Sunday, April 24, 2005

Nuclear Backfire

The art of persuasion has always depended, to some degree, on phraseology. In truth, what you call a thing makes no difference to someone who actually has taken the time to hear all the sides of a dispute. Most people don't, though which is why the art of politics consists in selling things to people who aren't paying attention. This requires smart language.

Speaking of that, in the current battle over what to call the Republican idea to break the Democratic threat to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees, Josh Marshall and his readers discovered (via LexisNexis I'm sure) that it was Republican Sen. Trent Lott who actually coined the phrase "nuclear option" as bit of tough insider rhetoric. Now, Democrats have adopted "nuclear option" as their own term while Republicans are starting to use a new phrase, "constitutional option." Talk about having to eat your words.

Marshall howls that Republican pressmeisters are trying to put the kibosh on the media's usage of "nuclear option" as a term of art to describe ending the filibuster. If I were editing big media's capitol reports, I would ban shorthand usage of both terms since they are nondescriptive and politically charged.

Matt Yglesias thinks either side could win a judicial battle, which is a reasonable supposition in my opinion. Given that Democrats have a sound advantage in the correspondent corps, that should give them somewhat of an edge in the battle for the public mind in the event of a government shutdown (it was the real reason the "Gingrich who stole Christmas" Republicans lost to then-pres. Clinton during the shutdowns in those years)

All of this assumes, however, that people actually will care about an intra-congressional battle. In the end, a filibuster fight will mainly serve to motivate each party's base, which will likely cause some trouble for Republican senators in Democratic states and vice versa. This makes me wonder if both parties' Senate leaderships won't work out some sort of semi-compromise given that now is a little early to have base rallying do any good. But then again, this could be part of the trend toward the permanent campaign in a congressional setting.

One thing I think is pretty certain, though: however the filibuster fight plays out will set the tone for the Bush admin's relations with Congress for the next couple of years