Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 4, 2009

NO REWARD FOR NOMINATING MODERATES.... This isn't a surprising vote, but it tells us quite a bit about what to expect going forward.

Obama nominated David Hamilton to serve on the Seventh Circuit court of appeals back in March, and, thanks to a number of Republican delays, he has only today been reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line 12-7 vote.

If you're just joining us, in March, Obama nominated Hamilton for the 7th Circuit. Given Hamilton's record of moderation, the White House said the nomination was intended to send a signal that this process need not be contentious. "We would like to put the history of the confirmation wars behind us," one aide said.

And what happened? The right-wing base flipped out and one far-right senator, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, soon after announced he will filibuster the nomination. (That Inhofe argued filibusters of Republican judicial nominees are "unconstitutional" apparently doesn't matter.)

And today, how many Republicans on the Judiciary Committee were willing to support this moderate, chosen specifically to signal the White House's desire to avoid a bitter process? Zero. Not one.

This is what happens when Obama goes out of his way to avoid a fight.

Given this, I'd just remind the administration that there's no real reward for nominating moderates. If the president selects obvious centrists, Republicans will label them unacceptable ideologues, and oppose their nomination. If the president selects unwavering liberals, Republicans will label them unacceptable ideologues, and oppose their nomination.

Obama might as well pick the best available people for the federal bench, without regard for the GOP reaction, because it's likely to be the same, no matter who he chooses.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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frist!

Posted by: coltergeist on June 4, 2009 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

***This is what happens when Obama goes out of his way to avoid a fight.***

Thank you!!! This is what I've been screaming at my computer monitor since January.

Posted by: Mauimom on June 4, 2009 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

No real reward for nominating moderates...except that for those paying attention, Obama himself is quite obviously a moderate and may actually prefer middle-of-the-road pragmatists to anyone with a set agenda. Sotomayor, for all the fooferaw around her supposed Latina radicalism, seems to be more of the same.

Posted by: Jordan on June 4, 2009 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

And now something more on point. Steve, you are totally right.

I confess my logic is a bit thin on this, but Rush Limbaugh is the titular head of the GOP, and Rush says that bipartisanship is the GOP crushing the Democratic party and making them lick their boots. I am paraphrasing. So the GOP believe bipartisanship is only genuflection towards their ideas and personalities. Thus, bipartisanship is dead. It was dead quite some time ago, kind of like a marriage is dead after the drunkard husband beats his wife up for the umpteenth time. She just has not worked up the courage to leave because it will throw the drunkard into a rage. But putting the fork down on the wrong side of the plate will throw the drunkard into a rage also, so brace yourself and do what is the right thing to do and leave what does not work and who refuses to cooperate behind.

Posted by: coltergeist on June 4, 2009 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Jordan, your comment appears to presume that middle-of-the-road pragmatists have no set agenda. Doesn't seem plausible, nor does it jibe with my admittedly anecdotal experience.

Posted by: C.S. on June 4, 2009 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

It is possible (and no, I'm not one of those people who buys the idea that Obama is playing some kind of 3D chess at a Spock-like level of sophistication) that by testing the waters with moderates and getting such freakouts, the administration has inoculated itself in a way. If the right calls Sotomayor a radical and a non-right consensus emerges that she's a moderate, then future nominees who are well to Sotomayor's left and who get the same reaction from the Right will be presumed to be moderate as well.

How many temper tantrums can the right throw before people just stop paying attention?

This assumes that Obama actually wants to appoint judges who really are left of center, and Jordan is right that it may just be wishful thinking to assume that.

Posted by: Rob Mac on June 4, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Needless to say, the hypocritical Rewanklicans were demanding cooperation, up and down votes; their "intellectuals" were telling us how "advice and consent" really meant the Senate should confirm a Judge unless he or she grossly offended them etc. - during the misBushistration. Now of course, they are on hair-trigger alert against every Obaminee.

Posted by: Neil B. on June 4, 2009 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Recall that Obama reached out on the Stimulus Package. We all derided him for that, pointing out that he would end up getting stiffed by the Republicans anyway-which he did.

But the actual result of that was the stimulus passed (albeit badly watered down), and the public reaction was to blame Republicans for being assholes. That was one of the things that made them freak a bit about being called "the party of No."

