Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Didn't we already know the lessons we learned from today's DADT-repeal cloture fiasco?


The Maine girls (that's Miss Olympia on the left and Miss Susie on the right) know: There are no moderates in the Senate Republican caucus.

by Ken

As I'm sure you know by now, this afternoon Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid failed to get enough votes to invoke cloture and allow floor consideration of the defense appropriations bill to which the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been attached. He needed the usual 60 votes, of course, and got only 56, though the total is really 57, since Senator Reid himself voted "no" for the procedural reason that this allows him to bring the matter up for revote. There were 43 "no"s -- in addition to the majority leader, 40 of the 41 Senate Republicans and two (nominal) Democrats, Arkansas's David Pryor and Blanche Lincoln. (The missing Republican vote belonged to Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, who was apparently too otherwise-occupied to vote, or maybe too fraidy-scared, as she contemplates her announced bid for reelection via write-in following her loss in the Republican primary.)

You're probably aware too of the special circumstance that Senator Reid was trying to send the bill to the floor in a controversial way: with a prohibition on amendments not already included in it. This became significant because it was the announced reason for the "no" votes of some of the GOP fake-moderates, and of Senator Lincoln as well, according to a statement she issued.

I think the debacle teaches us several lessons, though it seems to me that they're lessons we already knew.


In particular among my LGBT brothers and sisters, I'm seeing understandable anger toward Arkansas's "Democrats." Now I offer no brief for either Pryor or Lincoln, both of whom seem to me pretty much wastes of human space. But they didn't defeat the cloture motion. While we don't know how they would have voted otherwise, the fact is that by the time they committed, there was nothing left to be decided. Once the R fake-moderates -- and while I'm seeing anger directed toward that foolish old fake-maverick hypocrite Young Johnny McCranky, the people we're talking about are Olympia Snowe and Susie Collins of Maine, Dick Lugar of Indiana, departing George Voinovich of Ohio, and the Brown guy from Massachusetts -- fell into lockstep with their leadership, it was over.


Even before the vote I was seeing denunciations of poor Harry Reid for deliberately sabotaging DADT repeal, which the denunciators argued he didn't want passed anyway. The argument went that by choosing to offer the bill in that unamendable form, he was guaranteeing that no Republican votes could be had for the cloture motion, and of course without any Republican votes there would be no way to reach the magic number of 60. The argument was based on the belief that the pro-cloture votes of the Maine girls [note: I've already been taken to task in another forum for demeaning them by calling them "girls"; I'll have more to say about this tomorrow] were lost when Senator Reid deprived the bill of an "open hearing."

I suppose it could be that Senator Reid is really that Macchiavellian, but I don't buy it. First, the argument seems to me defective in substance. My assumption is that the majority leader chose the procedure he did because, looking ahead, he saw that allowing amendments would have led to unlimitable stalling and obstructing tactics, including endless procedural run-arounds and end runs and endless debates and votes on an infinity of amendments, including an assortment of "poison pills," with an abundance of opportunities for future filibusters. I think our Harry's crystal ball showed a likelihood-of-obstruction level of something like 100 percent.

What's more, I don't take seriously the notion that any of the "moderate" Republicans had an irrevocable commitment to voting for cloture without the no-amendment rule. First off, in the halls of Congress there ain't no such a-thing as an irrevocable commitment. Those folks can vote any way they please on any matter as long as they're prepared to live with the consequences. Indeed, the modest statement of possible support for cloture I heard from Senator Snowe didn't include even a hint that she might actually vote for the bill; she just said something about being committed to "open debate" on it.

Of course, when the form in which the bill was offered offended Miss Olympia's sense of "open debate," she had a ready excuse to vent her indignation and vote no, and with her went her echo, Miss Susie. The Maine girls like to make believe that they're "independent," and their gullible constituents seem to buy it, but when push comes to shove they almost always toe the party line, and I don't think the Senate GOP leadership had any intention of allowing DADT repeal to pass at this time.

