Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Filibuster Foolishness

Driving around DC the past few days, I've had my car radio tuned in to C-SPAN Radio (which is available on satellite radio to those living outside DC) and ongoing debate over Senate Democrats' efforts to block President Bush's appellate court nominees and the Republicans' idea to stop the use of the filibuster to do so.

In the course of listening, I'm getting an impression that the Democrats will probably back down on the issue, despite their threats to shut down the Senate if the Republicans get the votes to end unlimited debate. Why? Because, contrary to the rhetoric from groups like People for the American Way, there really isn't that much at stake here for Democrats, at least compared to the risks.

Sure, federal appeals court judges are powerful but not in the grand scheme of things since their rulings can be overruled by Congress or by the Supreme Court. In other words, backing down before the GOP removes the filibuster has no real downside. By contrast, a prolonged battle in which Democrats act in the classic stereotype most Americans have of congress (bitter, partisan, and "do nothing"), there is nothing but political trouble. Most voters aren't particularly engaged on this issue. Those who are tend to support the Republican position.

Democrats also won't be able to effectively rely on liberal resentment of President Bush since he is staying out of the battle, making the focus solely on congress. This is bad for Democrats since their leadership is mostly inexperienced at playing to a national audience (Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer) or ineffective (Ted Kennedy).

Republican mismanagement of their oppositional strategy back in 1995 partially lead to the reelection of Bill Clinton, a similar thing could happen to Democrats if they insist on fighting over such small stakes. If Democrats are smart, they'd let these nominees go through before the GOP takes the filibuster away from them at a time when few are paying attention to a debate subject matter that is not of large consequence.

UPDATE: Is it just me or doesn't judicial nominee Priscilla Owen and Fox News/NPR reporter Mara Liasson look amazingly similar?