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Moderates on the Rampage!

Where were they when we needed them? The moderates have been in hiding for years, burrowed into their secret habitats, like mammals in the age of dinosaurs. Finally they have emerged, found strength in numbers -- who knew there were 14 moderate, rational, non-nuclear-optioning senators? -- and cut a deal that preserves the ability of the Senate to defy the majority party.

Of course it's a temporary stay: In the Dan Balz story today, political science professor Ross Baker says, "They kicked the can down the road. They basically postponed a crisis and set up the predicate for another one in the future on the Supreme Court nomination."

The most important element of American democracy is the ability to say no. The second most important element is the ability to kick the can down the road. The Founders recognized this, and put all kind of potential nays and can-kickings into the equation. They understood that the Constitution had to balance not merely different branches of government, but also the ability to make things happen with the ability to call time out. The greatest evil of a republic is not gridlick, it's monarchy. We live in a country that currently has one party in control of the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch, and it wants to be in control of the Judiciary, what's left of the Earth's environment, and, if possible, the voting on American Idol. (You KNOW Bush is pulling for Carrie Underwood.) The Democrats want the same thing, but are politically hampered by their allegiance to Hillary, pot-smokers, astral projectionists, past-life recallers, socialists, people still peeved that Adlai Stevenson lost, and the Bo Bice lobby.

The question the Republicans have to ask themselves is: Is this 1798, the height of Federalist power, and a prelude to total political oblivion? (Is the Patriot Act the second coming of the Alien and Sedition Acts? And so on...) (Was going to make allusion to the Quasi-War with France but thought it a stretch.)

Parties overreach and self-destruct. That may be the thinking behind the moderates who have saved the Republicans and the Democrats from the nuclear option. This time, the center held.

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 24, 2005; 7:23 AM ET
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Right on, Joel.

Faulting a political party for working to maximize its power is like blaming a corporation for trying to make more money. It's the nature of politics, it's no different now than in 1789. The Constitution takes this into account and it works.

I think we should have more emphasis on a kind of veneration for the U.S. Constitution, like teaching kids in school what an amazing achievement it was for the early leaders of the U.S.A. to develop this blueprint for government, and how we need to respect and defend it.

Posted by: kbertocci | May 24, 2005 7:41 AM | Report abuse

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. "

It is still the scariest poem I've ever read.

Posted by: A | May 24, 2005 7:50 AM | Report abuse

I dunno Joel, gridlick seems pretty threatening to me. Depending on which grid the Senate is licking anyway.

Posted by: wiredog | May 24, 2005 8:09 AM | Report abuse

"The second most important element is the ability to kick the can down the road. The Founders recognized this, and put all kind of potential nays and can-kickings into the equation." Ha! I've been giggling all morning since I read that.

With respect to the can kicking, the poly sci prof neglected to mention that can-kicking in this instance will likely work in favor of moderates and Democrats. The reason I think so is that if Rehnquist retires within the next year, bringing up again the possibility of the nuclear option if the right wingers have their way, it will be that much closer to the 2006 elections. If Bush and right wing senators are seen trying to shove a conservative Supreme Court nominee down the throats of the rest of the senate and of the country, it may go badly for Republicans at the ballot box. Especially since the Supreme Court took on another abortion rights case yesterday and the majority in this country does not think abortion should be outlawed.

Posted by: TA | May 24, 2005 8:51 AM | Report abuse

The current political climate in the US reminds me of "No Exit" by Sartre.

Posted by: Chris | May 24, 2005 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Peace to all feuds!--and come the happier day
When Reason's sun shall light us on our way;
When erring man shall all his RIGHTS retrieve,
No despots rule him, and no priests deceive,
Till then, Columbia!--watch each stretch of power,
Nor sleep too soundly at the midnight hour.
--from A Warning to America

Posted by: Philip Freneau 1752-1832 | May 24, 2005 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I've mixed feelings about the filibuster. While I'm glad there's been an interruption to the escalation of conflict in the Senate, I can't help remembering the past. I can't agree about the most important element of democracy being the ability to say "no". It depends on what the question is. Once upon a time it was whether Congress should pass an anti-lynching law, or ban poll taxes, protect civil rights, ban discrimination in public transportation, etc. etc.

Posted by: BillH | May 24, 2005 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Does the protagonist in 'Washingtonienne' indulge in gridlicking?

Posted by: A. Tummler | May 24, 2005 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Of course, "moderate" is relative. When the right keeps moving rightward, when we have Genghis Bush in the White House, almost anybody is "moderate" in comparison.

Posted by: A. Reader | May 24, 2005 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"The most important element of American democracy is the ability to say no."

