Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) is trying to paint a picture of Republicans as Nazi’s leading Democratic Senators off to the gas chambers. He’s certainly brought the image of the contemplative, deliberate, and gentlemanly discourse of the United States Senate to a new low. In the parlance of the internet, what the former Ku Klux Klan recruiter turned Senator did was invoke Godwin’s Law.
Many times in our history we have taken up arms to protect a minority against the tyrannical majority in other lands. We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men.
But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends. Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler’s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that “Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.” And he succeeded.
Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.
And that is what the nuclear option seeks to do to Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
It seeks to alter the rules by sidestepping the rules, thus making the impermissible the rule. Employing the “nuclear option”, engaging a pernicious, procedural maneuver to serve immediate partisan goals, risks violating our nation’s core democratic values and poisoning the Senate’s deliberative process.
For the temporary gain of a hand-full of “out of the mainstream” judges, some in the Senate are ready to callously incinerate each Senator’s right of extended debate. The problem with Byrd’s argument (among many) is that while he wants to shroud the debate in terms of laws and the constitution what he’s really fighting to save is Senate rules. Senate rules aren’t laws – for the most part the only ones who give a shit when they are broken or changed is other Senators…
Senator Byrd does know filibusters – he filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Update: Jon Henke notes that in addition to being crass and ridiculous — Senator Byrd was also wrong. Hitler most certainly operated “outside the cloak of legality.” More reaction, including mine, from the blogosphere in Howard Kurtz’s Media Notes in The Washington Post.