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The difference between Democrats and Republicans

Imagine that after 9/11, a liberal Senate Democrat had quietly placed a hold on George W. Bush's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Agency. The problem in this case wasn't qualifications. The nominee was a former airport security chief, FBI officer and university professor. The problem was that the airport security chief wouldn't say that he wanted the Transportation Security Agency employees to unionize.

Then an Islamic radical tried to blow up a plane.

The Democrats would have been hammered for holding up the TSA chief's nomination. Bush would have made a recess appointment. Republicans would have gleefully campaigned against the liberals who would have left our air travelers defenseless.

That same story just played out, but the parties were reversed. It was Barack Obama who nominated Erroll Southers, the former airport security chief and FBI officer, to lead the TSA. And it was South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint who blocked his nomination over unionization. Did DeMint back down after an al-Qaeda-linked radical attempted to detonate a plane? Nope. Did Obama step up and make a recess appointment? Nope. Did Democrats make a major issue out of it? Of course not.

Instead, Erroll Southers formally withdrew his nomination today. Score one for DeMint, and another against the Democrats.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 20, 2010; 11:07 AM ET
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Sorry to post on an unrelated note, but I just wanted to say...

Last night you tweeted, "Chris Matthews just said that among voters who like Obama, Coakley lost. Evidence that this is about the candidate." However, look at what the exit polls say:

"Scott Brown's opposition to congressional health care legislation was the most important issue that fueled his U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts, according to exit poll data collected following the Tuesday special election...Fifty-two percent of Bay State voters who were surveyed as the polls closed said they opposed the federal health care reform measure and 42 percent said they cast their ballot to help stop President Obama from passing his chief domestic initiative."


Posted by: gocowboys | January 20, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

i rarely agree with you Ezra on issues like this but this is 100% dead on. Dems should be screaming this from the rooftops to anyone that would listen. Good post. Again showing the need for a spine transplant for Democrats and a heart transplant for Republicans.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 20, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

I think it's a bandwidth problem. How do you leverage the bully pulpit against the GOP's behavior on health care, national security, financial reform, and everything else that deserves it, all at once? And most people aren't really listening, most of the time. Obama can't just say "Listen here, America" every day, and expect everyone to keep tuning in. So the Dems try to focus their message on a few key subjects.

I don't have any idea what the solution is, though.

Posted by: WHSTCL | January 20, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

DeMint's hold called for the nomination of Southers to be debated on the Senate floor. Reid won't allow that.

You can blame Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for this. It's his floor to decide what dances and what doesn't.

Posted by: snannerb | January 20, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Or he could have given DeMint the assurances he wanted about not unionizing the TSA.

Posted by: MBP2 | January 20, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Or DeMint could have accepted the fact that he's not the president nor does he control the committee and doesn't get to decide, rather than playing politics with national security.

What we have here are two sides: one side having no problem engaging in political violence and being willing to pick a fight whenever it can, and another side unwilling to retaliate in kind. That's a formula for unbalance, as well as a formula for people like DeMint to start developing behavioral problems in the absence of a caring authority figure willing to put limits on his temper tantrums and need to act out.

Posted by: constans | January 20, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Depends on your perspective. If he had assured DeMint he wouldn't support unioninzation he could have been confirmed. Seems like an inconsequential compromise in the scheme of things. So perhaps it was Obama who was holding up the process. Of course i understand the view that it was DeMint who held up the process. But it takes two to tango, as they say...

Posted by: MBP2 | January 20, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

The dems are acting like scared babies. I am sickened that the TSA nominee withdrew and gave DeMint a victory. Just like holy joe and big ben, giving into this kind of behavior just encourages more of it.

Posted by: srw3 | January 20, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

At this point in Bush's presidency, there were 70 appointees waiting for Senate confirmation. There are currently 177 Obama appointees waiting.

Yet another point the Dems could hammer the GOP on, but choose not to. It's not a bandwidth problem as WHSTCL suggests. It's a lack-of-spine problem. The GOP are media bullies and Dems prefer to hide behind Mom's skirt.

If Dems want to reinvigorate the base before this year's elections, they better come out swinging soon. Nobody wants to be associated with unprincipled compromise artists who never stand up for themselves.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | January 20, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

The day the Democrats can efficiently and effectively enforce party discipline and a consistent message is the day that the GOP is finished. But as usual "centrists" seem to think that watering down good legislation and going pushing it through at a pace that would make a tortoise look like an F1 car is the way to power.

Quite frankly it depresses me how Dems can't legislate with 60 so it's going to be near-impossible with 59. They don't deserve to govern.

Posted by: thedave | January 20, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

There were ways around the hold, as others pointed out. The Obama Admin basically caved.

Perhaps it's time to Obama, Biden and the entire Dem Caucuses in the House and Senate to retire and offer all those slots up to Special Elections as well. Clearly there is a lack of desire to govern. Only the Dems can lose by winning.


Posted by: toshiaki | January 20, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: antontuffnell | January 20, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the Republicans realize that transportation security is too important to be left in the hands of a unionized workforce.

What happens if they decide to go on strike? They could shut down air travel in the US. No way.