It's hard to tell what this means, particularly in the context of the filibuster. The ability to vote no? Or the ability to say, no, I don't want to have a vote? In other words, is Achenbach talking about a right to be heard or a right to veto?

Posted by: Tom T. | May 24, 2005 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Also, the filibuster is not mentioned in the Constitution, so it's a bit misleading to suggest that eliminating the filibuster somehow contravenes constitutional wisdom.

Moreover, parliamentary governments like the UK seem to do a good job preserving democracy and rights without a filibuster option (or many checks and balances at all), so it seems a little overblown to suggest that the filibuster is necessary for the health of representative government.

Posted by: Tom T. | May 24, 2005 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Hey, don't knock past-life recallers; I wish I could recall more about mine.

Posted by: Dreamer | May 24, 2005 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Ok...what is with extreme partisans? They're all complaining about the opposite of what they were complaining about in 2000...every one of them is at least partially a hypocrite on this filibuster matter. Why can't they see that, if they have ALL used it in the past, it MIGHT be a good thing to compromise and keep open the only option a minority party has if they feel strongly about an issue? But no; compromise is's (to quote an unfortunately close right-wing crazy person) "going against the will of the people" and "against the mandate." I was arguing how my moderate viewpoint seems to be the fairest to me this afternoon and that person actually said "...screw fair." Just a question in closing; why must logic be the enemy of all things partisan?

Posted by: CrazyModerate | May 24, 2005 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Swell blog post, Joel.

You remarked: "The Democrats want the same thing, but are politically hampered by their allegiance to Hillary, pot-smokers, astral projectionists, past-life recallers, socialists, people still peeved that Adlai Stevenson lost, and the Bo Bice lobby."

Amen to all of that. I have made an effort to persuade Democrats whom I know to envision all their major issues through the lens of privacy rights, in order to bolster their chances at producing a viable national candidate. Howard Dean was one such candidate, with his record on opposing any new federal gun laws. As a libertarian I see the First, Fourth, and Second amendment as an inextricable triumvirate.

Too many Yalies, not enough Leader-of-the-free-world jobs to go around. Abortion and gay marriage should be treated as privacy issues instead of "moral values." Religious rhetoric has poisoned much of the national dialogue, essentially throwing a monkey-wrench in the machinery of public reasoning. I'm not making any assumptions about "progress," but even conservative honchos like historian/columnist Thomas Sowell acknowledge that religion is the cause of more murders thoughout the course of history than racism. To the extent that religion and morality are forced to cohabitate on the sleeves of legislators, we can reliably conclude that the Republic is not putting forth its best effort to flourish.

Tonight Mr. Bice will sing "I can't get no filibuster." That's dumb but in metrical step so warranted typing.

It is encouraging that moderate cooler heads prevailed. Registered independents everywhere should consider re-affiliating as Republicans to cast a vote for McCain in the 08 primaries - if their states prevent independents from participating in primary elections. Other than Howard Dean, he is one of the few politicians worthy of respect.

Posted by: peter | May 24, 2005 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Not everything in the Constitution is perfect. Take a look at the Congress and its braindamaged offspring the Electoral College. The House is representative, up to a point. However, because the total number of seats is limited, as population grows the small states' votes become disproportionately more important. This gets worse in the Senate- 52 Senators are elected by 18% of the population! All of this is combined in the E.C. Here's a quick example. I live in Virginia- 7 million people, 13 electoral votes, about 500,000 folks per vote. Across the river lies D.C.- half million people, 3 electoral votes, 170,000 folks per vote. Every presidential vote in a small state is worth more than mine. I think I'd rather have a little more democracy than that. How about you?

Posted by: kurosawaguy | May 24, 2005 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Wait, you're saying DC has TOO MUCH REPRESENTATION???

Posted by: Achenbach | May 24, 2005 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I like this post.
I especially like the poetry.
I propose a modest toast
To every bi-partisan I see.

(All DC citizens N-Z
Should re-registers as Republicans.
Then our city government could be
Held to greater accountability.)

Of course, the W.B. Yeats poem quoted above is better-written, and one might suspect I almost planned for mine not to be well-written. But of the quote from the Second Coming in an earlier post, let's remember when it was written: the impassivity of much of the world as the Third Reich went on the moon. The "vast image out of Spiritus Mundi" that troubled Yeats' site was let loose by impassivity, but indifference.

