Nuclear hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of the Democrats invoking the “nuclear option” to abolish the filibuster for presidential appointments is palpable. I’m not going to bother to cite the myriad statements by Democrats decrying it (here’s one collection). I will cite the New York Times, after the break, because it expresses the hypocrisy so perfectly.

What I want to comment here is on the notion that hypocrisy over the nuclear option is somehow being practiced by both sides. (As a concrete example, there’s NBC’s account.) It’s natural for them to try to tell that story; the hypocrisy of their own side is so inarguable, all they can do is try to attribute some to the other side as well.

It’s utter nonsense. Yes, in 2005 there were a lot of Republicans arguing in favor of using the nuclear option to abolish the filibuster. And yes, some of those same Republicans are inveighing against it now. Does that make them hypocrites?

It would, if they had gone through with it in 2005. They did not. That’s the key historical fact that all the efforts to bipartisanize the hypocrisy somehow, bizarrely, seem to be forgetting.

If the Republicans had abolished the filibuster and now wanted it back, they would be complete hypocrites. They would be just as bad as the real-world Democrats, who demanded the filibuster be retained, got their way, and the abolished it once they were on the other side.

But Republicans didn’t do it. They stepped back from the nuclear option while they were still in the majority. That’s the opposite of hypocrisy. That’s principle.

So let’s not have any more nonsense about how both sides are being hypocritical about the filibuster. It’s not just wrong, it’s historically ignorant.

POSTSCRIPT: NYT, January 1, 1995:

Time to Retire the Filibuster

The U.S. Senate likes to call itself the world’s greatest deliberative body. The greatest obstructive body is more like it. In the last session of Congress, the Republican minority invoked an endless string of filibusters to frustrate the will of the majority. This relentless abuse of a time-honored Senate tradition so disgusted Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, that he is now willing to forgo easy retribution and drastically limit the filibuster. Hooray for him.

NYT, March 2, 2005:

Walking in the Opposition’s Shoes

The Senate will return from Easter vacation with nuclear options on its mind. Republicans seem determined to change the rules so Democrats will no longer be able to stop judicial nominations with the threat of a filibuster. . . The filibuster, which allows 41 senators to delay action indefinitely, is a rough instrument that should be used with caution. But its existence goes to the center of the peculiar but effective form of government America cherishes. . .

A decade ago, this page expressed support for tactics that would have gone even further than the “nuclear option” in eliminating the power of the filibuster. At the time, we had vivid memories of the difficulty that Senate Republicans had given much of Bill Clinton’s early agenda. But we were still wrong. To see the filibuster fully, it’s obviously a good idea to have to live on both sides of it. We hope acknowledging our own error may remind some wavering Republican senators that someday they, too, will be on the other side and in need of all the protections the Senate rules can provide.

NYT, November 21, 2013:

Democracy Returns to the Senate . . .

In a 52-to-48 vote that substantially altered the balance of power in Washington, the Senate changed its most infuriating rule and effectively ended the filibuster on executive and judicial appointments. . .

Democrats made the filibuster change with a simple-majority vote, which Republicans insisted was a violation of the rules. There is ample precedent for this kind of change, though it should be used judiciously. Today’s vote was an appropriate use of that power, and it was necessary to turn the Senate back into a functioning legislative body.

There you have it, the filibuster is an important for the form of government America cherishes, exactly when it is employed by Democrats. When employed by Republicans, it keeps that government from functioning properly.

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