There's always something worth talking about going on in the world, but lately it feels like these are momentous times. There's a sense that American political society is balancing on a ledge, looking either to regain its former posture, or topple completely. Broad themes of democracy and authority and formal tension between the branches are at issue, with what seem like lasting effects at stake.
And so we have the two major parties in America: one in full control, albeit under suspicious terms and continuous allegations of scandal; and one that has been, for much of the last five years, unsure of whether it should open its mouth. It was awfully funny that Bush asked Condi for a bathroom pass, but the sad reality is that Democrats have spent much of their minority status discussing between themselves how firmly to ask for the key to the john. Hell, for all I know the Republicans have commandeered all the ground level bathrooms in the House and make the Democrats use the 3rd floor, and so they literally have to ask. They run the building with that kind of hand.
So now we sit at the juncture of several large questions:
- Can the President do essentially whatever he wants in the name of "fighting terror?"
- Are we going to do anything about the corruptive culture surrounding fundraising and lobbying?
- Was there a conspiracy to leak Valerie Plame's name, and is the White House guilty of crimes?
- Is the leadership of the Republican Party in both houses going to fall to ethics breaches?
- And is a guy quite reasonably expected to give Bush a pass on most of this stuff, going to get a lifetime E Ride ticket on the SupremeCourtterhorn?
In this tabeau sits the minority party, admittedly high-functioning eunuchs at best, but potentially well capable of taking control of these issues and shifting the public debate. There's no doubt the Republicans are staggered a little bit, unable to advance any of the President's pet legislation and the continued cloud of legal developments in ongoing scandals. And so there's a void of momentum, one that is waiting for a movement to seize it.
What's the problem? Peter Daou has an excellent piece that does a nice job trying to exonerate them, but really in its implications it shouts "the Democrats are pussies." Simply put, they can't break through the developed memes from the GOP that are uncritically repeated by the largest traditional media outlets. Which--and as I say, I agree with Daou's thesis about poor journalism being a block to successful message outreach--is a wimpy copout. For goodness sakes! Speak up, but speak up clearly and with one voice. You don't get the benefit of being heard handed to you; you have to say things worth hearing.
The western flanks of the Left have been doing their part to hector the media into playing the game more fairly, stunning establishment stalwarts like the Washington Post and Chris Matthews with blogswarms and boycotts. It helped that they were right, but the effect has been to shock the traditional media into recognizing that they are being watched, and the results are getting noticed and called out.
For weeks nigh on months, the progressive community has been pushing for active declarations of opposition from the opposition party. "Pick your battles, and this isn't one," the DLC kept saying. Heck, even Paul Begala went on the Colbert Report to tell Democrats to wake the frig up. Some new candidates for Congress are getting the message and are using it. Responding to attacks reprinted by Ohio media on Paul Hackett's favorable stance towards gay marriage, Hackett stood and revalidated his position:
“I said it. I meant it. I stand behind it. Equal justice under the law for all regardless of who they are and how they were born is fundamental to our American spirit and our American freedoms. Any person or group that argues that the law should not apply equally to all Americans is, frankly, un-American.”
“The Republican Party has been hijacked by religious fanatics, who are out of touch with mainstream America. Think of the recent comments by Pat Robertson – a religious fanatic by any measure – that the United States should assassinate a democratically elected leader in Venezuela, and that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was divine punishment because Sharon wished to trade land for peace.”
“Since the Republican Party has been utterly unable to stand for something positive, they have created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and have pandered to religious fanatics not to vote for something they believe in, but to vote against their fellow Americans with whom they disagree. Those among us who would use religion and politics to divide rather than unite Americans should be ashamed.”
Ouch. And today, finally, there was a sign, a rumbling really, that something might happen. Massachusett's two Senators decided they'd had enough, and if the leadership wasn't going to organize any kind of movement or statement on the lifetime appointment of Samuel Alito, they would:
Yesterday, Senator Ted Kennedy and I told our colleagues that we supported a filibuster of Judge Alito’s nomination for the Supreme Court. And we weren’t alone. But the bottom line is that it takes more than two or three people to filibuster successfully. It’s not “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” If you want to stop Judge Alito from becoming Justice Alito, use your own email list and organize. We can’t just preach to our own choir. We need to prove to everyone – from our friends and neighbors to our fellow Senators – that the American people know Judge Alito will take our country in the wrong direction, and they expect something to be done about it.
Late? Very likely. Politically motivated? Not improbably. A somewhat melodramatic fit of Quixotic politics? Absolutely. But god bless if it wasn't a sign.
I wasn't kidding when I said Quixotic--three have already come out in favor of Alito (West Virginia's Byrd included, on the same day a wealthy challenger entered the race against him), and three more had hinted their opposition to a filibuster besides. Rumors have flown since then at the sites of the usual suspects, including one indicating that Salazar was reconsidering, one that said similar things about Landrieu, that Reid would support but not whip the caucus. However, Dick Durbin has spent the last two nights spreading the word that it's dead, and most recently Daniel Akaka has cited his opposition to filibuster. And in an additional rumor, Barack Obama is apparently strongly urging colleagues not to filibuster on strategic grounds. [cannot vouch for this source...ed]
Mixed messages, to be sure. Which is essentially the same crime the Democrats have committed for 5 years. There is all weekend to see how the temperature changes, and voice mail boxes can fill while constituent buzz builds...but either way, these feel like momentous times.