Saturday, March 26, 2005

Judicial nominees and a short history of the filibuster

If you are like me and are very interested in seeing President Bush's judicial nominees confirmed by the US Senate (over the hysterical objections of Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer), you need to check out this web site called Confirm Them

When the Senate comes back from the Easter recess, they will consider the Constitutional option, stopping debate regarding judicial nominees by a majority vote, instead of a three-fifths vote.

Here are some facts the people should know about the history of the United States Senate's filibuster:

(1) From 1789 through 1805, the United States Senate operated on a simple majority basis, enacting 19 rules by majority vote. Senators could conclude debate on an issue by addressing the presiding officer in the following way: "Shall the previous question be put to the Senate?" If a majority of the Senate voted "Yes" then the Senate would immediately vote on the item that they were debating.

(2) The filibuster was unintentionally created in 1806 when Vice President Aaron Burr deleted the "previous question motion" rule. The filibuster wasn't "discovered" by creative Senators until decades later, however.

(3) The first filibusters were conducted by opponents of President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. The issue that provoked these filibusters were a move to remove Jackson's censure by Congress for withdrawing funds from the Bank of the United States.

(4) It wasn't until 1917 when the Senate enacted another rule allowing for Senators to stop debate over an issue. The motivating factor behind the enactment of this "cloture" rule was outrage among the American public and President Wilson over the inability of the full Senate to vote on the Armed Ship Bill. Eleven United States Senators, led by Wisconsin Republican Robert La Follette, filibustered the proposed American response to Germany's intention to commence unrestrained submarine warfare in the high seas.

President Wilson said that the "Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible."

(5) Thomas Walsh (Democrat Senator from Montana) led the fight for a rule that would allow the Senate to stop debate and proceed to a vote. Walsh argued that, based on Article 1 - Section 5 of the United States Constitution, the Senate could enact such a rule by a majority vote. One March 8, 1917, the Senate enacted, by a vote of 76 to 3, a compromise cloture rule that would stop debate if two-thirds of Senators present and voting supported cloture.

(6) The two-thirds requirement for cloture had the effect of defeating numerous civil rights bills. Examples include anti-lynching bills in 1922, 1935 and 1938. Over the decades, senators such as Prescott Bush (President George W. Bush's grandfather) Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Jacob Javits, Walter Mondale and others sought to reduce the cloture requirement to three-fifths from two-thirds. It wasn't until 1975, however, until this was accomplished.

(7) In 1975, Walter Mondale (Democrat-Minnesota) and James Pearson (Republican-Kansas) led the fight for a three-fifth's cloture rule using the "Constitutional option," meaning that they believed that debate over the Mondale-Pearson proposal could be brought to an end by a simple majority vote. Other Senators believed that debate over this cloture rule proposal could only be brought to an end by satisfying the cloture rule in effect from previous Senates: by winning the support of two-thirds of the Senate.

Senator Javits moved to "table" [defeat] Senator Mike Mansfield's point of order against the Mondale-Pearson cloture proposal because it was "self-executing" by demanding an immediate vote without satisfying the two-thirds cloture rule. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, acting as presiding officer of the Senate, issued a ruling that if a majority of the Senate voted for Senator Javits's "tabling motion," the Senate could proceed immediately to a vote on the Mondale-Pearson cloture rule proposal. The Senate upheld the Mondale-Pearson "Constitutional option" on three separate occasions during the period from February 1975 through March 1975. After more parliamentary maneuvering, the Senate enacted the three-fifths cloture rule by a vote of 56 to 27 on March 7, 1975.

Concluding thoughts

If a simple majority of United States Senators are determined to change Senate rules, there is little that can stop them from doing so. It is, however, important that the Vice President by sympathetic to the cause of the majority, since the Vice President is the Senate's presiding officer and can issue rulings on whether a question is debatable or non-debatable, endless debate being the tool of opponents of rule changes.

So keep this in mind when the Senate gets back into session and President Bush's judicial nominees become a hot topic of contention.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

George Kennen

Arthur Herman remembers the real George Kennen. An analysis of Kennen's views might be helpful to those of us who perceive dramatic differences between the Democrats of yesterday and those of today.
Although Kennan despised the Soviet system and its makers, and rightly warned Americans of their menace, he shared their bleak outlook more than anyone dares to admit.

"The trouble with this country," he once told columnist Joseph Alsop, "is that it is a democracy and should be ruled by an aristocracy." Kennan believed all his life that America's elected leaders were ignorant boobs at best or dangerous demagogues at worst, like his fellow Wisconsinite Joe McCarthy (McCarthy from Appleton, Kennan from Milwaukee) and, later, Ronald Reagan. In neither case were they capable of understanding America's true interests on the global chessboard, where in Kennan's view, sovereign states blindly obeyed the dictates of history and geography, not ideas or ideology.
So we should be clear in our remembrance of George Kennen. He was not a pro-democracy idealist anymore than Henry Kissinger was. It seems that if one wants to look for a Democrat who supported American values in foreign policy, the late Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson is the role model, with Joe Lieberman a close second.

"Appointment Gratification"

Mark Steyn sums up my attitude completely regarding the appointment of John Bolton as Ambassador to the United Nations, and Paul Wolfowitz to the World Bank. I was going to write a post on this anyway, but after reading his column yesterday I gave up. Steyn is a wordsmith and says it better than I could.
Even if Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton weren't two of the more farsighted thinkers in the Bush administration, appointing them respectively to the World Bank and the United Nations would be worthwhile just for the pleasure of watching the Europeans, Democrats and media stew over it.

