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(DV) Goldsmith: The Nuclear Option







The Nuclear Option
by Patricia Goldsmith
April 18, 2005

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A Gallup poll released on Friday gives George Bush a 45 percent approval rating, the lowest rating for any president at this point in a second term. The second lowest was Ronald Reagan, in March 1985, with 56 percent.  Of course there’s a very simple explanation for these lousy numbers: George Bush didn’t win the election.  On a good day, when Karl Rove is doing some very heavy lifting and really sweating, Bush hits 48 percent, pre- and post-election.

But obviously Bush won the right 48 percent: white, Christian, living in a red state. John Kerry’s quick and easy concession of the election admitted as much. It was tantamount to shoveling truckloads of minority votes into a roaring furnace.

When Kerry bowed out quietly, it became not only possible but virtually mandatory for the media to lock down the voter fraud story and certify Bush’s second election as a clean win.

Given the order to stand down -- from the Democrat -- the media has drifted into a strange state of mind where the actual, irrefutable theft of the first election becomes convincing evidence that it couldn’t possibly have happened a second time. Tortured analysis refuting the exit polls -- which showed Bush losing in Ohio, New Mexico, and Iowa -- became a cottage industry.

On the other hand -- and simultaneously -- certain portions of those same exit polls were accepted without question, namely those that (supposedly) showed that “moral values” were responsible for Bush’s win.  It’s true that those who cited moral values as their main concern did vote overwhelmingly for Bush (80 to 18 percent), but the difference was no greater in 2004 than in 2000 and therefore could not explain the win.  As time went by, it also came to light that some of those citing moral values were in fact Democrats coming from an entirely different ethical universe.

Nevertheless, both the media and the leadership of the Democratic Party have taken up the cause of moral values with great fervor since the election. After reading one Sunday opinion column after another excoriating Democrats for their awkwardness in dealing with private religious matters in public settings, it’s tempting to see a causal relationship between media harping and Democratic compliance.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s true.  Democrats, true to Clinton-inspired triangulation, had already begun moving rightward (again) during the election when they campaigned on states’ right to decide on gay marriage. Only Al Sharpton had the lucidity to point out that it is dangerous to assign civil rights’ protection to the states. The Democratic Party has traditionally held that civil rights are grounded in the federal Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  As such, they are not subject to popular vote -- and, by extension, to popular passions against minorities. In all fairness, at the time and considering how badly we needed to win, that move seemed more like a defense of California’s issuance of marriage licenses to gays than a recipe for state-by-state rollbacks of 30 years of gay rights.

A few months after the election, however, that rollback is moving like a juggernaut across red states, encouraging other faith-based campaigns.  Many states are passing laws allowing Walmart pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception if it conflicts with their moral values.  The state of Michigan has gone farther and passed a so-called “conscientious objector” law, not to help National Guardsmen who’ve had a change of heart, but to allow hospitals and doctors to refuse treatment to anyone they find morally objectionable. Republicans coordinated the bill with the Catholic Conference. As to who might be excluded by this law, you can let your imagination run wild: people with HIV, of course; women who’ve had or want abortions; unmarried people who are sexually active; drug addicts; smokers; alcoholics; the obese.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, congressional Democrats are publicly rethinking their stand on abortion, and John Kerry, in an act of utter futility, has co-sponsored a religious rights bill with Senator Rick Santorum.

More to the point, Senate Democrats are working hard to show their corporate handlers that they remain worthy of largesse.  Three Democratic senators made it possible for oil companies to drill in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.  Nineteen Democratic Senators crossed the aisle to vote for a draconian new bankruptcy bill -- which, given our current astronomical national debt, is the height of congressional hypocrisy.

Which is why it should have come as no surprise when Democrats supported congressional interference in the Schiavo court case, setting an extremely damaging precedent and violating the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. And yet I was surprised, because the strategic implications of this move seemed undeniable.

Schiavo was the emotional precursor to the deployment of the nuclear option, a chance to bring the Republican base to a rolling boil—a task it has accomplished admirably. So much so that we now have threats against judges, not merely from the fringe faithful but from the Majority Leader of the House -- and even senators. Senator Tom Coburn advocates mass impeachment and a Constitutional Restoration Act that would establish a moral code for judges, while Senator John Cornyn has said that violence against judges is perhaps understandable.

These threats should make every American tremble.  The aptly named nuclear option to end the filibuster is key to the GOP’s plan to turn us from a nation of laws, not men, into exactly the opposite. It would have the effect of not only packing the court with radical rightwing zealots, but, in combination with threats of moral codes and mass impeachments, effectively nullify the appointments of previously elected presidents.

Again and again, as this increasingly radical Republican Party has crossed the line, the Democratic Party has accepted it as normal political hardball. Bill Clinton calmly presided over his own impeachment and the theft of the 2000 election with unflagging optimism.  John Kerry followed his example in 2004.  As a result, we have gone from a government that “rewards the person who works hard and plays by the rules” to a government that is imposing the will of a tiny, ferociously committed minority -- be it the top one percent economically, the 20 to 30 percent of zealous evangelicals religiously, or the CEOs of a handful of multinational corporations -- on the vast majority of the people.

Democratic compliance has been and remains invaluable to the Republican project. It is now obvious that the goal for Bush’s second term is to continue to distract and splinter opposition to prevent mass resistance while simultaneously installing the legal mechanisms of a police state to be used when and if needed.

Bill Clinton postponed the day of reckoning, but it is now clear that a showdown with the religious right is inevitable, and the sooner we get down to it, the better.

Scott Ritter put it bluntly in a recent Alternet interview: “Congress has ceased to function as a viable tool of government. What is needed is for leaders of honor to resign in protest.”  Of course, that is about as likely as a rich man getting into Heaven.

We have reached desperate straits indeed when I find myself almost wishing for Republicans to drop their parliamentary mini-nuke, in the hopes that it might finally provoke a truly proportionate Democratic response of principled non-cooperation with this proto-fascist state.

I believe that the Republicans will in fact drop the bomb. The reason I believe it is that, with their ringer judges in place, they will be able to do literally anything. It constitutes a coup. We have been told for years, and now at a fever pitch, that we have no right to our judges. They’re wrong.

We can’t even imagine what they’ve got planned, because we have never lived in a truly lawless society. If they take away the right to filibuster, Democrats must shut down the government indefinitely. If Democrats don’t take a stand against this rogue regime at that point, then, as far as I’m concerned, they are violating their vow to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Hillary Clinton won’t be able to save us when the Constitution goes. When our system of checks and balances breaks down altogether, believe me, we’re all going to notice it.

If the right to filibuster is summarily deleted from our system of government, that government is no longer legitimate.  At that point we must acknowledge that there has been a takeover. If the Democrats don’t answer with absolute non-cooperation -- I mean shutting it down; exercising the veto any way we can -- we drop them.  While we cannot be certain of beating Republicans, we can be a thousand percent certain of beating Democrats. We need to remind them of that.  That is our nuclear option.

Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at:

Other Articles by Patricia Goldsmith

* Activist Judges
* Terry Schiavo: Never Forget