So here's the Hamilton nomination and we see the exact same dynamic. Guess what the outcome will be? Hamilton will be confirmed, and yet more of the moderate and independent vote will be driven away from the Republicans. It's a lose-lose-LOSE situation for them, and it's only happening because the public sees Obama trying to work with the GOP and getting stiffed every time.

Posted by: Domage on June 4, 2009 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't there some discussion a while ago about that arcane rule of the Judiciary Committee that requires at least one member of the minority to vote for the conclusion of debate to get a nominee out of committee? Rule IV of the Committee's Rules provides:

The Chairman shall entertain a non-debatable motion to bring a matter before the Committee to a vote. If there is objection to bring the matter to a vote without further debate, a roll call vote of the Committee shall be taken, and debate shall be terminated if the motion to bring the matter to a vote without further debate passes with ten votes in the affirmative, one of which must be cast by the minority.

This appears to be a poor man's filibuster. While the Republicans passed on the opportunity to bottle up Hamilton, I'm willing to bet that we'll see more obstructionism from them on future nominees.

Posted by: Henry on June 4, 2009 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

It's a lose-lose-LOSE situation for [Republicans], and it's only happening because the public sees Obama trying to work with the GOP and getting stiffed every time.

Exactly. You wouldn't think that the Republicans would fall for exactly the same strategy twice, but they've fallen for it, what, like 20 times now? Obama advances a moderate plan; Republicans scream and cry that he's the reincarnation of Lenin; electorate shakes its head and Republican identification goes down another couple of percentage points.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on June 4, 2009 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

C.S., you're right. I meant that, from my POV, Obama seems to prefer *nonideological* moderates who are not overly committed to any party or agenda. Some moderates of course have an agenda of their own, though even they are generally outside the well-worn groove of culture war & beltway turf battles.

To my way of thinking, Obama is a pragmatist who may lean progressive, but anyone expecting him to hew to a strict leftist platform is going to be disappointed.

Posted by: Jordan on June 4, 2009 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Also, don't forget what happened with the stimulus plan. When it became obvious that the Republicans weren't going to vote for it, Democrats said, "Fine, we're putting some of that stuff you complained about back in since you're going to vote against it anyway."

I think we probably are going to get a slew of moderate judges out of Obama, because that's what he is, but I also don't think he's going to make the Clinton mistake and bend over backwards to nominate conservatives just to stop the squealing.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on June 4, 2009 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

"there's no real reward for nominating moderates"

The reward will be in 2012 moderate Republican votes for Obama.

I think Domage on June 4, 2009 at 4:58 PM and Rob Mac on June 4, 2009 at 4:57 PM have the analysis just about correct.

Obama seems to understand you have to govern from the centre. How far he wants to move the centre to the left, I don't know, and think it is an academic question until sufficient trust has developed that people will automatically accept Obama's judgment.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on June 4, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

I have to wonder how much his decisions are being effected by a desire, only made possible by the RepoTaliban, that the Republicans are behaving badly. As long as he puts forward moderates, at least until 2012 he may be hoping that the voters will continue to see Republican candidates as bad choices, because of the behaviour of the Republicans in Congress and RepoTaliban mouth pieces.

Posted by: Marnie on June 4, 2009 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

Obama might as well pick the best available people for the federal bench, without regard for the GOP reaction, because it's likely to be the same, no matter who he chooses.

Word.

And the Republicans screaming "radical liberal judical activist!!" every single time will lessen the impact if Obama does nominate an actual liberal -- which he should do at the next Supreme Court vacancy.

Posted by: Gregory on June 4, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Comments in this thread are spot on, so let me just add this: the GOP is no longer even trying to appeal to the middle, whatever that is. The party is a fundraising machine that collects vast sums of money from crazy people. The Republican Party will be well funded in order to pay its consultants handsomely, and will dominate the airwaves and make lots of noise, but will continue to lose elections for a very long time by wide margins.

I'm OK with that. You?

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on June 4, 2009 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Obama seems to understand you have to govern from the centre.

I hope he doesn't understand that; it's not even clear what that means.

One should govern in the way they deem best: the center has no correlation to that, American mythology notwithstanding.

Posted by: teece on June 4, 2009 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Steve says: "Given this, I'd just remind the administration that there's no real reward for nominating moderates."
I'll second that...

Posted by: Frak on June 4, 2009 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

It's also to keep the Ds in the Senate from being the ones to reject his nominee. If Obama appoints a left leaning jurist to start, and gets rejected by the Ben Nelsons of the party, Obama has boxed himself in.

