Friday, September 28, 2018

The Other Casualty of the Kavanaugh Hearing: Statesmanship

In the spring of 2015 my wife and I were part of an excursion to Washington, D.C. that included private tours of Mt. Vernon and the U.S. Capital building. Each tour was at night and was magical. The lamplight at Mt. Vernon cast long shadows across hallways George Washington once walked. The Capitol tour was just as memorable. Our footfalls and hushed conversation were the only noise as we walked the empty building’s marble halls.

Our host was a retired congressman from Ohio. As a former member, he retained some congressional privileges including access to the floor of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. As we walked from the House to the Senate I caught up with the congressman. I told him, “I wish there were more statesman in congress. People who would work together, compromise and govern for the good of the American people.”

He stopped, turned, and looked at me as though I had suggested he was the second shooter on the grassy knoll and thundered, “The object isn’t to compromise. The object is TO WIN!”

I thought a lot about that conversation as I watched the Kavanaugh hearing yesterday.

The hearing’s partisan entrenchment revealed two political parties less interested in governing than they are winning.

The Republicans aren’t interested in the truth of what happened or didn’t happen to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the summer of 1982. They want to win, which means putting Kavanaugh on the bench before the midterm election. Losing control of the Senate means losing control of the judicial nominating process. Their initial refusal to delay the Kavanaugh vote to allow for an FBI investigation isn’t about their indignation of Democratic obfuscation and delay. It’s about concluding the process by either putting Kavanaugh on the bench or by allowing enough time to vet and ram through another Republican-approved candidate before November 6.

Democrats, wanting to win just as badly, also put partisanship before principles. Before they read a page of Kavanaugh’s writings, or before a single senator met him or had a conversation with him, most Democrats declared their opposition to Kavanaugh’s appointment. Senator Graham noted in his eruption yesterday that only 23 minutes after President Trump named Kavanaugh his nominee Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared, “I’ll oppose judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything. I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same. The stakes are simply too high for anything less.”

Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday Kavanaugh protested,
A Democratic senator on this committee publicly referred to me as evil. Evil. Think about that word. And said that those that supported me were ‘complicit and evil.’ Another Democratic senator on this committee said, ‘Judge Kavanaugh is your worst nightmare.’ A former head of the Democratic National Committee said, ‘Judge Kavanaugh will threaten the lives of millions of Americans for decades to come.’
Is it any surprise GOP Senators questioned the motives and methods of Democratic efforts to insert Dr. Blasey Ford into the nomination process at the eleventh hour? That they announced their opposition to Kavanaugh before testimony was even scheduled revealed that they, like the Republicans, want to win. 

Democratic protests are ignored by Republicans. Republican intransigence is criticized by Democrats. And why not? When the object is winning instead of governing politicians refuse to listen to reason, to one another, and to public outcry. Listening leads to compromise. And compromise isn’t winning. Lesson: ideology trumps competence when advice and consent is no longer about getting the most competent court but advancing a particular ideology.

It didn’t use to be this way.

Interviewed by Amy Wang of the Washington Post, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said she wished the nomination process were less partisan: “The way it was, was right. The way it is, is wrong … 
I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back to the way it was.”  Ginsburg was confirmed with a 96-3 vote in spite of there being 43 Republican Senators in the 103rd Congress. Did the Republicans have ideological differences with Clinton’s nominee? Certainly. But the chief qualifications expected of previous nominees was whether or not a jurist was unbiased, fair and qualified. Not if they met the specific ideological litmus tests of either party.

Those days are long gone.

Our moonlight tour in 2015 was actually my second trip to Washington. In 1985, about the time Judge Kavanaugh was getting blackout drunk (or not) at Yale University, I was a high school senior. Former Congressman Dan Coats invited students from each high school in his Indiana district to Washington for a week. We met Richard Lugar, as noble a public servant as Indiana ever sent to the Senate. One of our group asked him to explain his thoughts on judicial appointments. He said, “Elections have consequences. The Constitution affords Presidents the privilege of choosing the justices they want, and the Senate’s role is solely to evaluate their qualifications, not whether or not they are ideologically aligned with the majority party.”

Senator Lugar’s career ended abruptly in 2013 when he lost a primary election to a Tea Party backed candidate who became a nightmare for the GOP before being defeated by his Democratic challenger.

What Dick Lugar experienced is what I suspect will happen to Brett Kavanaugh (rightly or wrongly) in this toxic political climate where statesmen are an endangered species, Supreme Court nominees are the majority party’s trophies, and the object is no longer advice and consent but winning at all costs.

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