06/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Logic of Terror

Washington, D.C. -- A classic definition of the logic of terror is "the severing of the link between the target of violence and the reason for violence."  By this definition, hostage-taking is the original terrorist act. Recent behavior by the Republican Senate leadership, although violent in a political rather than a physical sense, reflects the same underlying logic: We are in the minority, but we know we are right, so we can attack innocent parties until we get our way from the majority. Yesterday's case study was the successful Republican filibuster to block the confirmation of David Hayes as Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Hayes's nomination was blocked when only a majority of the Senate voted, 57-39, to approve him -- falling three votes short of the 60 needed to overcome the Republican leadership's filibuster.

No one even pretended that they objected to Hayes. Indeed, many of the Republican Senators who voted against him, at the behest of their party's leadership, had voted to confirm him for exactly the same job when he held it during the Clinton administration. And in between, Hayes worked for a prominent firm that represents major corporations on issues relating to natural resources. Hayes was merely the latest hostage in the leadership's campaign of political terror. Utah Senators Bennett and Hatch, and Alaska Senator Murkowski, are upset with Interior Secretary Salazar, who would be Hayes's boss, for canceling oil and gas leases approved by the Bush administration in Utah and off our coasts. Since Salazar, who by law is responsible for leasing, wouldn't let the three senators dictate how he does his job, they decided to punish him by denying him the ability to put his deputy in place.

The Republican leadership, stunningly, chose to make this vote a matter of party loyalty -- and almost every Republicans in the Senate went along. Only Arizona's Jon Kyl and Maine's Olympia Snowe had the courage to vote against the logic of terror by saying, in effect, "Hayes is a good nominee. He deserves to be confirmed. Therefore it is my duty under the Constitution to confirm him." The rest of the Republican caucus, in my view, violated their Constitutional duty to give "advice and consent" to the president on the matter of nominees. Most of these Republican senators are on the record, vociferously, as arguing that the president's nominees should be confirmed unless they are morally corrupt or manifestly unqualified. But they gleefully threw all of their past statements overboard when their leaders declared that party loyalty trumped the Constitution.

There is something profoundly sick in the culture of the U.S. Senate that allows the personal preferences of individual senators to be elevated to a virtual government by a minority of one (or, in this case, three). This personalization of public services exists on both sides of the aisle -- but it is the Republican leadership that has put minority rule on steroids, beginning in 1993 when Bob Dole decided, for the first time in American history, to use the filibuster against every program Bill Clinton offered that he didn't like -- and now, with Mitch McConnell's decision to convert the "hold" by which an individual senator can slow a confirmation into a veto by which an entire party caucus will turn such a hold into an actual veto of an appointee.