By starting with a winning trick (card wise) he gets to paint the opposition as the radicals, and being able to have more latitude in other picks.

Sadly, this theory is not borne out by results in other areas of appointment - see various lingering other appointments.

Posted by: MobiusKlein on June 4, 2009 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican strategy was best summed up many years ago by the incomparable Groucho Marx:

"I don't know what they have to say,
It doesn't matter anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it!"

Watch the original on YouTube here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtMV44yoXZ0

Posted by: Curmudgeon on June 4, 2009 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

"But putting the fork down on the wrong side of the plate will throw the drunkard into a rage also, so brace yourself and do what is the right thing to do..."

...which is to stick the fork squarely, forcefully, and deeply in the eye of the drunkard.

Yeah, I know it's an immature response, but tell me you all don't feel the same way at some point....

Posted by: bluestatedon on June 4, 2009 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans think bi-partisan means Democrats do everything that they want and cave into any and all Republican demands. In the past that wasn't so far from the truth. Whether that changes remains to be seen. Of course considering the Senate has something like 2 moderates the party is more extreme than it ever was and considers all votes for any of Obama's policies or appointees as the act of cheese eating surrender monkeys.

Posted by: ET on June 4, 2009 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

here's what my inner a-hole would love to see happen...

Another opening on the Supreme Court. One of the conservative Justices steps down or dies. Obama nominates a rigid neoconservative activist judge - someone who thinks even the most deformed will-never-survive-outside-the-womb-without-dying-in-agonizing-pain-and-shock fetuses Tiller ever saw must be carried to term. Anti-immigrant, anti-enviornment, anti-education, no-empathy, pro-business, anti-regulation, a bona fide nightmare for the left. Someone even Rush Limbaugh would accept with no hesitation. A real neocon/Evangelical wet dream. Republicans fight each other for the right to insist this Justice get voted on asap. And every Republican makes it clear this is their kind of guy...
Then, 2 days before the vote, this nominee is caught in an internet sting trying to solicit internet porn and procuring hillbilly heroin. Obama says "Well, I tried to be bipartisan one too many times, and subsequently all nominees make Sotomayor look like Alito. Because Republicans hide child molestors like...well, the Catholic Church hides child molestors.

Posted by: slappy magoo on June 4, 2009 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

he tried to treat them as adults and make the first move. now that his hand has been slapped in return, it likely won't be extended the same way again. i believe he's basically said as much in meeting with GOP members in the past month.

Posted by: po on June 4, 2009 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

Middle of the road folks have a nagenda. Fucking over the rest of us.

Hell, Obama is willing to spend capital importing cheap labor. He'd never spend that kind of capital to help the poor in this country. He just wants to give his corporate owners cheap labor.

He couldn't care less about EFCA or unions. He only cares about the corporate masters.

Posted by: soullite on June 4, 2009 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

"...Obama might as well pick the best available people for the federal bench, without regard for the GOP reaction, because it's likely to be the same, no matter who he chooses...."-Benen

Why can't he get that through his head. There's no reward for appeasing the party of no compromise...the obstructionist party. They see any Obama pick as a fight to the death. Get rid of the filibuster and let the majority govern. This party is so ridiculous now that they will never regain power as they are and they are unwilling to change as their only mission (and it has been widely exposed) is to protect the holdings and business of the wealthy and their multinational corporations.

For once, do what the majority elected you to do without being blackmailed by the obstructionism of the minority.

Posted by: bjobotts on June 4, 2009 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

The center is not too liberal and not too conservative...which means nothing. You either want single payer not for profit HC ins. or you don't....there's no "middle".

Tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Regulation of corporations and wall street.
Alternative energy, global warming....the list goes on and on...there's no middle except for indecision.

Choose one or the other... and the majority has clearly made its choice...but that choice needs to start reflecting the majority that elected him and them. You don't need permission from the minority to do anything if you'd just get rid of that filibuster crap. It's been abused to the point of just being political blackmail now. They threaten to filibuster every thing just to prevent any possible success because it "might make them look bad". Country first my ass.

Posted by: bjobotts on June 4, 2009 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

Obama might as well pick the best available people for the federal bench, without regard for the GOP reaction, because it's likely to be the same, no matter who he chooses.

Good to see that you're finally on board.

You should be receiving your muffin basket by Monday.

Posted by: Disputo on June 5, 2009 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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