Most incredibly, I saw the case against our Harry being made with reference to his being the second most powerful Democrat in Washington, the first time I can recall seeing his name and the word "powerful" in the same sentence. We've been through the debate about his efficacy as majority leader countless times here at DWT, and while I can imagine that another leader might have done more leading, or at least tried, I don't really believe it.

The reality is that, for all sorts of reasons, which we can't go into here, the Senate has been converted, especially on the Democratic side (the Republicans, of course, are much better at enforcing party discipline, but in ways that I believe either Democratic senators or Democratic partisans would find acceptable), into a collection of, essentially, independent contractors -- whose principal enterprise, of course, is amassing corporate cash. In this scheme of things, the majority leader, who except for setting the Senate's schedule has no power I'm aware of which can be exercised without the support of his caucus, functions essentially like the executive secretary of the Association of Democratic U.S. Senators. The chances of his being able to make any of his employers do anything seem to me slim to none, because even when individual senators may be sympathetic to his cause, how many of them are going to support him in exerting pressure that on other issues can be exerted against them?


I'm tempted to say that such rights have no "constituency," but that's not right. I think there's a sizable constituency for DADT repeal, for example -- not just among the general population, as polls are showing quite convincingly, but even within Congress. However, it's not a constituency that figures strongly in pols' thinking when it comes to crunch time. Sure, polls may show up to 80 percent support for DADT repeal, but that just can't be counted on to provide political cover for pols afraid of taking positions that may be controversial with their constituencies, who after all may be significantly more reactionary than those national averages, and especially with those screeching minorities that can make their lives hell with potential contributors and voters. It's been noted often that, absent proof to the contrary in individual cases, there isn't likely to be a price to pay for voting against the rights of "other people," whereas there may be quite a stiff price to pay for taking a principled stand. In polthink, it's a snap to add up that kind of electoral math.

I'm hearing LGBT colleagues, understandably angry and frustrated, pointing out, correctly, that the supposedly enlightened allies who once again let us down aren't afraid of us. This is quite true. And it's not as if we have no weapons. The Democratic Party collects a lot of cash from LGBT donors and counts on reliable turnout from LGBT voters. I'm all in favor of holding Dems accountable (though it's worth remembering that, not counting Senator Reid, all of the Dems and Dem-caucusing independents voted "yes" today except the Arkansas mavericks). But does anyone foresee LGBT wrath throwing a scare into Dem power brokers the way the righteous wrath of the Right does?


DADT repeal is going to happen. There's a lot of politicking that can still take place in this session of Congress, depending on what the infamous Dept. of Defense study of servicemembers' attitudes comes up with (assuming, that is, that it isn't an intentionally placed roadblock, as I've feared). Clearly, though, the country is getting very close to being ready.

Should we be complacent? Of course not. Should we push as hard as possible for this obvious step not just for equality of opportunity but for promoting national security? Of course. it's just that there are some lessons we learned today that we should already have learned.

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At 3:26 AM, Blogger Stephen Kriz said...

The Republicans are on the wrong side of this issue and demographics are going to bitchslap them sooner or later on their medieval positions on gay rights. Kids under 30 uniformly support allowing gays to marry and have other rights. It's only the moldy old right-wing turds over 50 who oppose them. They are going to be dead in 30 years, and hopefully, so will the Republican Party!

At 6:14 AM, Anonymous me said...

I was so looking forward to Harry "Gutless" Reid getting his ass handed to him this November. But look who the idiot republicans put up against him! Criminy.

Is our whole political system a scam or what? Every time, we voters get to choose between pig shit and dog shit.

Fuck it, I'm going to just vote straight Green. I don't like them all that much, but at least they're not part of the duopoly.

At 6:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lessons? The Democrats did exactly what they wanted to do. They were able to say they supported change without actually doing anything. The only people who need to learn the lesson is us.

The bottom line is as long as we reward not being Republican, the Democrats will merely be "not-the Republican Party."


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