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February 04, 2006

The (D) Is the Part That Matters

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

NARAL's endorsement of Lincoln Chafee gets so much discussion because it lets us talk about an issue on which everybody has strong feelings -- how should progressive groups regard the Democratic Party? Given the sad history of the Daschle-era Senate Democrats, it's understandable that lots of people worry that the Democrats aren't willing to fight for liberal causes. But a close look at the Alito nomination makes it clear that the only way progressives will get anywhere is by donkey.

Anybody who counted on the supposed GOP moderates for help was sorely disappointed. Of the four Republican Senators -- Specter, Snowe, Collins, and Chafee -- who are regarded as moderates, only Chafee was willing to vote against Alito on the floor. Nobody voted for a filibuster, and Specter cast the deciding vote to help Alito through the Judiciary committee.

But here's the question that I find the most interesting: How many more Senate Democrats would it have taken to stop Alito? 9, counting down from the 58-42 confirmation vote, is the wrong answer. The right answer is probably 6. (If Durbin really had 37 people willing to filibuster if they could get 41, maybe the number is even lower.) That's how many we need for a majority in the Senate. If you have a majority in the Senate, you get a majority on every single Senate committee. Assuming another party-line confirmation vote in the Judiciary Committee, Alito goes down.

Importantly, it doesn't matter what the substantive views of these 6 Democrats are. Replace the six most pro-choice Senate Republicans with six anti-choice Democrats, and as long as these six Democrats don't get seats on the Judiciary Committee, it's the end of the Alito nomination. No matter what the substantive views of Senate candidates are, the simple fact that they're Democrats gives you very strong reasons to support them. You're not just voting for Bob Casey. You're voting for Pat Leahy to lead a Democratic majority on Judiciary, Carl Levin to lead a Democratic majority on Armed Services, Chris Dodd to replace Trent Lott on Rules, and Robert Byrd to take the Appropriations goodie bag away from Lott's Mississippi pal Thad Cochran. The increased power that liberals get out of a conservative Democrat's victory can be awesome.

This isn't to say that we should stop caring about the substantive views of candidates. Kos' interventions on behalf of the progressive Ciro Rodriguez against conservative Democrat Henry Cuellar are exactly the sort of thing I like to see. (You especially don't want guys like Cuellar gaining seniority and power, so that they're running committees and pushing people around. Though if Specter is any guide, committee chairmen with heterodox views can be controlled.) But what I've learned from the Alito story is that control of Senate committees is huge, and that's something brought to you by the letter (D).

February 4, 2006 in Democrats | Permalink


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For God's sake, this is Partisan Politics 101, and the fact that you're having to hold this up as an insight in 2005 explains a lot about the balance of power in all three branches of government.

(Wanders off, drinks heavily).

Posted by: Total | Feb 4, 2006 10:00:09 AM

That is assuming that the democrats showed some spine *even when they were in the majority*--*that* is partisan politics 101. Durbin thought he had 37 votes and he didn't. This reminds me of a story told about LBJ. Someone goes to LBJ and says he's going to get something done and he has the votes and LBJ just nods and says "uh huh" Later the guy loses the vote badly and LBJ explains to him that people *said* they'd vote his way but LBJ had the goods on each and every one of them--had what they wanted, had what they needed, had what they would turn their coats and vote for. Durbin simply talked to people and didn't have a big enough stick to threaten them with. If anti choice democrats are elected to seats in the senate and *even if* pro choice democrats are on the judiciary committee don't bet the farm tht the pro choice dems will be strong enough to face down their colleagues and fight to elminiate an anti choice candidate early on. The dems always fall for the fairness/comity ploy and never fight hard enough *even when* they have numbers on their side. At least that is the lesson I've seen in the last 20 or so years.


Posted by: aimai | Feb 4, 2006 10:53:36 AM

Durbin may well have genuinely had his 37, for all I know, if they were 37 people willing to vote for a filibuster on the condition that it be successful. When it became clear that he didn't have 41, it would've been perfectly reasonable of him to turn everybody loose. There's no way to tell.

Given what I've seen over the last year, I don't think that Harry Reid is going to fall for the comity bs.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 4, 2006 12:07:46 PM

Neil is partly right. The first step is to gain a majority of D's. But along the way toward that first step, make sure that they really are D's, for a D that votes like an R on key votes is of little value - asside from the value of being the majority to control the committees and the bills brought up on the floor.

So, Real D's, please, not faux ones.

Posted by: JimPortandOR | Feb 4, 2006 12:16:26 PM

You can't stop a supreme court nominee in committee. Clarence Thomas wasn't approved by the Judiciary Committee but he still won a vote on the floor. Those 6 anti-choice Democrats you put in then might be the deciding factor in approving him.

Posted by: Jacob | Feb 4, 2006 1:25:01 PM

The vote Clarence Thomas lost was for the committee's recommendation, not for him to be sent to the floor.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 4, 2006 1:59:59 PM

Go for it! Idiot politics 101, in action. Why do you think pro abortion Dems can't even get 40 votes to obstruct with a fillibuster?????? because you are aborting your constituency! This trend will not reverse. You stand there pathetically staring into the wind asking, "why are we losing? why are dems going pro life?" If it were anymore obvious, it would be rolling over you.

In short, as long as the democratic plattform includes promoting the killing of children in the womb, you will be an impudent party with no future. Best of luck to you and NARAL and PP, you Neo radical secular humanist Nazis.

Posted by: anonyyyeeee | Feb 4, 2006 2:45:06 PM

you fucking moron. Dem senators from pro choice states represent larger populations than republican senators from anti choice states. The numbers speak for themselves. No one is "aborting their constituency" the democratic constituencies are growing.


