Monday, May 30, 2005

The Nuclear Option Fraud

Senator Paine shrinks from Senator Jefferson
Smith's wrath in the climatic filibuster scene
in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

McCain's momentary outmanuevering of Frist notwithstanding, the nuclear option of reducing the cloture hurdle for judicial nominees to 51 votes is still very much on the table.

And true to form, the GOP has once again outflanked the Democrats on the matter of framing maneuvers on the issue of the confirmation of Bush's judicial nominees. The GOP not only successfully painted the Democrats as "obstructionists", but as undemocratic as well: "All we want is an up or down vote!", was the talking point repeated ad nauseam. To the casual observer, and apparently the more astute pundits, this appeared to be a reasonable request -- what is more reasonable than democracy, what is more reasonable than the claim, "majority rules?"

And the hamstrung Democrats came up with nothing. Well, not exactly. They came up with the history of the filibuster and the fact that the GOP had blocked Democratic nominees in committee, all sounding very Kerryish (boring, complicated, nuanced, etc). In short, they lost the talking points part of the battle. The only reason they didn't lose the whole thing, was because the general public, who likes divided government, as well as checks and balances, looked askance at what was a naked GOP power grab, and thus slightly tipped the outcome in the Dems' favor.

We can do better. Here's how:

Let's call bullshit on the Senate GOP's claim that they are the greater lovers of democracy. The numbers are on our side.

There are 54 GOP senators. They represent a population of 136,004,806 based on the 2000 census. How did I come up with that number? Simple. Take a state like South Dakota which has a population of 754,844. There is one GOP senator and one Democratic senator. Each represents a population of 377,422. You could argue that they both represent the larger number but the final math will be the same. Take a state like Virginia, which has 2 GOP senators, so they represent ALL of Virginia's population of 7,978,515.

What are the totals? There are 54 GOP senators who represent a population of 136,004,806. There are 46 Democratic senators (including Jeffords) who represent a population of 144,845,042. There were 280,849,847 people in the US in 2000 (not including the District of Columbia which is not represented by anyone in the Senate). That means the GOP's 54 senators speak for 48.43% of the population (when they stand together) and the Democrats' 46 senators speak for 51.57% of the population. The minority party is representing the majority population of the US.

But go "nuclear" and the numbers are even worse for the GOP. If we take the 136,004,806 people that Republican Senators represent and divide that by 54, we get an average number of people represented per GOP Senator at 2,518,608. Multiply that by 51, the number needed under the nuclear option to end debate on judicial nominees, and you get 128,448.983 .....or 45.7% of the represented population.

Or, another way of looking at the same principle: (A) If Senate seats were allocated on a proportional basis in the manner they are in the House i.e. in a more direct, pure democratic fashion, AND, (B), the vote was 51 Republicans vs 45 Democrats, plus one Independent, plus 3 GOP defectors, THEN what would appear to be a majority victory for the stalwart GOP by the margin of 51-49, would actually a majority victory for the Democrats and their allies 54 - 46 --- that's a ten-point swing -- a pretty significant shift in basketball and politics.

This is the kind of faux majority that wants control of lifetime appointments to the federal bench to put God-knows-what spin on the Constitution.

How democratic is that?

(Here's the spreadsheet with the numbers if you're interested.)

Unfortunately, I don't see a Democrat in the Senate today that I could cast as Jimmy Stewart's fabled Jefferson Smith. The other casting decision was a cinch:

SENATOR????: I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Frist. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Frist does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once. For the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain, simple rule. Love thy neighbor. And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule Mr. Frist. And I loved you for it just as my father did. And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than any for any others. Yes, you even die for them. Like a man we both knew, Mr. Frist. You think I'm licked. You all think I'm licked. Well I'm not licked and I'm gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Bushies and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody'll listen to me. Some...(collapses)

FRIST : I'm not fit to be a Senator. I'm not fit to live. It's for me. It's for me, not him. The nuclear option is a fraud. It's a crime against the people who sent me here. And I committed it. Every word that boy said is the truth. Every word about Bush, and me and the lies about how we never held up Democratic judicial nominees. And the rotten political corruption in my party. Every word of it is true. I'm not fit for office. I'm not fit for any place of honor or trust.

Listen here.