Saturday, November 3, 2007

We’re Not Them

The Democrats have handed President Bush a victory with the nomination of Michael Mukasey going from the Senate Judiciary Committee to the floor of the Senate in spite of doubts about his view on waterboarding.

The nomination fight over attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey effectively came to an end yesterday, as two key Senate Democrats parted from their colleagues and announced their support for the former judge despite his controversial statements on torture.

The orchestrated announcements by Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) virtually guarantee that Mukasey will be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, to be followed by his likely confirmation in the full Senate later in the month.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., right, talks with Attorney General-designate Michael Mukasey on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007, following Mukasey’s second day of testifying before the committee’s hearing on his nomination. Mukasey’s nomination for attorney general runs into new trouble with Senate Democrats after President Bush accuses them of being unfair in questioning the former judge about waterboarding, the interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

The developments mark an important political victory for President Bush, who mounted a spirited and aggressive defense of Mukasey in recent days. They also underscore the pitfalls facing Democrats as the party struggles to stake out an independent policy on national security issues during a presidential campaign season.

A growing number of Democrats, including the four senators running for president, declared their opposition to Mukasey this week after his repeated refusal to say whether an interrogation technique known as waterboarding amounts to illegal torture under U.S. law. Mukasey called the tactic “repugnant” but said he could not assess its legality without access to classified material.

Feinstein and Schumer said in written statements that, while they were troubled by Mukasey’s equivocation, they concluded the former federal judge is the best nominee Democrats could expect from the Bush administration.

A lot of my fellow progressive bloggers are enraged that Schumer and Feinstein caved; there’s a lot of talk about betrayal, “Vichy Democrats,” and primary challenges to those representatives who don’t toe the line…whatever that line may be.

But in looking at the larger picture, I’m not sure that I’m as surprised or angry as they are. After all, the Democrats have a very slim margin in both the Senate and the House, and they know that it takes more than just their majority voting as one to get their way. On top of that, the Democrats do not have the same take-no-prisoners attitude about politics and winning as the Republicans. If they did, they would have marched into the Capitol last January and basically bulldozed the opposition the same way the GOP did in 1995. Back then the Republican majority wasn’t that strong either, but they acted like it was. George W. Bush came into office in 2001 on the heels of a tainted election and having lost the popular vote, but he acted like he won in a landslide and hasn’t looked back. He and his crew have acted like they’re entitled to everything they’ve gotten and thrown tantrums when they haven’t. The fact that it borders on the criminally insane doesn’t mean anything to them; it’s theirs and they get it.

The Democrats aren’t like that. They actually believe in working with their opposition, and when they take a stand, they actually do it on principle balanced with their political goals, and when they say they want to get things done regardless of the politics, they actually believe it. How quaint.

Of course, the GOP doesn’t trust the Democrats to keep their word; they think that everyone has the same ethical standards and morals that they do, which means they don’t trust anyone and see political maneuvering behind everything, and when they get the Democrats to go along with their plans, they laugh up their sleeves at these suckers. Meanwhile, they accuse the Democrats of playing politics and petty partisanship when they bring up legitimate questions about the AG nominee because that’s what they would do. It’s called projection.

For years we on the progressive side have gnashed our teeth at the hypocrisy and the arrogance of the radical right wing, but in a way I think we were, in some perverse way, envious of their complete lack of remorse for stomping the crap out of their enemies and getting their way. It would certainly make things easier, and going through life without a conscience has an almost liberating sense of self-satisfaction; what, me worry?

Yeah, but that’s not how we do things. We actually care about more than just the short-term goal and political crowing. The downside is that is gives us these maddening moments when it feels like we’ve been had. So we either lower ourselves to treat the opposition like the enemy — in spite of the fact that that’s how the Republicans look at us — and see nothing but political gain behind everything and the hell with all that touchy-feely stuff about taking care of the poor or those who don’t have a Morgan Stanley portfolio or respecting the rights of queers and staying out of a women’s uterus, or we work as hard as we can to prove that we offer something better.

If anything, the last few years have taught us that there are people who would rather rule than govern. We’re not them, and frankly, if that’s what it takes to win, I’m not sure I’d want to be a part of it.