February 15, 2005

Kos and the Rah-Rah Democrats

The Senate has turned down ten (apparently) of Bush's nominees. Overall, according to Kos' yahoo story, Bush has a better confirmation record than Reagan, Bush-41 or Clinton. Therefore, Bush renominating seven of the rejected ten is asking too much ... or something.

Of course, Republicans would probably say that he's sticking it to the Democrats. That's exactly what Kos would say if this were President Kerry or Dean in the exact same situation with a Republican Senate Minority Leader.

He provides no bright line and no objective principle for why renominating seven out of the rejected ten constitutes "my way or the highway." Again, if President Howard Dean were doing this, or President John Kerry, then he would be "sticking to his guns," "not rolling over for the right-wing GOP," and "fighting for what's right, not what's popular" or some other garbage cliche the partisans hurl at each other as though they mean something.

Now, obviously, this idea in the far-left and the fashionably anti-Bush left that somehow Bush-43 is intolerant, narrow-minded and completely opposed to dissent is not only exaggerated but flat-out wrong and ill-informed. Uneducated and dumb, actually. See, I can't say that I love every part of the Bush administration and I doubt many people could honestly make that claim. However, not being some Kossack idiot I'm capable of processing the idea that standards of behavior ought to be objective.

While the partisan Democrats and partisan Republicans judge based on the affiliation of an opponent, they ought to judge based on independently observable criteria. In the case of internal dissent, it's hard to get a full picture. However, we do know that the Bush Administration had one of the most diverse Cabinets in recent memory, as related to foreign policy perspectives.

While it's become cool to assume that every Bush Administration member, and indeed nearly every Republican, is a neo-conservative, such is not the case. While Wolfowitz is certainly a neocon, Rumsfeld is more of a moderate neorealist. Bush is somewhere between classical liberal (think Wilson or Reagan) and a neocon, while Rice spent her career as a raging, unrepentant, out-of-control ... neo-realist. Powell was of course very pragmatic and moderate, coming in the end somewhere between neo-liberal and neo-realist. Bolton, now leaving, is a tremendously old school, classical realist. Frum, the speechwriter who wrote some of Bush's best lines, comes off to me as a huge classical liberal with only touches of a neocon.

In all, this is a very diverse administration. There was no grand debate in the Clinton Administration about, say, Russia. It came down to 'we should help Russia democratize with money and reconstruction' versus 'we should help Russia democratize with lots of money and lots of reconstruction.' That's exaggerating, but you get my point. There were disagreements, as there are in any situation where independent people are concerned. However the Clinton Administration did not cast a wide net to pull in anything other than mild and staunch neo-liberals.

The Bush Administration, conversely, varies rather widely in philosophy. Originally it was very neo-realist - calm things down, don't get friendly with China, don't provoke fights or make friends, just sit tight and build missile defense. This was going to be a 'humble' foreign policy. The neo-realist perspective continues in force in relation to Russia, by largely ignoring that country's turn away from free elections, democratic norms, the rule of law, and the rights of non-combatants in Chechnya.

The neo-conservative trend is in a major kick right now for the Middle East, trying to build democratic allies to eliminate the causes of terrorism and the causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The neo-liberal trend is humongously present elsewhere, as signified by the Bush Administration's Free Trade Agreements with Chile, Singapore, Australia and of course the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the Free Trade Area of the Americas. It's also being used to some degree in North Korea with six-nation talks, although not in the same (irresponsibly stupid) manner as the Clinton Administration and the hideously moronic 'Agreed Framework' plan from 1994.

What's striking is that the various sectors of the Bush Administration 1) are not perfectly delineated, since individual people have differing opinions, 2) hold sway over differing policies toward disparate portions of the world, depending upon threats and prospects, and 3) don't end up in an all-out war so much as a rather complex balancing of policies that, though differently shaded, come together to form a relatively effective (if not entirely consistent) whole.

Okay, that was long-winded of me, but I think the point gets across: the Bush-43 Administration may have a lot of problems, but diversity is not one of them. One of my favorite Bush anecdotes (after the hugging that 9/11 victim girl and going on a run with a wounded soldier) is that, after the first debate with Kerry every Bush advisor but one told him he won. Bush took the one guy who didn't say he won (he said Kerry kicked his ass, actually) and paraded this guy around to all the others, making the contrast explicitly. Bush has a reputation in the White House for hating the kiss-ass guys. It seems sorely undeserved to suggest that the Bush White House, diverse in both policy and philosophy (at least on foreign policy), is somehow dogmatic or despises alternative opinion.

But for the nominations, it's obvious what's really happening - Bush is playing smart politics. The Democrats don't control the Judiciary committee and have a narrow margin for filibuster. If they filibuster too much then they risk pissing off Republicans into using the 'nuclear option' (which I oppose) and eliminating filibusters. But more realistically, they use their political capital. They've already lost several Senators this last round, including Daschle (who lost his SD seat for obstructing Bush). Using their filibuster power has to be careful and planned.

If they start filibustering nominees now then what happens? Either these seven get rejected again - so no change - or they get passed. If the seven get passed without filibuster then the Republicans win by dominating the Democrats. If the seven are defeated by filibuster then the Democrats will have used up political capital to do so. If the seven pass despite filibuster, and invocation of cloture, then the Democrats prove themselves disunited and weak (since it would mean at least 4 or 5 Democrats crossed sides).

So really, this is just a shrewd political move. It's in Bush's favor basically no matter what happens (as long as the nominees are relatively respectable and behave respectfully). He's weakening the Democrats either way - either they use their strength to defeat these seven or they appear too weak to block these seven. Too bad some Democrats can't recognize the wisdom of the move.

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