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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Politics In The Extreme

by digby

You have to give these Republicans credit, you really do. They are changing the rules of the game right in front of our eyes and daring the Democrats to do something about it. And the Democrats are flummoxed, as usual, scrambling to figure out the play. Republicans are just better at this new form of extreme politics.

I'm specifically talking here about the executive privilege claims, although it applies to virtually everything. Traditionally, there would be some posturing and back and forth, negotiations and perhaps some court involvement.Presidents may push the envelope, but they try to maintain the relationship with the congress in order that we not push these things into litigation which might go the wrong way (from their perspective) and therefore codify congressional prerogatives. Some presidents might even actually respect the notion that oversight is a necessary part of the balance of power and believe it's important to preserve it without creating new laws and rules that make it more difficult. The balance of power between the branches is actually quite a delicate thing that requires a certain amount of good faith to keep that going. The Republicans have thrown that good faith into the trash bin.

Oversight is constructed as a political dance, with the members of the president's own party anxious to preserve their constitutional prerogatives as much as help their president. The other side also knows that they may very well have a president in that position someday and so they don't want to create unnecessary restraints on them or codify certain rules that might not apply for the future. Politics, being a game of survival, assumes that politicians will work in their own self-interest by taking the long term into account --- the long term meaning the next election, and the health of their party and their branch of government.

The modern Republican party has perverted that idea by adopting the belief that they can manipulate the press so efficiently that the public will never really understand just what was done. This has freed them to adopt the Wall Street style of short term thinking that makes it possible to care nothing for the long range effects of their actions, as politicians might have before, and simply do whatever it takes to "win" the next play. The Democrats have never caught on to this new extreme form of politics and continue to think that these people play by the established rules. But the Republicans know that the press and the Democrats will be confused by this kind of provocative behavior and will fail to respond with any coherence because they cling to their quaint notions.

Right now, for example, we have the Republicans filibustering everything in sight and calling the Democrats a do-nothing congress. We have the president spending twelve billion dollars a month on a war the country hates and saying the Democrats are overspending. And oversight is being met with incoherence that better resembles a three stooges routine than cooperation. They are not behaving as normal politicians behave, they are behaving like reckless, emotionally deranged teen-agers daring someone to stop them. And like the nice, nurturing parents they are, the Democrats try to be reasonable and "talk" while the miscreant kids steal the money out of their wallet and take the family car --- screaming "suckers" as they peel out of the driveway.

They aren't playing by any rules and neither the press nor the public seems to quite understand that. The Dems are trying to position themselves for the next election, which is what the system anticipates, but their hapless act in the face of this anarchistic GOP response is not going to get them there.

I know that many of you feel that impeachment is the only answer and I'm not going to say you're wrong. What else can you do with an administration that is totally unresponsive to public opinion and the congress? They are not leaving the Dems much choice -- indeed, I almost think they pray for it, as a means to get their base enthused and test their Three Stooges theory of extreme politics on impeachment.

But, short of that, there are some other things that should be done immediately. First of all, Harry Reid has to make these filibustering jerks do a real damned filibuster or STFU. As Mimikatz at The Next Hurrah writes here, there is no requirement that the Democrats observe this polite procedural nicety of calling for cloture and then pretending that the filibuster happened. If the Republicans want to filibuster everything that comes through this senate they need to put up. Hell, Pete Domenici is already wearing his pajamas, all they need to do is roll in some cots and have a slumber party.

Yesterday, they should have excused Sarah Taylor instead of playing her little self-serving game of invoking privilege except when she wanted to exonerate one of her little friends. As Dahlia Lithwick pointed out:

Whitehouse finally becomes frustrated with Taylor's selective invocation of the privilege when she refuses to explain to him what she meant in an e-mail describing the ousted U.S. attorney from Arkansas, Bud Cummins, as "lazy." Whitehouse says that refusing to discuss a publicly released e-mail, unprotected under any possible theory of executive privilege, is representative of the "unbelievably preposterous situation" you've been put in.

But Whitehouse is wrong on one point. The committee doesn't refuse to discuss all these matters with Taylor. They discuss them for three long hours. And even though the discussions are largely confined to arguments about what is and what is not privileged, the fact is that the country has now seen Taylor—as she continues to assure the committee—trying her best to be helpful, which is going to make a contempt citation next to impossible.

The Democrats should never have taken this deal. It's the functional equivalent of off-the-record, unsworn, behind-closed-doors testimony—in that the witness appears to be cooperating even when she gives them nothing at all. There is absolutely nothing to be done with Taylor's numerous very helpful nonanswers today. Specter mournfully tells her at the end of the hearing that her helpfulness will come back to haunt her: "You might have been on safer legal ground if you'd said absolutely nothing."

Pooh. The real truth is that Democrats would have been on safer political ground if they'd asked absolutely nothing.

Taylor played them but good by changing the rules and pretty much daring them to do something about it. The harried young, sweetheart can say she "cooperated" and making the contempt charge stick is much more difficult.

Harriet Miers is taking it to the next level and telling them to shove it altogether. The response? Christy Hardin Smith blogged the hearing this morning and explained in the comments:

They voted to enforce the subpoena — they’ve given Miers and/or the WH 5 days to respond and, depending on the response, they will either haul someone’s ass into court or issue a contempt citation. They are following the procedure as required to issue a contempt citation if and when it is necessary — there are parliamentary rules in the House that have to be followed for something like this, as I understand it. But they got the vote they needed to move forward toward a contempt citation - and Miers has five days to show cause why it shouldn’t be issued.

That sounds right to me. But I wouldn't assume that Miers will respond as one would assume she would. I would guess that she "caves" and comes forth, only to stonewall as Taylor did. If they dismiss her for being unresponsive, as Lithwick suggests above, they will look incoherent and churlish for having forced her to appear. (The harried blond Goodling/Taylor sweeheart routine won't play with Harriet.) See how this works? Every play has a different rule.

I don't pretend to have the answers. These guys are almost as good at advancing their heinous goals from the minority as they are from their majority. They enjoy this sort of guerilla warfare where they are able to toy with the foolish nerds who are trying to actually do the people's work. It suits their temperament. It's also quite effective.

*And yes, I did mention impeachment so there is no need to go ballistic on me in the comment section and rail repeatedly that until I write about impeachment non-stop I'm helping the terrorists win, ok?