Yesterday, finally, the weeks-long circus surrounding the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court reached an anti-climax with a 50-48 vote in favor.
The whole proceeding was shameful and more appropriate to a Third World kleptocracy or Chicago alderman’s meeting (but I repeat myself) than to anything that should be carried out by the United States Senate. The very idea that vague and evidence-free allegations from some 37 years ago were seriously entertained as anything other than what they were, that is, a cheap, tawdry, and glaringly transparent attempt by the minority party to destroy a man’s personal and professional reputation for political gain and expediency, was disgraceful.
In the aftermath of this travesty, many have called for the Senate to come together and agree to norms for future nominations so that reputations aren’t savaged and nominees don’t begin their tenure of office under a cloud. The Democrats, however, have other ideas.
After failing to stop Kavanaugh's confirmation, Democrats wonder if it's time to be more ruthless https://t.co/NyserWzlvR
— POLITICO (@politico) October 7, 2018
“They are more ruthless,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who over a quarter-century has served as a top aide to Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. “And I don’t want to be like them. … The answer can’t be for Democrats to be just as cynical.”
This is more or less the Michelle Obama Doctrine, as articulated at the 2016 Democratic convention, just a few weeks before Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump: “When they go low, we go high.” Post-Kavanaugh Democrats interviewed this weekend aren’t exactly repudiating this idea—but they are qualifying it in important ways. As they articulate it, their answer is to be more realistic about what they see as Republicans’ strategy to disregard principle and process in their pursuit of power—as they argue the GOP did in ramming through Kavanaugh despite accusations of sexual assault—and more disciplined in a long-term way in fighting back.
Begala said part of the explanation for this divide lies in Democratic psychology, citing Bill Clinton’s saying that, “Democrats want to fall in love; Republicans want to fall in line.”
But part of the difference lies in the political landscape. “Ruthlessness on the Republican side is rooted in the certain knowledge that they are in the minority,” after losing the popular vote repeatedly in presidential elections, and that the country is becoming ever-more demographically diverse in ways that, so far, benefit Democrats, Begala said. “They have to maximize every opportunity to assert the power they do have.”
“Republicans are anti-government, so taking steps that attack or undermine governmental institutions come naturally to them, or at least to their more pugnacious leaders,” said Matt Bennett, a thought-leader with the centrist group Third Way. “By contrast, Democrats believe in governing, and we are constitutionally incapable of trashing those institutions for political purposes. Democrats could never have sustained a precedent-shattering, yearlong filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. It’s such a violation of norms that our senators, to their credit, just would not have had the stomach to do it.” He added: “I don’t think that makes us ‘weak;’ I think it makes us principled.”
The problem is actually just the opposite of the one described in the article. As Senator Hatch points out, it is pretty difficult to get more vicious than gratuitously accusing a man of running a gang-rape ring. Or of bringing in astro-turfed rent-a-mobs to physically threaten senators, or putting personal information about senators on the internet. And when they are in power, they are no less vicious than they are when out of power. Consider the decisions to allow the US consulate in Benghazi to be sacked, siccing the IRS on unfriendly nonprofits, selling firearms to Mexican drug cartels, and on and on.
If anything, the Kavanaugh nomination showed there is literally nothing that the Democrats won’t do to defend any locus of power they control. Kavanaugh, it will be seen, was not the bottom of their behavior but merely a warning that there is actually no bottom to their behavior.