Oh how times have changed. When George Bush was in office, Senate Democrats approved nearly 200 nominees for district and circuit courts, without filibuster. When in July 2004 Democrats blocked three nominees were (bringing the grand total to ten), the GOP screamed bloody murder, with breathless accusations that Democrats broke Senate tradition.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was beside himself with indignation, claiming that "It is a sad commentary on the deterioration of the judicial confirmation process that we are now approaching double-digit filibusters."
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), then the Majority Whip, complained that Democrats were attempting to diminish executive power: "What we're talking about, then, is senators wanting to adorn themselves with the power of co-nomination." McConnell demanded that Democrats "move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent." He demanded "a simple up-or-down vote" declaring that Democrats wanted to "take away the power to nominate from the president and grant it to a minority of 41 senators." Assuming the mantle of the patriot, McConnell said in May 2005, "The majority in the Senate is prepared to restore the Senate's traditions and precedence to ensure that regardless of party, any president's judicial nominees, after full and fair debate, receive a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate floor."
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) went nearly ballistic in the face of Democratic opposition to Bush's nominees, lamenting with great piety the Democrats' "unprecedented, obstructive tactics." He claimed it was "really wrong" that Democrats opposed Bush nominees "on a partisan filibuster." He righteously demanded "an up-and-down vote."
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned ominously that "if the filibuster becomes an institutional response where 40 senators driven by special interest groups declare war on nominees in the future, the consequence will be that the judiciary will be destroyed over time."
Bill Frist (R-TN) in 2005 complained loudly that the Democrats were "attempting to change 225 years of constitutional history" by opposing George Bush's nominees. He went on: "Appeals court judicial nominees should get a fair, open, and exhaustive debate, and then they should get an up-or-down vote. Whether on the floor or in committee, it is time for judicial obstruction to end no matter which party controls the White House or the Senate. Senate tradition is comprised of shared values based on civility and respect for the Constitution. I sincerely hope that Senate tradition can be restored. It is a matter of fairness. It is a matter of honor. It is our constitutional duty to give these nominees a vote."
Apparently, having a black, Kenyan-born Communist who is both Muslim and a radical Christian in the Oval Office changes the rules. That is the only conclusion we can reach, because those same Republican senators have reversed their opinions 180 degrees now that Obama is forwarding his judicial nominees to the Senate. With no evident embarrassment about colossal inconsistency, all support the filibuster to block Obama from filling judicial vacancies. Where is the Republican outrage about breaking Senate tradition? Where is GOP indignation about taking power away from the president? Where is the conservative wail against obstructive tactics? Why no lament that Senators were adorning themselves with the power of co-nomination? What happened to the matter of fairness and respect for the Constitution so vigorously defended when Bush was president?
Look at McConnell's extensive statements about the injustice of Democrats blocking Bush's nominations to the courts. Compare what McConnell said then to what he says now about Obama's picks for the D.C. circuit court just yesterday: "We are going to deal with those nominees as we have others." Yes, filibuster to prevent their confirmation. Three times in three weeks the GOP blocked a vote to prevent confirmation of one of Obama's nominees for the D.C. circuit court. Robert L. Wilkins, Cornelia Pillard and Patrica Millett all fell to the same filibuster fate; the one so decried by McConnell when Bush was president even when used with restraint by Democrats. Obama is now zero for three on the D.C. circuit court; compare that to Bush, who had four of his six nominations to the circuit court approved; that is 0% for Obama versus 67% for Bush. Are you getting a sense of the imbalance here?
While that immoral reversal would be bad enough on its own, the GOP simply cannot stop there. They oddly accuse Obama of trying to "pack" the D.C. appeals court any time he tries to fill a vacancy. The charge is an absurdly revisionist reference to FDR, who tried to increase the number of Supreme Court seats and then fill them with his nominees. Obama is not increasing the seats on the appeals court, only filling vacancies - his constitutional duty. And then going even further down the rabbit hole, the GOP is attempting "reverse packing" while falsely accusing Obama of doing the opposite; that is, the GOP wishes to eliminate seats on the appeals court to reduce the number of justices that Obama can nominate. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill (with the Orwellian title of the "Court Efficiency Act"), co-sponsored by Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), to reduce the seats on the appeals court for that very purpose.
Orrin Hatch ("it is a sad commentary...") also co-sponsored the bill. This is particularly rich in irony because in 2003 he gave a speech lamenting the number of vacancies on the DC Circuit court! With the count of filled seats down to eight judges at the time, Hatch called the vacancies "a crisis situation" due to the court's high workload. Yet now he sponsors a bill to reduce the size of the court. The only difference: Bush was president then and Obama is now. Hatch does not exactly stand on principle.
