Saturday, October 01, 2005

Litmus Tests and Democrats

There’s plenty of talk in the blogosphere about whether we should tar-and-feather, castrate, or otherwise ostracize those Democrats who voted for Roberts. Some question if they can support someone for President in 2008 who voted for Roberts. Here we see the problem of litmus tests. If it was those right-leaning DLC’ers voting for Roberts, it might be easier, but we also had people like Russ Feingold voting yes.

The mistake being made by those agonizing over this question is in selecting the wrong litmus test. The real question in comparing candidates is not how they voted on confirmation of a justice nominated by the opposing party, but of what type of justice they would nominate if President.

There are many reasons beyond support for Roberts’ views which could explain why a liberal Democrat might have voted yes. They might feel lacking questions of competence, there were no grounds to vote no. They might see Roberts as preferable to an open right wing ideologue. They might feel that appearing reasonable to the public on this vote, where confirmation was inevitable, they place them in a better position to filibuster the replacement for O’Connor if necessary.

There certainly are reasons to argue with any of these rationals for voting for Roberts, but a disagreement on such issues of Parliamentary tactics is a poor reason to fail to support someone for President. What is important is that most (and hopefully all) of the Democrats who voted for Roberts would have never nominated someone such as Roberts if they were President. (Naturally any Democrat who would nominate someone like Roberts is not worthy of support, but fortunately Zell Miller is not a viable candidate for the 2008 nomination).

We saw a similar error in the blogosphere over the Iraq War Resolution. Some Democrats voted yes in order to support war under limited circumstances (if we were actually proven to be endangered by WMD) and to give Bush the leverage to get the UN inspectors back into Iraq. Such a yes vote did not indicate support for war if Bush failed to prove we were endangered by WMD. The real litmus test on Iraq was not over how someone voted on the IWR but whether they would have gone to war if President under the circumstances that Bush went to war. Some who voted for the IWR, such as John Kerry, pass the litmus test, having made it clear they opposed going to war in the absence of being threatened by WMD. The same might also be said of other Democrats who held the same position prior to the war as John Kerry, and would have voted the same at the time, but did not have to cast a vote. This includes Howard Dean and Wesley Clark. Despite holding essentially the same position, we see a tremendous amount of Kerry bashing due to concentrating on a single ambiguous vote and not the Senator’s full position on an issue.

In both the Roberts vote and the IWR vote, concentrating on the issues that matter rather than on questions which are more a matter of Parliamentary tactics would help reduce some of the unnecessary division in the party.


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