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April 03, 2005

A few thoughts on the nuclear option

I think the national Dems have been doing pretty well in the coming debate over the "nuclear option" on judicial nominations.  Let me offer a few humble thoughts.

In a debate like this, in which the issues at stake are reasonably removed from what most voters think about every day, Lakoff-inspired framing is of unusual importance.  Language is, as someone important once said, a key mechanism of control.  To that end, here are a few excerpts from George Mitchell's Democratic radio address that are worth examing (I can't find the complete transcript; lemme know if you can):

"They call it their 'nuclear option.' It's an apt name because it will destroy any hope of bipartisanship and permanently change the Senate for the worse."

Yes, the "nuclear option" (I can't decide if it would piss people off to call it the "nucular option") remains a great frame, and the GOP hates it.  It makes it sound like the GOP is attacking the Democratic party, and is using quasi-violent and extreme measures that should only be used as a last resort. So it should be used as often as possible.  Another good one is the "rule change" frame, or as Mitchell has it:

"All Americans should be concerned about the effort by Republican leaders in the Senate to unilaterally change the rules."

The phrase "unilaterally change the rules" is even better.  The rules have been this way for a long time, and we, law abiding American citizens, like rules.  The GOP wants to go around changing them.  We thought we were a nation of laws.  We like our rules in this country. Apparently, the GOP doesn't think so.

"During the six years that I served as Senate majority leader, Republicans often used filibusters to achieve their objectives," Mitchell said. "I didn't always agree with the results, but I accepted them and we were able to work together on many important issues."

Well, he uses it in the same sentence as the word 'republicans,' but I still don't like it.  Let's never use the word filibuster.  No more filibusterFilibuster is a dramatic-sounding word.  It has a kind of onomopoetic quality.  It sounds like something's breaking, maybe; or like something is obstinate.  One may or may not know that the filibuster has been used in the past for good and for evil (pace factcheck.org); but the word itself is so specialized and has such an odd quality to it that i can't help but think it conjures something extreme and desperate in people's minds.  It might seem odd that I'm suggesting that we don't use the word that is the point of contention in this debate.  I don't think it has to be. 

A frame that I haven't seen used much is "tyranny of the majority."  It pops up occasionally, and I have mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, it has the word "tyranny" in it, and people don't like tyrannies, but on the other hand it has the word "majority" in it, and people like majorities.  Certainly, I don't think it's inappropriate or should be off limits (given that the GOP is shamelessly trying to generalize Sen. Byrd's unsavory past to the entire Democratic Party).  And if a "protection of minority rights" frame is used as a corollary to the "tyranny of the majority," it could effectively counter the GOP's not-quite-credible race baiting.  But I'm curious to know what others think about this.

This is battle the Dems should be able to easily win, but only if it is made clear that what the "cons" (as someone in the comments thinks we should call them) are trying to do is desperate, extreme, and has never been done before. 

-- Michael

April 3, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

You have to love the origin of the word: from the Dutch vrijbuiter, for pirate.

Posted by: TJ | Apr 3, 2005 6:11:16 PM

Yes, Fibibuster IS a BAD word. It recalls images of some lonely looney Senator going on for weeks to prevent legislative progress or preserve some ridiculous rape of humanity.

The problem with 'tyranny of the majority' is that most people can't think of two good reasons why we have 'checks and balances' to prevent total majoritarian rule.

I'd like to see this discussed as 'totalitarian rule' better. Even your neighbor knows that communism and fascism were totalitarian, and therefore BAD. There is nothing wrong from casting Tom Delay as Hitler, Bill Frist et al as Stalin (with his purges), and Mr. Smith (Comes to Washington) as the Democrats.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 3, 2005 6:35:41 PM

I certainly lay no claim to originality in my proposal- I just like it.

Posted by: TJ | Apr 3, 2005 7:07:22 PM

I do believe that the Dem controlled Sante reduce the supermajority level from 67 to 60 during the 1970s.

How is that different to what is proposed?

And don't anyone here claim that if the situation was reversed the Dems wouldn't be acting in a similar manner.

Posted by: Boethius | Apr 3, 2005 8:39:52 PM

The situation has been reversed, and the Democratic senators did not eliminate filibustering of judicial nominees.

Posted by: TJ | Apr 3, 2005 8:43:58 PM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 8:51:44 AM

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