Entry from December 21, 2009

Now that they’re running — or, as some would say, ruining — the country, the Democrats seem never to have heard of the venerable parliamentary principle, attributed to the 14th Earl of Derby in the early years of Victoria’s reign, that the duty of the opposition is to oppose. Certainly Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times recognizes no such principle. The Senate health care bill is “seriously flawed,” he writes, and “we’ll spend years if not decades fixing it, but it’s nonetheless a huge step forward. It was, however, a close-run thing. And the fact that it was such a close thing shows that the Senate — and, therefore, the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional.” Not just dysfunctional, mind, but ominously dysfunctional. This is a curious notion: that legislation of which Professor Krugman approves ought to be passed by acclamation or there’s something badly, something ominously wrong with the legislature.

Those antiquated rules giving any powers of delay to the minority party, it seems, ought to be done away with — like everything that stands in the way of technocrats like Professor Krugman. Hence, presumably, too the ungraciousness of this disclaimer which appears in the same column: “Management wants me to make it clear that in my last column I wasn’t endorsing inappropriate threats against Mr. [that is, Senator Joseph] Lieberman.” Only appropriate threats, it seems, will “management” allow. Management — presumably The New York Times’s editors — are also running a news story today in which it is confidently asserted that “Democrats say the apparently unbridgeable health care divide has convinced them that Republicans are dedicated solely to blocking legislative proposals for political purposes.” Good God! Have they sunk as low as that? Yes, and even lower:

Several said they now realized that they would have to rely strictly on their own caucus to advance such defining issues as climate change in 2010. “We have crossed the mark of over 100 filibusters and acts of procedural obstruction in less than one year,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said on the floor Sunday. “Never since the founding of the Republic, not even in the bitter sentiments preceding Civil War, was such a thing ever seen in this body.” . . . Democrats say Republicans, under pressure from conservative campaigners and commentators to stall the bill, are simply unwilling to accept defeat.

The duty of the opposition, it seems, is not to oppose but to lie down and roll over when the party that has no “political purposes” but only the highest ideals in view decides that the country badly needs whatever it has to offer, however “flawed.”

The Times institutionally made a similar point a couple of weeks ago when an editorialist wrote that “the first week of debate on the Senate’s health care bill was a depressing mixture of foolish posturing by members of both parties and blatant obstructionism by Republicans.” Now, class, here is your test for today. Define the word “obstructionism” in that sentence. Explain how “blatant” qualifies it. How is “obstructionism” different from “obstruction”? How are both words different from opposition? Here’s a hint to help you answer. Later in the same editorial, the author writes under the heading, “A Plan for Obstructionism” that

last week Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, circulated a memo to his colleagues advising them on how to use the Senate’s arcane procedural rules to “insist on a full, complete and fully informed debate.” What it really reads like is a manual for obstructing action. Mr. Gregg advises his colleagues to consider such tactics as demanding quorum calls, raising points of order that require debate, and offering an unlimited number of amendments on any subject, which he describes as “the fullest expression” of informed debate.

In other words, to the Times, as to Professor Krugman and the Democrats, the Republicans’ insistence on this “arcane” right to debate a measure that they deem — for political or any other reasons — bad for the country amounts to a kind of scandal. Meanwhile, over at The New Republic, the ever-moderate Jonathan Chait at The New Republic writes (and writes and writes) about the rise of Republican “nihilism” — as if to oppose President Obama were to oppose everything. Here, in very vivid form, are a few examples of the dangers that I have on other occasions warned of and that seem day by day ever more inseparable from the progressive program, namely the dangers of substituting morality for politics as a way of delegitimizing one’s political opponents. That alone seems to me reason enough for the opposition not to forget the opposition’s duty to oppose — and, indeed, obstruct.

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