real and present danger not only to the country but to the world. We must arrest this development and now!
One of the most fascinating and enduring consequences of the American form of representative democracy has been the strength of its governmental institutions to both perform the needed checks on overreach of power and provision for deliberate and incremental change that fosters stability. There are fewer and fewer institutionalists left in the halls of power in Washington today but they are needed more than ever. The likes of Robert Byrd, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, Mark Hatfield, and Ted Kennedy simply have not been appropriately replaced. These are the giants I grew up with as an intern in the Senate in the late 1970’s and as a staffer in the 1980’s. They lived for the honor of being part of the “greatest deliberative body in the world,” they truly believed in it, and acted accordingly.
So Leader McConnell this is the challenge before you, to channel your predecessors and uphold the integrity of the Upper Body. You, more than most, are familiar with the inner workings of the institution and it is no surprise to you that the consequences of your party’s actions last year would bring about an ultimate rebuke.
Take it like a man and use your skills to work around the situation that you have played a major role in creating. Search for a compromise that will allow for setting the train back on the proverbial track. At some point you are going to be forced to forge bipartisan consensus on major issues, particularly in light of this administration’s ham-fisted disdain for governance. No clearer indication than the recent bungling of the health care issue needs to be drawn out to show that you will need to play a bigger role in charting a path forward.
Exercising the so-called “nuclear option” is a capitulation to the forces of dysfunction and inaction and will stiffen already dangerous polarization. Show the country and the world that we have a system and leaders who are capable of overcoming seemingly intractable problems. This will be the most decisive defeat we can offer to those who would intentionally seek to destroy us. Anything less is unacceptable and will foster more anxiety, anger and frustration in an already emotionally taxed populace. Before too long they will exact a price you certainly are not willing to pay. Just look at the White House.