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November 22, 2013 4:35 PM False Equivalency and Crocodile Tears

By Ed Kilgore

I’m delighted to see that amongst the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the “nuclear option’s” invocation, there’s some robust calling-out of bad analysis and crocodile tears.

WaPo was Ground Zero for “centrist” bemoaning of the terrible partisanship this step would unleash. But Jonathan Chait was having none of it:

The bizarre, defining feature of this argument is that, unlike the crocodile tears being shed by Republicans, the centrist Establishmentarians all take the view that the Republican judicial blockade was completely unacceptable. They argue that the solution to the unacceptable blockade is that, as the Post piously insists, “Both parties should have stepped back and hammered out a bipartisan compromise reform.”
That Republicans did not offer to compromise or in any way back down from the stance the Post calls unacceptable is a fact so fatal to this argument that none of the three [WaPo]writers in any way acknowledges it. I would agree that a 50-vote threshold for lifetime judicial appointments represents a sub-optimal arrangement. It would be better if there were some way for the Senate to filter out extreme nominees without having the power to wantonly blockade a vital court for nakedly partisan reasons. Given the refusal of Republicans to back down, I prefer majoritarianism to the existing alternative. The Establishmentarians refuse to grapple with the trade-off. They are against fires and fire hoses alike.

Unfortunately, now that the “nuclear option” has been officially recorded as the efficient cause of whatever happens next in the descent to partisan polarization, it will become the ever-ready justification for future false equivalency arguments of the sort Chait eviscerates.

An even more interesting deconstruction of today’s wailathon comes from Jonathan Bernstein, writing, as it happens, at WaPo’s Plum Line. He suggests it may have been the “reasonable” Senate Republicans pitching the biggest fits about the nuclear option who precipitated it by their languid-at-best attempts at a preemptive deal, and who may actually welcome it privately because it gets them out of a jam:

The problem with the summer compromise is that it was horrible for deal-making Republicans. The deal essentially said: Republicans will continue to filibuster nominations, but will supply enough votes for almost all of them so that the filibusters will be defeated. But that meant that in practice a handful of Republicans were forced to tag-team their votes, making sure that Democrats always had 60. What’s more, the shutdown fight — which began right after the Senate deal was struck — revealed that radical Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) were eager to scapegoat those same deal-making Republicans. That raised the cost of the executive branch nominations agreement for tag-teamers such as Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). In other words, the summer deal might or might not have been stable, but it certainly couldn’t hold in a world in which the majority of Republican senators are looking for ways to separate themselves from mainstream conservatives, and then using that separation to attack them.

Now Obama gets his judges, and “mainstream conservatives”—especially those like Alexander and Graham who are facing 2014 primary threats—can happily vote against them. What’s not to like?

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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