And so to injustice we must not be indifferent. I love, and embrace, social conservatives who care about poverty and homelessness (often these are conservatives of the religious right -- not the caricature of the media, but people who actually do try to feed the poor). And I just love liberals who don't assume that just 'cause I'm a girl they've got my vote in their pocket (not true, I don't think they're a wit more feminist nowadays, seems Republicans are more into merit-based promotiosn in the White House), but actually don't think the civil rights revolution is over and actually see and "get" all the white male manager assumptions that white males are smarter.

There's so many flaws in both Republicans and Democrats -- how COULD we be anything BUT bi-partisan, fully involved, and most willing to forgive all of our unforgiveable flaws?

Posted by: lcr | May 24, 2005 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Liked your "Achenblog" posting today. Great headline, too; it conjured visions of a United Moderate Front, holding well-behaved rallies on the mall to promote their eminently sensible, non-controversial positions on issues like school prayer, abortion and homosexuality.

Rousing UMF call-to-arms: "These are private matters, and we'd really prefer not to discuss them in public, if that's okay with everybody!"

Chant overheard at UMF rally:

"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"

Posted by: Jeff Turrentine | May 24, 2005 5:43 PM | Report abuse

The main problem with our system is that every issue is treated like a political issue and the talking heads live in their own little fantasy worlds and if they BELIEVE in something enough then they can make it true. Left and Right are guilty of this and are willing to ignore fact when it becomes inconvenient. The right say that the half dozen scientists sucking the teat of oil money who deny global warming are more convincing than the thousands of independent investigators who find that global warming is a reality and insist that MSM present the impending ecological catastrophe as a he said/she said story. Meanwhile the left blocks legitimate research into the development and cognition of fetuses because of possible impact on the abortion debate. So long as the consumers of democracy, citizens, are willing to remain led and blinded then the system is in trouble.

Posted by: Chris | May 25, 2005 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Joel, Joel, Joel,
Read what I said, dude. I am not saying that the District has too much representation! Look, there are only two, count 'em, two offices that are elected nationally- prez and the man behind the curatain, I mean vice prez. The point I am making is that presidential votes in Montana shouldn't count more than votes in Texas- but they do. Same for Utah, Delaware, the Dakotas, all small states, and almost all small states are red states. The game as it is now constituted works to the advantage of the Repubs, but much more importantly it is patently undemocratic and unfair.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | May 25, 2005 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Here is a novel idea for the Democrats, if they feel so elections! Hello!!..your a minority party for a reason!

Posted by: Neal E | May 25, 2005 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Here is a novel idea for the Democrats, if they feel so elections! Hello!!..your a minority party for a reason!

Posted by: Neal E | May 25, 2005 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Here is a novel idea for the Democrats, if they feel so elections! Hello!!..your a minority party for a reason!

Posted by: Neal E | May 25, 2005 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Jeff T, you win for best continuation of the theme of Joel's article. That UMF chant: hilarious!

Posted by: TA | May 25, 2005 2:06 PM | Report abuse

OK, it's an easy shot, but somebody has to point out the triple-post, misspelled "you're" in the "you Democrats am dummm..." spiel...

Posted by: proxl | May 25, 2005 2:55 PM | Report abuse

You note that one party has control of the senate, house, and presidency and imply that it is on some conquering campaign to rule the world, when it is simply a result of elections. get over it. they won. you lost.

The privilege of winning the presidency is the right to nominate people for the judiciary. the privilege of winning the senate is the right to advise and consent those nominees. that these rights are in the same hands is not a power play but a reward given to them in numerous Novembers.

While the filibuster is the right of a certain minority to play it's power, so is the right of the majority to change the rule about the filibuster, SOMETHING THAT HAS BEEN DONE SEVERAL TIMES BEFORE. if you don't like it, get more people to vote your guys into office.

Posted by: Tom H | May 25, 2005 5:13 PM | Report abuse

You can tell when someone is being led and blinded because they will feverently defend the most contemptible behavior of their own team--usually by claiming the other side did it first. Meanwhile there is an escalation of rhetoric and misbehavior until things get very bad indeed.

Posted by: Chris | May 25, 2005 5:44 PM | Report abuse

One of the most interesting reasons I've heard for keeping the filibuster is the permanence of judicial nominees. The minority can always roll back legislation it doesn't like once it regains the majority - to wit, the New Deal/Great Society rollbacks perpetrated by Republicans over the past decade. But you can't get rid of a judge with a simple majority. Thus, the judiciary won't reflect the will of the people once the will of the people changes, which it likes to do. So the best option is to give the minority some say in the judges that get appointed. Thanks to Bush's unwillingness to get advice from the Senate, the filibuster is the only avenue left to ensure that this occurs.

Posted by: Jeff | May 31, 2005 1:25 PM | Report abuse

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