In the House the equivalent bill (in competition for the most Orwellian name -- the "Stop Court-Packing Act") was introduced by Tom Cotton (R-AR). The solution here is to stop "packing" - that is filling vacancies - by reverse packing while decrying packing that is not happening. We could not make this stuff up; the GOP has exceeded our wildest imaginations of hypocrisy and inconsistency.
Lest you think that this is just all fair in the art of politics, and that the Democrats do the same thing when they control the Senate when a Republican is in the Oval Office, think again. Sure, every politician makes statements that they either retract later or ignore while doing the opposite. That is par for the course - and not what I'm talking about. In the important case of judicial nominations, you cannot paint a picture of the Democrats exercising the same levels of pure hypocrisy as the GOP. The raw statistics paint a clear picture of a gross imbalance of excessive partisanship owned by conservatives. When Clinton was president, Republicans confirmed on average only 79% of his nominees to various courts (82% to the district court; 68% to the circuit court). With Obama to date Republicans have approved on average an outrageous 76% of the president's nominees (77% to the district court; 71% to the circuit court). Now compare those numbers to the nominees approved by Democrats when Bush was president: an average of 91% approval (with 94% for the district court and 94% for the circuit court). The pattern is clear: it is perfectly acceptable to block a judicial nominee if the president is a Democrat; but an affront to everything American to block a nominee if the president is a Republican.
In fact, GOP obstruction of Obama's judicial nominees is "the highest that's ever been recorded" as measured by the metric of the Index of Obstruction and Delay, a scale developed by a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dr. Sheldon Goldman. Dr. Goldman concludes that the obstruction facing Obama is truly unprecedented in our history. For comparison: the index for Obama's circuit court nominations is 0.9524; the index for Bush nominations to that court is 0.6176 - in the 108th Congress when Democrats controlled the Senate. So while both Republicans and Democrats naturally engage in partisanship, the scales are not remotely close to even.
Why is there not more outrage about this? I propose that the rational world is suffering from a form of PTSD in the face of the relentless Republican attack on reason and fact. We are collectively shell shocked by the absurd claims of the Tea Party, the deep hypocrisy of the right wing, and the GOP's never-ending assault on the truth. We are numbed by the ceaseless bombardment of right wing crazy.
We have become adapted to the noise of false claims by suppressing our outrage; so we hear little about GOP inconsistency with nearly all things Obama, blaming him for all of our ills and giving him credit for no advances or successes. I recently wrote about the specific case of gas prices; but we see it too with the killing of bin Laden. Cheney wants credit, seriously, while falsely claiming Obama sought to took sole credit. Here is Cheney bizarrely accusing the president: "If President Obama were participating in his intelligence briefings on a regular basis then perhaps he would understand why people are so offended at his efforts to take sole credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden." Here is what Obama actually said in announcing the bin Laden's death:
Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who've worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.
We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.
From these words, Cheney's sick mind, reflecting the GOP's general inability to credit Obama with anything, got the idea of Obama taking sole credit. It makes one's head pound with pain.
We see this horrible imbalance with Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and North Korea, with DADT, with the rescue of the auto industry, saving the world from a deep global depression, saving Wall Street and the U.S. banking system. In each case any advance is dismissed or ignored and any setback is proof of Obama's incompetence or worse. Does anyone have any doubt, even the slightest, about what would be the GOP's reaction if the DOW were tanking instead of setting new record highs? If the DOW were low now, we know absolutely that the GOP would be screaming that Obama is anti-business; that his regulatory policies were a drag on the economy; and that his Communist tendencies made him hate Capitalism. If you still harbor doubts, allow me to remind you of a few headlines just five weeks after Obama assumed office:
• Bloomberg.com (March 6): "Obama Bear Market Punishes Investors as Dow Slumps." In this article the claim is further advanced with, "President Barack Obama now has the distinction of presiding over his own bear market."
• Wall Street Journal (March 6): "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." Author Michael Boskin prognosticates that, "It's hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president's policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis."
• Perhaps most astonishing of all, on November 25, 2008, John Tanny of Real Clear Markets, wrote an article entitled, "This Is Obama's Market, Good and Bad." Obama was not yet president!
We hear from none of these folks as the DOW closes close to 16,000. Where is the headline, "President Barack Obama now has the distinction of presiding over his own bull market"? Where? Nowhere to be seen.
We have become inured to the GOP's onslaught of prevarication, blatant falsehoods, and outright deceit. The GOP's malleable doctrines, flexible morality, and chameleon-like ethos create a bizarre world of fantasy untethered to reality, unbalanced by principle, and unconnected to most Americans. The GOP has attacked our sense of decency; politics are no longer fought on the grounds of principled differences but instead on the battlefield of right-wing extremism. We can do better. We deserve better. We can only hope the current turmoil within the GOP will ultimately yield a political party better than the abomination it has become.