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I don’t get annoyed by politicians. Not usually. I understand they must say and do things normal people would never say and do. I don’t hold them to standards I’d normally hold normal people to. Dianne Feinstein, however, is an exception.
The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee used precious minutes of her closing remarks last week to thank Republican Chairman Lindsey Graham for his “professionalism” during hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, the president’s third life-time appointment to the US Supreme Court. That might not have been so bad if she had not also hugged him, giving the impression that comity, decorum and normalcy still prevail in an otherwise toxic environment in which the GOP has all but declared war on the Democrats. To hug Graham is to be complicit in one’s assault and battery.
Boycotting the Senate confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett makes her illegitimacy crystal clear—to other Democrats.
I wasn’t alone. Others were peeved aplenty with her playing along with a plan to enshrine minority rule in a democratic republic. Doubtless this is why Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly gave her a talking to later. And this talking to is almost certainly why all the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including Feinstein, boycotted this morning’s vote to advance Barrett to the full Senate. The outcome is action by Senate Democrats that’s been absent. Barrett’s confirmation is illegitimate. Boycotting the vote makes that crystal clear.
To other Democrats. That’s important to understanding this properly. The Senate Democrats cannot stop their counterparts. (They don’t have the numbers.) All they can do is take the bully pulpit to warn of dangers posed to Obamacare, Social Security and other popular government programs by a 6-3 conservative super-majority on the high court. Otherwise a vociferous minority party can only make clear to other party members that what’s happening is so abnormal, no outside democratic boundaries, and so treacherous that it cannot be tolerated much less recognized. It cannot be allowed to be seen as legitimate. The Senate Democrats can’t stop the Senate Republicans. They probably won’t convince Republican voters. But they can convince their own people.
This pulling back serves two purposes, one practical and one ideological.
First, denying Barrett legitimacy means the entire Supreme Court will function under a cloud of suspicion. (This is something many argued was the case from the beginning of Donald Trump’s term given the aid and comfort provided by enemies to the United States. A cheating president is an illegitimate president, as are his judicial appointees, but I digress.) Refusing to recognize Barrett’s confirmation gives room to a President Biden, should that happen, to explore reforms to the court and the court system. The Republicans will oppose anything he proposes. That’s a given. What’s key is holding on to every single Democratic supporter. Biden can’t let opposition to reform appear bipartisan. If it’s just the Republicans complaining, he’s free to move forward. (This scenario presumes, of course, that voters will flip control of the Senate; it also presumes that the Senate Democrats, once in control, will nix the filibuster.)
Second, pulling back and denying legitimacy to what are, arguably, treasonous acts indicate ideological and generational shifts going on generally. For all the Democratic praise given to Ronald Reagan, as an example of everything Donald Trump is not, that president’s “conservative consensus” is the one we still live in (and are moving out of, as I see it). Liberals could quibble with conservatives but they could not quibble with Reagan’s titanic popularity, as evidenced by back-to-back landslide victories. It is no stretch to say that, since 1980, Democrats who otherwise espoused liberal tendencies recognized as valid, and therefore respected, their counterparts’ conservatism such that Republican demands were not the end of Democratic thinking but the beginning.
Nancy Pelosi illustrated what I see as the Democrats’ final departure from the Reagan regime during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. The House Speaker told the news anchor something I don’t think any Democrat has said to someone of his stature. He was trying to pin her down, using conventional Republican talking points connected to the stalled stimulus negotiations. Pelosi not only refused to play along; she refused to recognize the validity of the GOP’s perspective. “With all due respect, and we’ve known each other a long time, you really don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. The GOP has acted in bad faith for years. They prevailed over the Democrats by exploiting their liberal tendency to see good faith when there’s none. The first thing you do in an abusive relationship isn’t leaving. It’s denying the legitimacy of abuse.
In an upcoming segment of “60 Minutes,” Biden is reportedly going to propose “a national commission—a bipartisan commission. I will ask them to, over 180 days, come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system.” This worries liberals for good reason. They fear “bipartisan” will give Republicans room to sabotage him. I’d normally agree except for the changes I have outlined above. “Bipartisan” during Reagan’s conservative consensus over the last 40 years nearly always gave Republicans the advantage. That consensus, however, is crumbling, first slowly, then rapidly, then all at once. Biden might mean “bipartisan” as we currently understand it. He might just as well mean “bipartisan” on his terms. Remember, he doesn’t need, nor is he going to get, Republican support. What he needs is the full backing of every member of his party. Moreover, he didn’t say the commission would get back to him as to “whether” or “if” he should pursue court reforms. He said “how.” That indicates intention. That indicates major changes ahead beyond the election.
John Stoehr is the editor and publisher of The Editorial Board, a newsletter about politics in plain English for normal people. He’s a visiting assistant professor of public policy and liberal studies at Wesleyan University.
This article was originally published at The Editorial Board.