Magazine article The American Prospect

Blame It on Blue: Everything, Apparently, Is Democrats' Fault

Magazine article The American Prospect

Blame It on Blue: Everything, Apparently, Is Democrats' Fault

Article excerpt


There is a certain rhythm to events like the , Heritage Foundation s January forum on filibuster reform. The speaker, in this case Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, says something such as, "There is no doubt the Senate has been reduced to a shadow of itself as the world's greatest deliberative body." Then, like clockwork, the speaker blames Democrats for the predicament: "The demise of the Senate is not because Republicans seek to filibuster. The real obstructionists have been the Democratic majority."

This wasn't just a typical Washington panel on Senate procedure; it was part of the conservative response to filibuster reforms proposed at the beginning of this Congress by the Democratic majority. Indeed, Alexander was articulating the boilerplate Republican response to the plan: The Senate isn't broken; Democrats are trying to eliminate deliberation, and this is a dangerous power grab. Of course, the actual proposal for filibuster reform was meant to enhance debate, not end it. Under the plan, if at least 41 senators voted against a motion to end debate, the chamber would move into a period of extended debate. As long as someone is willing to talk, debate continues. The minority is only cut off when no one is willing--or available--to speak in defense of delay.

At the Heritage event, it was hard not to be struck by the participants' unwavering belief that Democrats were solely responsible for the Senate's dysfunctions. As Alexander put it, "The reform the Senate needs is a change in its behavior, not a change in its rules." He even had statistics! "The majority leader has used his power to cut off all amendments and debate 44 times. More than the last six majority leaders combined," Alexander said. Did you catch that? It's not that Republican senators have used the amendment process to delay and block legislation an unprecedented number of times; it's that Harry Reid is a mean, power-hungry liberal.

In the scheme of things, Alexander's complaints pale in comparison to, for instance, the charges levied against the Democratic Party during the 1884 presidential election (then, Dems were the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion"). Still, the "blame Democrats first" theme of the Heritage event reflects a broader quirk of the conservative movement. If liberalism is always the problem, then conservatism can't fail; it can only be failed. The Democratic push for filibuster reform wasn't inspired by Republicans' abuse of the procedure but came about because liberals are tricky despots in training.

Indeed, the rhetoric of the Tea Party is a version of this, writ large. America's current structural problems weren't created by eight years of unified conservative governance and its attendant spending spree of wars, tax cuts, and more tax cuts. No, we have problems because Democrats give handouts to poor people. To these Republicans, "real conservatism" has never been tried. The George W. Bush years? They don't count. After all, as Byron York writes in The Washington Examiner, "You can argue whether Bush was a fiscal conservative at any time in his political career, but he certainly wasn't in the White House." Similarly, conservative hyper-partisan Erick Erickson, editor of the blog Red State, emphatically declared that "George W. Bush is not a conservative." To nearly every Republican of prominence, Bush's failure wasn't an opportunity to reflect on conservative policies as much as it was a chance to disavow Bush as a conservative. …

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