Posted by: AIMAI | Feb 4, 2006 3:49:34 PM


You crack me up! The numbers speak for themselves, you brainwashed idiot.


Posted by: anonyyyeeee | Feb 4, 2006 4:20:35 PM

Jeez -- Trolls like anonyyyeee aren't even worth responding to.

But Neil -- Thanks for this. I do agree with JimPortlandOR -- We need real Dems. But I do appreciate how you've pragmatically explained the need for more Dems in Senate committees, despite the fact that, read unkindly, your post can be interpreted as more partisan than pragmatic. Still, you do clearly state that "That doesn't mean we should stop caring about the substantive views of candidates."

Posted by: green LA girl | Feb 4, 2006 4:29:11 PM

No one should feel compelled to respond to trolls.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 4, 2006 4:29:51 PM

Thanks, green LA girl -- spelling out the reasoning behind this stuff is exactly what I try to do.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 4, 2006 4:52:29 PM

"no one should feel compelled to respond to trolls."

Again, I am laughing histerically! Just because one doesn't condone the killing of children in the womb, they are a troll? Count me in.

"Don't respond to someone who backs up the truth with facts... just call him/her a troll and demonize them. If we have our way, he/she won't be able to voice his views soon anyway. We'll label it hate speech and make it illegal!"

You brainwashed neonazi secular-humanist baby killer. Please don't respond! Nothing you could EVER say could make the killing of children okay! Again, abortion is simply getting rid of Democrats before they can make it out of the womb. I oppose it, because I think these democrats, women and minorities deserve a chance to live. Meanwhile you call genocide


a "choice," you brainwashed idiot.

Posted by: anonyyyeeee | Feb 4, 2006 5:18:46 PM

Actually, I was referring more to the silly name-calling. You know, the neonazi, brainwashed, idiot bit. A great way to make a reasoned, serious argument, eh?

Posted by: green LA girl | Feb 4, 2006 5:27:19 PM

Again, anonyyeeee will not change anyone's mind here....and I would venture a guess that no one will change his mind either. And that is the impass that we have been at for 30 years. Now, it's 'winner take all' with the Supreme Court.

I really don't see why reasoned people of both persuasions can't see that the only compromise (and that is what democracy is all about), is to put this issue back to the states. Let New York have abortion on demand as well as California, Mass., and anyone else whose citizens choose through a democratic process.
It is the only solution.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 4, 2006 6:22:04 PM

Neil, I believe there has been an understanding that Supreme Court nominations are always sent to the floor.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Feb 4, 2006 6:28:08 PM

Neil, your claim that liberal Republicans are useless assumes Alito is as right wing as a judge could be. Liberal demonizing aside, this is certainly not the case.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Feb 4, 2006 6:32:14 PM

It's amazing that only 30-some percent of the country believes what this troll believes and yet they still manage to control the agenda. As a 46 year old woman abortion has become an abstract for me, so I find it hard to believe that the troll thinks that denying abortion to young women is more important than protecting individual rights, OSHA, EPA, and all the other things we stand to lose with Alito on the court.

Posted by: J Bean | Feb 4, 2006 7:58:56 PM

I did get a longish letter back from NARAL justifying their support for Chafee after I complained in response to their latest fund raising solicitation. They're not getting any money from me until I have cooled down quite a bit. I'll send them a donation in November after Lincoln Chafee loses his re-election.

Posted by: J Bean | Feb 4, 2006 8:01:11 PM

I would point out that if things had gone Harry Reid's way, you'd have nothing to bitch about re Chaffee.

Posted by: Jedmunds | Feb 4, 2006 9:33:36 PM


You have the statistic wrong. 30% of the population is tentatively pro abortion, and about another 5% (including the super-rich) share your view and want to abort all of the geneticly inferior. If you could only clear your head of indoctrination long enough to see the agenda. A nuclear missile is a "peace keeper" and tearing a baby apart in the womb is a "choice." Don't you see the nazi parallel. Crowd control. Why did Kennedy get shot, two years later the Griswold case, then another eight years and Roe... Why? because the riffraff was marching in the street and some very wealthy people were afraid of losing their money and power. This has NOTHING to do with women's rights. Abortion hurts women. It is about keeping the status quo, and both political parties are corrupt.

Posted by: anonyyyeeee | Feb 4, 2006 10:54:30 PM

Remember that 5 Democrats voted to confirm Sam Alito. Is it really better to have a Democrat like that than a Republican like Lincoln Chafee? Let's say we had those 6 more Democrats, and they're conservative... forget whether all of them would vote to filibuster, would any of them?

Posted by: Joe | Feb 5, 2006 12:18:08 PM

True, Jedmunds. But with only 45 Democrats, Harry Reid doesn't have a whole lot to work with, and he can't always get his way.

Joe, the point is that it doesn't matter whether they'd vote to filibuster. All that matters is that they make us the majority party, which gives good pro-choice liberals control of committees.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 5, 2006 12:58:44 PM

I don't disagree with your point neil, but to some of the commenters who react as if Chaffee's vote on cloture is why Alito's on the court. It's insane to me. Their expecting NARAL to hold Chaffee to a higher standard than 19 dems? It's a crazy perspective.

Posted by: Jedmunds | Feb 5, 2006 1:05:51 PM

Again, I don't think it's crazy at all. There are good reasons to hold Republicans to a different standard, because Chafee would be replaced by a pro-choice Dem, while most pro-cloture Dems would be replaced by a pro-life Republican. (If you want to argue that NARAL shouldn't give a dime to Cantwell or Lieberman, you're certainly right.)

Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Feb 5, 2006 2:13:04 PM

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