Yesterday, Republicans in the Senate used the ludicrous filibuster rule to successfully block and up-or-down vote on the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. His qualifications were not in dispute. As noted in NPR’s coverage:
“He was given a top rating of unanimously well-qualified by the American Bar Association. He was a Rhodes Scholar and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He received numerous awards for academic and legal achievements.”
Rather, the Republicans cited two main objections. The lesser one was that he was too “liberal” The more critical objection was that he had “criticized” (Republicans would use the word “insulted”) the records of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, when they were nominees for the Supreme Court.
This was political payback, pure and simple. Even if everything the Republicans claimed was 100% true, there would still be no basis for rejecting Liu’s nomination, let alone preventing it from even coming to a vote. Offering a documented critique, however harsh, of a judicial nominee should not be grounds for rejection. Republican’s real concern was that, if Liu made it to the Appeals Court, he might well someday become the first Asian-American to ascend to the Supreme Court.
My larger point today, however, is the hypocrisy of it all.
As pointed out in a San Francisco Chronicle editorial, it was these very same Republicans (including John McCain and Lindsey Graham) who had argued, back when the Republicans had control of the Senate, that it was downright unconstitutional for senators to deprive a judicial nominee of an up-or-down vote — except in the most “extraordinary circumstances.”
But let’s be clear. The Democrats are not on the side of virtue here. They can be just as hypocritical. Back in 1987, as one example, Democrats prevented Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination from coming up for a vote, citing his “conservative writings” as their justification. At least among conservatives, Bork’s name has become a verb, used to describe any unfair attack on a person’s reputation and views (as in: “He was borked.”)
The underlying theme is this: Whatever view a politician vigorously supports when their party is in control of the legislature (or the presidency or whatever) they will just as vigorously oppose when they don’t have such control. Partisanship trumps rationality and consistency every time. It’s a point I’ve commented on before. But it bears repeating.
You can see examples of this almost every day. For example, I recently read about Republicans criticizing President Obama for making too much of a show of his success in getting Osama bin Laden. Can you imagine these same conservatives criticizing George W. Bush, if Bush had managed to accomplish what Obama did and had behaved in a similar (or even more extreme) manner? Of course not.
Politicians live and breathe hypocrisy. Trying to find one that does not reverse his/her beliefs whenever the political shoe shifts to the other foot would be like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack — except that the haystack is the size of the universe and the needle is smaller than an atomic particle.
The truly sad part is that the public generally accepts all this as “business as usual.” No matter how many times people like John Stewart point out these hypocrisies, almost no one ever gets held accountable. We laugh (or not) and we move on.
If there’s a difference between political parties here, it’s only that Republicans are better at accomplishing their hypocritical goals. If this were an Olympic sport, Republicans would win the gold medal while Democrats would have trouble even making the final group. But they’d both be trying just as hard.