The optimist’s take on Harry Reid’s going nuclear — and why I am a pessimist


Harry Reid has just succeeded in doing what Franklin Roosevelt couldn’t do:  he’s going to pack the court.  Yes, Roosevelt was aiming for the Supreme Court, while Reid’s only going after the district and appellate courts, but the reality is that we’re seeing incrementalism.  Today, the lower level courts; tomorrow, the minority in the Senate becomes utterly powerless.

Daniel Horowitz recommends a hyper-nuclear retaliation:

There is one simple thing Republicans can do to retaliate.  They can start by ending the Democrat super-majority on legislative issues.  They can easily pledge to filibuster every piece of legislation and deny all requests for unanimous consent until the rules change is overturned.

How would Harry Reid respond to a complete shutdown of the Senate?  Would he abolish the filibuster even for legislation?  Let him try.  But for now, he has nothing to fear from just eliminating the filibuster on judges because he knows Republicans will not retaliate.  Reid knows that there is not a single issue where McCain, Corker, Graham, and Alexander will now withhold support simply because they were stiffed with the nuclear option.

On his show today, Rush recommended the Senate equivalent of a sit-down strike:  he said that Republican senators should refuse to vote on anything that the Democrat majority brings to the Senate floor. ending even the pretense of bipartisanship.  It also means that one party will own every piece of legislation, for better or worse.  There’s a certain purity to that.

Of course, both Horowitz and Rush know that the McCains and Grahams of the Senate are constitutionally incapable of withholding the hand of love and friendship from Harry Reid and his bomb dropping pals.  So, the ideas are cute, but unworkable.

There are others who think that Republicans shouldn’t be too worried, because Reid’s hypocritical destruction of a minority voice in the Senate will hurt the Democrats more in the long-term than help them.  Ezra Klein, who’s a partisan hack, but not an idiot, recognizes that Reid may unwittingly have delivered a Trojan Horse to his own party:

There’s a lot of upside for Republicans in how this went down. It came at a time when Republicans control the House and are likely to do so for the duration of President Obama’s second term, so the weakening of the filibuster will have no effect on the legislation Democrats can pass. The electoral map, the demographics of midterm elections, and the political problems bedeviling Democrats make it very likely that Mitch McConnell will be majority leader come 2015 and then he will be able to take advantage of a weakened filibuster. And, finally, if and when Republicans recapture the White House and decide to do away with the filibuster altogether, Democrats won’t have much of an argument when they try to stop them….

William Jacobson thinks Klein is on to something.  As he sees it, the filibuster actually worked against conservatives, because it locked in incremental socialism.  For the past several decades, once Democrats got a redistributionist, nanny-state policy in place, nothing could dislodge it, an effect he calls “the rachet.”  By going nuclear, says, JacobsonReid opened the door to the complete reversal of Democrat policies.  When Republicans get their turn at the majority in Congress and take the White House (which many assume will happen at the end of Obama’s reign), they will easily be able to reverse every bad Democrat policy, something that was always impossible before:

Decades of negative and destructive policies can be reversed with a bare majority. Obamacare can be repealed with a bare majority. True Conservative Judges will not be banished due to a filibuster threat.

Yes, it’s true that the absence of a filibuster could accelerate the destructive policies. That fear is justified, particularly as to the judiciary. But face it, we were headed there anyway unless drastic action was taken.

That drastic action took place yesterday. By Democrats.

Now at least we have a chance to achieve previously unimaginable progress in a single presidential term if we also have bare majorities in Congress and a President with the willpower. It will take only one such term.

The ratchet has been broken. And opportunity created, even if dependent upon future electoral success.

It’s now up to us to seize the opportunity.

Jacobson’s last sentence, however, encapsulates why I do not share his optimism:  “It’s now up to us to seize the opportunity.”  “Us” happens to be Republican politicians.  I think we’re all in agreement that, as I’ve repeatedly said, Republicans have good ideas but bad politicians.  As the song goes, “If there’s a wrong way say it, And a right way to play it, Nobody does it like me; If there’s a wrong way to do it, A right way to screw it up, ha, Nobody does it like me.” That song could easily be the GOP anthem, and they rush from failure to failure without Shirley Bassey’s charm and style:

Here’s the conservative reality in the 2014 and 2016 elections, and that’s even assuming GOP nominees win:  The GOP’s all-out warfare against the Tea Party, which seeks constitutional government, tells you that the guys in the Senate have no interest in rocking the boat.  Moreover, open primaries in states such as California mean that the likelihood of having a principled conservative even take a stand against the Democrat Senate monopoly is not just close to zero, but actually zero.

