Power Grabs and Appeasement

How bad must things get before mainstream journalists take a stand? A few days ago, I read David Broder’s column on the Republican “nuclear option.” You’d think that, as a self-proclaimed centrist, Broder might be just a bit morally disturbed by a raw power grab that seeks to dynamite 200 years of Senate rules, so the administration can ram through every rightwing judge they select.

But Broder doesn’t seem to have a moral problem. He treats this as an isolated incident, separate from DeLay’s shutting Democrats out of legislative decisions or redistricting every time Republicans get a state legislative majority, separate from the attacks on Paul O’Neil, Richard Clarke, and Max Cleland, the outing of Valerie Plame, and separate from the disappearances of voting machines in low income Ohio neighborhoods, or any of the other recent abuses of power. As a friend of mine, who hired G Gordon Liddy and went to jail for Watergate, told me last summer, “we nearly destroyed democracy, but these people are infinitely more ruthless.”

Instead of questioning this larger threat to democracy, Broder seems more disturbed by partisan division. Calling in sage tones for “a judicious compromise,” he suggests the Democrats let the once-blocked Republican nominees through in return for “a pledge from Republican Senate leaders to consider each such nominee individually, carefully and with a guarantee of extensive debate.”

Sounds like appeasement to me, buying off the bully with promises to give him your lunch money. Except the stakes are infitely higher than losing your sandwich and cookie.

“Voters placed Republicans in control of the White House and the Senate,” Border continues, “and while the opposition still has a constitutional role to play, at the end of the day that function has to be more than talking important matters to death.”

This function didn’t seem to matter when Republicans blocked past Democratic nominees. Now, Broder is so afraid of conflict that he advises the Democrats to yield, yield, and yield until the Republicans meet them halfway. His tone echoes of other beltway pundits, like RW Apple, who, within days after the 2,000 election, advised Al Gore and Joe Lieberman to fold up their tents and concede, again being so afraid of conflict that principles of democracy became expendable.

But if this is really a raw power grab, consistent with the Bush administration’s approach for four years, then presuming that Republican leaders will be reasonable only invites defeat. The only moral or practical strategy is to compromise where genuine common ground can be found, but resist illegitimate incursions of power—like the ramming through of these judges. And name them as such. To block this assault, the Democrats will still need some Republicans who value democracy over partisan gain. They found them during Watergate. Let’s hope they find them now. But they’ll never have a chance if they heed voices like Broder and concede before they start.