On Why the Spineless Democrats Validate My Faith in Their Party

 I’ll start by clarifying a couple things.  First, I wouldn’t be disappointed if Democrats refused to vote on the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.  Republicans refused to even meet with Merrick Garland, a consensus pick by any standard, because they felt – with no basis in law or precedent – that Obama shouldn’t nominate a justice during a Presidential campaign.  The current president has already declared his candidacy for 2020 and Gorsuch is anything but a consensus pick.  If they stayed home en masse on the day of his hearing, they wouldn’t be without cause.

Second, many of the individuals sent to the Senate for confirmation should be scrapped for their utter lack of qualification, stunning conflicts of interest, or (in the case of Jeff Sessions) documented racism.  I believe that a president should have the cabinet of his or her choice, assuming that they’re marginally qualified; but the cabinet that has come before the Senate is a mess of ignorance and unresolved conflict of interest.  Even with my somewhat conservative view of the process, I applaud the decisions of some high profile Senators like Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren who have voted against all but two of those nominees (typically Nikki Haley for UN Ambassador and James Mattis for Secretary of Defense).  I would canvas for Kirsten Gillibrand’s presidential campaign right now (she voted down all but Haley).

Even with just a cursory look at the nominees there’s little reason a Democrat (or really even a Republican) could give to vote for four of the nine nominees.  Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, and Rex Tillerson have conflicts of interest that even the willfully blind couldn’t miss.  DeVos also demonstrates an utter lack of knowledge about the very field over which she will now preside and Price has profited from insider trading related to his.  Sessions’s Republican colleagues were too uncomfortable with his record on voting rights and his history of racist remarks to recommend him for a federal judgeship.  In 1986.

I am disappointed that the Mark Warners and Claire McKaskills of the Senate haven’t taken a harder line against some of this administration’s nominees.  But that frustration is moderated by an odd sort of vindication.  While I want almost all of these nominees to be completely shut out of their prospective posts, I am heartened by the debate raging about whether or not Democrats should stonewall this administration’s appointments completely.  

I don’t identify as a particularly clean Democrat.  I am much much further left on some issues (bordering on radical), closer to the middle on others, weirdly libertarian on still more, and probably safely in the Democratic mainstream on the rest.  For a lot of reasons, however, I’ve hitched my cart pretty securely to the party’s horse.  As someone with some fairly aggressively leftward tendencies on issues like racial justice and school choice and brazenly libertarian tendencies toward free trade and immigration, in a lot of cases, I favor out and out opposition to the administration’s nominees.  But my disappointment with those Democrats who’ve shown a lack of resolve on that point is tempered by a validation of my faith in the party.

While Democrats have their own history of bypassing the traditional legislative process and winking at executive overreach in service of their ends, they stop short at disparaging the institutions that provide checks on those tendencies.  Barack Obama, for example, was lambasted for expressing disagreement with a Supreme Court decision, even after stipulating “all due deference” to the process of judicial review and fully honoring the court’s decision.

The Republican Party’s presidential candidate, president elect, and now sitting president has attacked both the judicial system writ large and individual judges personally on numerous occasions with little real consequence or outcry from the party’s prominent politicians.When Mitch McConnell refused to even hold confirmation hearings for Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, few Republicans even bothered to mention it.  Barack Obama’s various appointees received nearly three times more “no” votes from the opposing party than any other president in history.  The Republican Speaker of the House accused their presidential nominee of textbook racism and proceeded to schedule campaign events with him anyway.  When that Speaker was questioned about the then president-elect’s constant baseless assertions (read: “repeated lies”) of massive voter fraud, he responded; “I don’t know.  I’m not really focused on these things.”

Despite my frustration with the tendency of Democrats to compromise on some issues, that willingness to make government work validates the favor I’ve shown them.  At their best, Democrats have advocated for economic justice, equality for people I care about, and policies that, while they might occasionally be impractical, attempt to address real problems.  Even at what seems to be their most compromised, they evince a seriousness and respect for procedural norms and the institutions of government that most Republicans can’t even seem to fake.