Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Deal
Within minutes of the deal being announced, most everything that could be said had been said. There were no surprises and the outline was pretty the same as had what had been publicly discussed since Friday.

I'm not real happy with the deal, but I'm not outraged either. Unless we had a guaranteed win, taking the deal is better than going all the way to a showdown. Frist's plan was illegal and unprecedented. Even if it would have failed, voting on it would have put most of the Republicans on record as being in favor of trashing the constitution for a momentary advantage. If it had passed, it would have irreparably damaged the principle of constitutional government in the United States and, by bad example, in the world. In the long run, avoiding the vote was the better course.

That said, what about the terms of the deal? What does it mean in the short term? At first glance, allowing Pryor, Brown, and Owens to pass, seems like an odd compromise. My impression has been that they are the worst of the lot, though that might be because I'm more familiar with their records than I am with the others'. I'm assuming our negotiators thought saving the filibuster for the Supreme Court fight was worth giving in on all three. They are right, but I still would feel more that it was a more equal deal if we had been able to get them to pull at least one of those three off the table.

As to who won and who lost, we need to wait for all the recriminations to fly to be sure. Frist's presidential aspirations have been damaged and McCain's have been bolstered in an almost equal trade off. The Senate itself won, in not lowering itself the level of the House, but that might be a Pyrrhic victory considering how low it have already allowed itself to fall. The principle of constitutional balance has won and the principle of brute strength has lost. The deal is a slap in the face to Bush, Frist, the religious extremists who bet so much on this, and the DeLay method of conducting government. Dobson is gnashing his teeth this morning; that’s good.

This breach of discipline within the Republican camp will not go unchallenged. Those who think that they are in charge (Bush, Frist, Dobson) will reach for both carrots and sticks to restore their control. To maintain power for the next eighteen months, it will be most important to bring the straying Senators back under the influence of party discipline, but with a majority of 55, they can afford to make a horrible, bloody example out of one, or even two, as a warning to any others who might be tempted to stray. This is where the vagueness of "extraordinary circumstances" bothers me. The deal essentially reads, they will allow us to keep the filibuster as long as we promise not to use it. If we make so much as a filibustery peep, the compromising Republicans will come under terrible pressure to declare us in violation and to invoke the nuclear option.

This is not the long awaited "split" in the Republican Party that foolish optimists (like me) have been predicting for years. At best, it's sign that the GOP is still made up of individuals and has not quite become a Borg-like group mind. The drive of their extreme wing to convert the United States into a one-party state is not over. We have not won the war or even one battle. We fought one battle to a tie. On the other hand, things have been going so quickly and consistently bad for the last four years that "not worse" is almost worth celebrating.

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