The assumption seems that, with things going his way in Iraq and Lebanon and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, President Bush needs to reach out by stiffing counselors who called it right and appointing more emollient types who got everything wrong.
There are many who will quibble with this last remark of his. "Isn't Wolfowitz the one who told us that the the Iraqis would all greet us as heroes, and that invasion would be paid for with Iraqi oil?" Yes, he didn't get all of the details right. This, however, is the nature of war. As I have written ad nauseum on this blog and mine, success in war goes to the side that makes the least amount of mistakes, to the side that screws up the least. Failure to recognize this leads one to magnify every mistake we make in our current war, and to forget about those of the past. There is a tendency, I think, to see past wars such as the Revolution, Civil War (at least from the perspective of the North), and World War II as glorious crusades in which we set aside our differences, linked arms, and marched off to defeat the enemy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

But being a war protester means never having to say you're sorry for your own bad predictions. Those who claim that the war has been too costly are the same ones who predicted not hundreds, but thousands of American deaths, and that from initial invasion. Surely this time, the Iraqi army would fight us tooth and nail. Surely there would be a "battle of Baghdad" that would bog down American troops for months. Not having learned their lesson from the 1991 Gulf War, the same people who then predicted thousands of American casualties did so again in 2003.

Back to Steyn
But, as I see it, the question isn't why Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Bolton should hold these jobs, but why Kofi Annan, Jacques Chirac, John Kerry and assorted others still hold their jobs.
Great question. But now that Kofi Annan has presented a plan for reform I'm sure everything will be fine.
Still, if you're to play the oldest established permanent floating transnational crap game for laughs, might as well pick an act with plenty of material. What I love about John Bolton, America's new ambassador to the U.N., is the sheer volume of "damaging" material. Usually, the Democrats and media must rifle through decades of dreary platitudes to come up with one potentially exploitable infelicitous sound bite. But with Mr. Bolton, the damaging quotes hang off the trees and drop straight into your bucket. Five minutes' casual mooching through the back catalog and your cup runneth over:

The U.N.? "There is no such thing as the United Nations."

Reform of the Security Council? "If I were redoing the Security Council, I'd have one permanent member... the United States."

International law? "It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law."
Offering incentives to rogue states? "I don't do carrots."

But he does do shtick. I happen to agree with all the above statements, but I can see why the international community might be throw its hands up and shriek, "Quel horreur."

It's not just the rest of the world. Most of the American media are equally stunned.

The New York Times wondered what Mr. Bush's next appointment would be: "Donald Rumsfeld to negotiate a new set of Geneva Conventions? Martha Stewart to run the Securities and Exchange Commission?"

OK, I get the hang of this game. Sending John Bolton to be ambassador to the U.N. is like ... putting Sudan and Zimbabwe on the Human Rights Commission. Or letting Saddam's Iraq chair the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. Or sending a bunch of child-sex fiends to man U.N. operations in the Congo. And the Central African Republic. And Sierra Leone, and Burundi, Liberia, Haiti, Kosovo, and pretty much everywhere else.

All of the above happened without the U.N. fetishists running around shrieking hysterically. Why should America be the only country not to enjoy an uproarious joke at the U.N.'s expense?

And he's right; the UN is a joke. Here we have an organization that is virulently anti-Semitic, puts totalitarian nations on human rights commissions, whose peacekeepers cannot or will not stop mass murder and stands by while they sexually abuse the locals, doesn't enforce it's own resolutions, can't even perform humanitarian missions right, and has become a haven for third-world kleptocrats who like to hang out in Paris and New York...did I miss anything?

What they need at the UN is a good swift kick in the butt. Bolton is the one who is going to administer that kick. The days of 'go-along-get-along' are hopefully over.
When George Bush the elder went through the U.N. to assemble his Stanley Gibbons coalition for the first Gulf War, it may have been a "diplomatic triumph" but it was also the biggest single contributing factor to the received wisdom in the decade and a half since that only the U.N. has the international legitimacy to sanction war. That in turn amplifies the U.N. claim to sole global legitimacy in a thousand other areas, big and small -- the environment, guns, smoking, taxation.
At the time I worried that Bush #41 was establishing the wrong precident. I didn't worry about it too terribly much, but do very much remember feeling uncomfortable with his insistence on dotting his i's and crossing his t's. I supported the war, and so put my fears aside and hoped they were misplaced. How wrong I was.

Here's a thought; the resolution authorizing force in the Gulf War was Security Council Resolutions #677 and #678, passed in 1990. The final one we got condemning Saddam was #1441, passed in 2002 In those twelve years 963 resolutions were passed, or 80 per year. In the first 56 years of the UN there were 677 Security Council resolutions, or 12 per year. Are we any better off for all the new resolutions?

Then there's the World Bank. It's stated mission is "to fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in the developing world. it is a development Bank which provides loans, policy advice, technical assistance and knowledge sharing services to low and middle income countries to reduce poverty."

It is the part about "policy advice" that so concerns Democrats and other statists. They're concerned that Wolfowitz will demand real change. I'm not as familiar with the World Bank as I am the UN, but my general observation of the situation leads me to conclude that the cause of underdeveloped countries are not a lack of money.

Both appointments reflect George W Bush's vision of the world, and it is a an active vision, one that requires action. Action threatens the status quo, which is a good thing, as change is badly needed. Let's wish Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton success.