Day By Day

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Rise of the Moderates -- At Last!

I seldom listen to Rush, but today I did. He's in high dudgeon about the moderate Republicans who, he argues, sold out their party and their principles. In particular he is upset about McCain's role. Hindrocket was interviewed on MSNBC and had a similarly negative view of the situation. Mickey Kaus sees the deal as being so favorable to the Democrats that no Republican would ever agree to it, leading him to speculate that there are additional, unspoken, agreements to which Democratic moderates have committed themselves. [Read Mickey here]. Harry Reid is claiming victory.

Let's get a little perspective here. The Republicans have committed themselves to what? To not invoke the "nuclear/constitutional option" for the rest of this term -- that's about one and a half years. And, the Democrats are promising not to filibuster except in "extreme cases." But if the Republicans see the Democrats acting in bad faith, they reserve the right to back out of the deal and go back to the nuclear option. The key outcome is that, for now, the possibility of a filibuster has been preserved. That is important. It is, as Senator Lieberman reminded a group of us a few weeks ago, a powerful incentive for both parties to reject extreme positions, and that, I would argue, is a good thing.

So, nothing has been settled finally and the debate over judicial appointments goes on. Kaus is right to say that they are just "kicking the can down the road." That, too, is a good thing. Final victory by either side would alienate a major segment of the American public. This is too important and too sensitive a matter to be settled for once and for all.

And John McCain is right to say that what underlies this whole thing is "trust." Both sides have to trust that their opponents will act in good faith. But trust is in short supply both in the MSM and on the internet. We have to hope that it survives in the Senate, and everything right now seems to indicate that through painful negotiations the moderate bloc [the "Gang of Twelve," or Fourteen, or whatever] has been able to work together on the basis of mutual trust. If they can continue to do so, there is hope that the Senate can achieve something other than gridlock or total ascendency of one side or the other. That, too, is hopeful.

If there is backsliding on the deal, it will come from the parties respective "bases." Already Democrat activists are trying to weasel out. Nan Aaron, Rush points out, has declared that all Supreme Court nominees are, by definition, extreme cases" and can therefore be filibustered. We will hear much more of this line of reasoning in months to come. The vitriol emanating from some precincts of the right indicates their assumption that the Dems will cheat and their willingness to jettison the compromise. We can also be sure that Democrats will be charged with acting in "bad faith."

It can be expected that the parties' leadership will reflect this reluctance of the activist bases to accept the compromise. But this does not mean that everything will collapse into mutual recrimination.

What hs emerged is a moderate bloc of Senators large enough and coherent enough to control Senate votes in the future. If you think back, this was the situation back at the beginning of Bush's first term, but Bush short-circuited it by forming an alliance with John Breaux and his group of moderate Democrats to pass tax cuts. Now Breaux is gone and the moderate bloc has come into its own. The leadership of both parties, will continue to take extreme positions and weasel out of commitments but the real deciding factor will be what goes on within the moderate bloc. In this situation trust and a degree of ambiguity are essential. Lots of things have to be left unsaid. People have to believe that good faith will hold. You won't find that among the activists, nor the controversialists in the MSM, and certainly not in the blogosphere, nor can we trust the leadership of either part, so beholden are they to their respective activist bases.

More than three centuries ago William Penn [fils] wrote that, "Governments are like clocks -- they go of the motion men impart to them." His conclusion was that the institutional arrangements of government are far less important than the quality of the men who staff them. Two centuries ago Benjamin Franklin concurred. He was far from satisfied with the institutional arrangements forged in Philadelphia in 1787 and rightly felt that they would not last long in their original form, but argued that so long as good men [he had in mind George Washington] were in charge, things would work out for the best. Today we are seeing a vindication of that point of view. Good men and good women, basing their actions on mutual trust, and honoring the ambiguity that is essential to humane government, have once again emerged in times of trial as the best hope of the republic.

I applaud them and wish them well.

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