Posted by: sold2u | January 20, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I see that you forgot to mention his failure to disclose (i.e. lying) that he tried to dig up dirt on his ex-wife's new boyfriend on two different occasions. Yeah, I guess it was all DeMint's fault as well that the administration could've offered assurances about unionization of TSA employees, but chose not to do so.

Posted by: novalfter | January 20, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Why isn't more news about the number of holds on nominees? Except this blog I almost never see anything.

Posted by: ideallydc | January 20, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

When it is reported that there's no current head of TSA it sounds like Obama has been too slow to prioritize this and hasn't appointed anyone.

Posted by: ideallydc | January 20, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

This White House doesn't know how to play hardball. At all. Goddamn I'm disappointed in them.

Posted by: daw3 | January 20, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

The difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans are smart enough to understand that unionizing the TSA is a stupid idea that would only lower the performance and efficiency of an agency that already has a hard enough time doing their job.

Progressives like Klein are apparently oblivious to this reality.

Posted by: TomR4 | January 20, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

WAIT, the man all but admitted he LIED to the committee about a matter (abuse of power and invasion of privacy) that usual bedevils liberals.

Posted by: accentmark | January 20, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

The difference between Democrats and Republicans in this scenario is one of sequence. When Clinton was president, the Republicans didn't have 177 appointments on hold. They didn't have 70 appointments on hold. However, once Bush was elected, the Democrats resisted numerous Bush appointments, many for political advantage. This turned out to be a useful strategy, so the Republicans are now doing the same thing, times 3. Expect the next Republican president to have 200+ appointments on hold after a year.

I agree with DeMint on the unionization of the TSA, but allowing the appointment to go ahead would not guarantee unionization. It was a political strategy to help hamstring the Obama administration (borrowed from the same political playbook the Democrats use quite liberally), and it seems to be working.

It is good to see that the Democrats have taken a page out of the milquetoast Republican handbook, and can't decide when or where or if to play hardball, or how hard, and have apparently studied the Republican Guide on How To Disappoint Your Voters and Remove Your Spine. While some of the Republicans seem to be reading the Clinton chapter on "Scorched Earth Politics".

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 20, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Look, if you're in a fight and you're bigger, stronger, and smarter, but the other guy is willing to kick you in the plums, bite you, and poke you in the eye, the other guy can win. One question is, is it unfair for you to do the same things, or does that just fairly level the playing field. The other question is, if this guy is going to go on and cause grave harm to your country, is it right to just let him because you have a distaste for fighting dirty.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | January 20, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

gocowboys... your analysis of the election results is based off one exit poll from a noted Republican polling firm which makes their results somewhat dubious.

Rasmussen, another polling firm that leans right but is still more respected as objective in the polling community, found that individuals who thought health care was the most important issue gave a majority of their votes to Coakley.

See the link here:

Posted by: PSinINDIE | January 20, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

So Democrats will only protect us if and when the TSA is unionized ?

Posted by: HOWDYFROMSANMARCOS | January 20, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

How about we don't nationalize, subsidize, and unionize anything and everything the government can get their sticky fingers on. Maybe democrats could try and actually do their jobs instead of trying to screw up every aspect of our economy.
Just sit there in your cushy office and get your overinflated pay and leave us and our fellow workers the hell alone. We don't like unions and are starting to really not like democrats.

Posted by: HOWDYFROMSANMARCOS | January 20, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm a staunchly liberal Democrat and I opposed his confirmation.

To me, the TSA already runs the risk of overstepping its bounds on civil liberties. To confirm a man who abused FBI resources to spy on his estranged wife's new boyfriend is irresponsible. Especially after he lied about it.

Posted by: shanehuang | January 20, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

The fact he ran possibly illegal background checks and then lied about it to Congress? Let's make sure we don't mention that. Oh, wait, you already have that base covered. My bad.

Posted by: Bob65 | January 20, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Two points to remember about this guy.

1) He has a history of using la enforcement information for his own personal benefit -- and then lying about the details. That is grounds for dumping him there.

2) He has declared non-violent political dissenters in this country to be more dangerous to our national security than terrorists who are trying to kill Americans. Even if point 1 was insufficient to kill his nomination, that should be sufficient to strip him of all credibility when it comes to his fitness for the position.

Posted by: RhymesWithRight | January 20, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Let's flesh out your hypo a bit. Imagine that George Bush didn't bother to nominate someone to head TSA until November of his first year, and that the president announced his complete confidence in the acting head of TSA. Imagine too that the Senate Republican majority leader didn't do anything to push that nomination for another month. Imagine also that the nominee turns out to have repeatedly violated the Privacy Act. Imagine, finally, that the nominee lied to Congress about his violations of that Act.

Now, would your liberal senator who had quietly placed a hold on the nomination be a hero or a goat? Check the record and you'll find that this fleshed-out hypo far more accurately represents the current situation than your truncated version.

Posted by: dennisnolan | January 20, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

I've been saying for a number of years now, that if Samuel Alito had been opposed by the Republicans instead of by the Democrats, we would have seen endless ads saying "Alito strip searches little girls!" Two weeks later Alito would have withdrawn his candidacy.

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity". It's the tragedy of Yeats' time, and its the tragedy of ours.

Posted by: notwithstanding | January 21, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

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