With just over five months to go before Election Day 2006, and the Democrats' much-heralded opportunity to wrestle control of part of the government out of the hands of criminals and imbeciles, the Democratic Party has activated the most-used play in its playbook: Total Capitulation.
This morning General Michael Hayden was confirmed to be the next head of the CIA. The vote was not even close -- 78-15 -- with a number of notable Democrats abstaining (Barbara Boxer, Ken Salazar, Jay Rockefeller). With so little opposition, one might forget that Hayden's nomination less than three weeks ago was greeted with the kind of dismay usually reserved for people who defecate in subway stations. The normally military-philic Diane Feinstein declared, "You can't have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence," insisting that the CIA "is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency." Democrats already seething about NSA domestic wiretapping were outraged that Bush would nominate the former head of the NSA, the man who basically designed the wiretapping program -- a classic Bush move, shoving his thumb in their eye and daring them to do something about it. Senator Rockefeller complained that Hayden was "a key participant in this White House public relations strategy intended to deflect criticism of the NSA program." The Republican head of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, declared his opposition to the nomination and was seconded by none other than Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Even Pat Robertson, the most reliable White House toady in Congress, and the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee which held hearings on the nomination, refused to declare his support for the nomination.
In its audacity and calculated provocativeness, the choice of Hayden was a throwback to earlier moments in the Bush administration, when the president still had the clout to ride roughshod over Congress: unilateralist John Bolton for U.N. Ambassador, torture defender Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, warmonger Condi Rice for Secretary of State. Surely now, with the President's approval ratings lingering to the right of the decimal point, with Republican candidates giving Bush's motorcade the wrong directions to their campaign rallies, with the military in open revolt against Donald Rumsfeld and arch-conservative fundraisers pistol-whipping the GOP in the national press -- surely now Democrats could be bold enough to openly oppose the latest in the President's stubborn, ill-conceived adventures, to stop the elevation of yet another admitted criminal to a position of tremendous power. Right? Right?
Silly me. I must be thinking of a different opposition party. Senator Feinstein? Aye! Senator Biden? Aye! Senator Schumer? Aye! Senator Levin? Aye! Senate Minority Leader Reid? Double Aye, Sir! And can I shine your shoes while I'm down here?
Senator Specter? Nay.
That's right, even Arlen Specter, that perennial faux-moderate, couldn't stomach this one. Of course, one wonders whether Ol' Sourpuss would have had the gumption to vote against the President had the vote actually been close... but still, it's a pretty embarrassing day when Specter stands up for the rule of law while Democrats meekly give the White House what it wants.
Believe it or not, Hayden's confirmation wasn't even the most galling Democrat failure of the day. That honor goes to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kavanaugh, who is currently Bush's staff secretary -- the position previously held by that other celebrated crony, Harriet Miers -- is the epitome of the partisan hack, right-hand man to Kenneth Starr during the investigation into Bill Clinton's underwear drawer, a lawyer with absolutely no trial experience who recently had his rating downgraded by the American Bar Association.
But it gets worse: Kavanaugh's nomination has been in limbo for a year, since the "Gang of 14" reached a compromise last year that avoided the "nuclear option" (elimination of filibusters by Senate rule) by allowing the confirmation of previously blocked right-wingers Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor. Notably, Republicans did not insist on Kavanaugh's confirmation as part of that compromise, which suggests they couldn't even find the bare minimum justification for such a pathetic and obnoxiously partisan nomination. So in essence, today's confirmation -- without even the threat of a filibuster -- was a deliberate decision by Democrats to lose a battle they'd already won.
Gee, am I ever looking forward to Election Day.
We have seen this kind of surrender before: in 2004, in 2002, in 2000. The Democratic party simply does not understand that the minimum prerequisite for gaining and maintaining power in this country is the willingness to stand up for a principle. Any principle. They still seem to believe they can win back Congress, and maybe even the White House, by being congenial, pliable, friendly sorts, by not rocking the boat too hard, even when the other party is throwing them overboard, holding their heads underwater and pummeling them with bags of rocks. Rather than hold the President accountable for breaking the law in the NSA domestic spying scandal -- something which the President confessed on national television, incidentally -- they allow the whole matter to get swept under the rug of Specter's sham hearings. Rather than use the Hayden nomination to assert their support of the Constitution, they cut and run.
What ever happened to the Intelligence Committee's report on the manipulation of pre-war Iraq intelligence? Remember how Dirty Harry Reid forced the Senate into closed session and extracted a promise from Chairman Robertson to release the committee's findings? Surprise, surprise -- Robertson never released the report. What is being done about it?
Answer: Nothing. Just as nothing is being done about AG Gonzales lying to congress in his confirmation hearings. Just as nothing is being done about the Downing Street Memo which documents Bush's intention to subvert intelligence to his war plan. Just as nothing is being done about replacing veterans in the FDA and FCC with cronies and partisans who bury, edit, and destroy evidence that contradicts the White House's goals. Just as nothing was done to stop Samuel Alito, an avowed opponent of Roe v. Wade, from ascending to the Supreme Court. Just as nothing has been done about Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's insider trading. Just as nothing has been done about Representative Bob Ney's taking bribes from Jack Abramoff. Just as nothing will be done about President Bush and Vice President Cheney ordering the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity, and then being smug and dishonest enough to vow to fire whoever was responsible.
"Together We Can Do Better" my ass. Together, we're not doing a damned thing.
Apparently, despite the freefall of the President's and the Republicans' approval ratings in the last year, Democrats are still afraid to take them on. Apparently they are still worried about causing too many problems, about appearing too "weak on defense" or too partisan during "wartime." Apparently they still think they have to appear mild and cooperative in order to win over the independents and undecideds -- despite the fact that less than 30% of the country still supports the President. And let me tell you something: You could walk down K Street in Ronald Reagan Underoos, handing out Bibles and the keys to new Porsches, and that 30% still ain't gonna vote Democrat.
Apparently Democrats believe they can win in 2006 by standing aside and letting the GOP self-destruct and then politely slipping into their committee chairs when no one's looking. Do you think Karl Rove has any intention of making it this easy? Think again. And in the meantime, voters like me are choking on disgust, waiting in vain for the punchline when we read about the latest failure of the Democrats to stand for anything.
Dear Howard Dean, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Rahm Emanuel, et. al.: You are dangerously close to me spending November 7 on my couch with a pint of Chunky Monkey and the sixth season of The West Wing. I'm not going to vote for people who don't seem to give a damn about anything. This isn't your last warning -- but it's close.