Also, we’re not looking at Reid having this Senate majority just through the 2014 elections.  First, the numbers game indicates that Democrats may continue to hold the Senate by the one vote even in 2014.  Moreover, even if Republicans get a majority, it’s impossible for them to get the type of majority that will survive an Obama veto.  This means that Democrats have three years to play around with unopposed power.  The damage they can do is incalculable and quite possibly irreversible.

If you’re more optimistic than I am, though, and actually think, as Jacobson does, that the GOP has a prayer of not screwing things up, you may be asking why in the world Harry Reid would deliver this Trojan Horse to his party.  James Taranto thinks he has the answer:

In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” which we quoted in May, psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains the idea of loss aversion:

When directly compared or weighted against each other, losses loom larger than gains. This asymmetry between the power of positive and negative expectations or experiences has an evolutionary history. Organisms that treat threats as more urgent than opportunities have a better chance to survive and reproduce.

That insight is the basis of prospect theory, which posits that people will take bigger risks in the hope of minimizing a loss than in the hope of maximizing a gain. The psychological impact of the loss itself clouds one’s thinking about the risks of magnifying the loss. That explains why the Democrats went nuclear just as the perils of doing so multiplied.

Taranto and Jacobson could both be correct, but I will continue to believe until proven otherwise that the Republicans will take this theoretically golden opportunity and destroy it, because that’s what elected Republican officials do.

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  • Ymarsakar

    The End Game is here. Many people are still stuck on the opening moves of the chessboard, or even perhaps trying to choose between Vanilla and Chocolate colors.

  • Matt_SE

    RINOs are cowards. The single most important race in 2014 is for McConnell’s seat. If the Tea Party can oust him in the primary it will send a devastating message to the other RINOs: if the minority leader (controller of the NRSC, etc.) isn’t safe from the Tea Party, what hope do the rest have?
    If McConnell is ousted, the others will quickly fall into line. Every conservative in the country should be contributing to Bevin’s campaign fund. McConnell is the lynchpin. Once the establishment is house-broken, we can begin voting as a bloc.
    BTW, I think McConnell is so important to defeat, I also advocate Tea Party voting for the Democrat if Bevin can’t upset McConnell in the primary. This is war!

  • Matt_SE

    And to be clear: I’m not wild about giving away a Senate seat to the Dems. But voting the Democrat challenger into power would send almost as strong a message: Tea Party has been called essentially “crazy.” The critics were correct; we ARE crazy. We are not the ones who will capitulate to the establishment…the establishment will capitulate to us. If not, they will be removed from power.

  • Caped Crusader

    Lamar Alexander in Tennessee needs to be dumped also. Both our senators have caught McCain-Graham disease and need to be quarantined from DC, and returned to an asylum to rest for the balance of their lives!.

  • Ymarsakar

    “But voting the Democrat challenger into power would send almost as strong a message:”
    Many Republicans are allied or blackmail tied to Democrats. Why would giving Democrats more power force the politicians to change?
    If your ally is promoted, you don’t jump ship but reaffirm the alliance with a strong member. If someone is threatening the person you are being blackmailed by, like the police, you avoid the police and deal with the blackmailer.

  • Matt_SE

    “Why would giving Democrats more power force the politicians to change?”
    Politicians have their self interest first and foremost in their minds…not party loyalty or loyalty to the president or any other individual. Many RINOs are happy to be in the minority as even that lowly position has perks. Threatening to kick them out of “the game” is the one thing they care about.
    So I disagree with your assertion that Dems and RINOs are all part of one big, happy team. I doubt they are so altruistic as to take comfort that the other guy is promoted when they are demoted. Just like all the other petty dictators out there, they always assumed they would be the ones controlling the levers of power.

  • Ymarsakar

    “Threatening to kick them out of “the game” is the one thing they care about.”
    how is losing an election getting kicked out of the game? John Kerry and John McCain both lost Presidential bids, are they no longer affecting politics or in politics?

  • Matt_SE

    We’re talking about losing the primary for their own seat in Congress, not running for president. Kerry and McCain had their Senate seats in reserve in case they lost.
    If McConnell loses his Senate seat, what will he have left? Of course he will immediately take a lobbying position, with his salary determined by the value of his connections. But as the loser of a discredited faction, I’m not sure his stock will be climbing at that point. And in any case, he will no longer be stabbing us in the back, which is the important thing.

  • roylofquist

    All it takes is one. Just one to deny unanimous consent. No need to filibuster. Just one to say “I object”. Just one.

  • Earl

    McConnell lost me when I found out that the “clean bill” had a big bunch of money for one of his favorite projects in Kentucky.
    As far as I’m concerned, that’s corruption.  He sold his vote and his influence.  No forgiveness for that.