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Thursday, March 3, 2005
Hitler, Byrd, Jimmy Stewart and Judicial Nominations
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:47 am

I had wanted to comment on this: Sen. Byrd’s Hitler Comments Draw Fire when I first saw the news clip about it Monday night, but there was not yet a transcript (or even an online news story) at the time. Then yesterday I was too busy to do a lengthy post.

However, there are fouor elements to the speech that require comment.

(The full text of the speech is here: March 1, 2005 ).

1) The Hitler Business

This is, of course, the thing that jumps out at people, as the above-linked news story would indicate.

Ed Morrisey and QandO deal with the general Hitler issue.

Quite frankly I am to the point with this Hitler-comparison/evocation business that I am beyond even asserting Godwin’s Law, but rather would assert Taylor’s Corollary to Godwin’s Law: If you are a public official who engages in Hitlter-comparisons in the context of mainstream domestic politics you are a cartoon—and a bad cartoon at that.

Perhaps we ought to endeavor to remember the significance of Nazi Germany, rather than diminishing it by making into a bad political cliché.

Ann Althouse, in an update to a post on Ward Churchill, aptly notes the following about language:

You know, the Nazis incinerated human beings, and the Republicans might incinerate the fillibuster. But if you think that’s outrageous, maybe we ought to stop referring to getting rid of the fillibuster as the “nuclear” option. Maybe we shouldn’t invoke the image of a nuclear holocaust lightly either. But we “nuke” our foods in the microwave. And there’s the “Soup Nazi.” So I’m thinking we shouldn’t be so prissy and easily riled about imagery.

She makes a legitimate point; although context matters (the Soup Nazi evokes the idea of harsh rules, while comparing people in government to Hitler evokes something far more sinister). Also, I will admit that the Democrats are greatly aided by the fact that a mere majority vote to change the filibuster rules has been dubbed “nuclear�?—because while the aftermath of such a vote will no doubt be incendiary, the basic process is pretty mundane. However, by calling it “nuclear�? it gives a public perception of a radical action.

2) The Filibuster Issue

Byrd actually starts his speech, and bases part of his argument, on a lengthy description (along with superfluous trivia concerning) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I’m sorry, Senator Byrd, but we are talking reality here, not fantasy. While a fine movie, an understanding of the process is hardly to be found there. For one thing, it is generically silly to try to take a fictionalized, romanticized as an example of a real process. For another, it isn’t as if Democratic Senators are staying on the floor of the Senate until they pass out to defend the Republic from these “out of the mainstream” nominees. Rather, this has been a wholly procedural, relatively pain-free process.

Yet, Byrd is arguing as if he and his fellow Democrats are Jimmy Stewart.

Further, as Ed noted in his post (as did Charles Krauthammer on Monday night): one of the most famous applications of the filibuster was in 1964 and the blocking of the Civil Rights Act—a filibuster that Robert Byrd participated in. Gee, Senator, why wasn’t that example in your speech along with Jimmy Stewart?

3) The Majority/Minority Issue

Said Byrd in his speech, quoting Senator William Ezra Jenner of Indiana from a 1957b speech:

Minorities have an illustrious past, full of suffering, torture, smear, and even death. Jesus Christ was killed by a majority; Columbus was smeared; and Christians have been tortured.

He went on to state

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.

And from there went into more Hitler-talk.

I would note that he didn’t mention the way in which the white majority exploited the black minority, and how an organization to which he once belonged, the Ku Klux Klan, participated in that activity.

Beyond the irony of that omission, I would ask the Senator: is he then arguing that majorities are bad and minorities should rule? Is he suggesting that for all legislation that we should have a 60% margin or 67% or higher? I mean, if majority rule is so dangerous, let’s have a 3/4th vote on all pork going to West Virginia.

4) On Rules

Byrd, and the other Democrats, are on tenuous (to be kind) logical ground top argue the sacrosanct nature of rules as rules. If the filibuster option for judicial nominees is sacred simply because it is a rule, then if there is a rule to allow for the changing of that rule, then it should have equal weight. After all, rules are rules, and by Byrd’s formulation, rules are sacred. What makes the wisdom of the Senate forefathers Perfect in regards to the filibuster, but makes it Evil in regards to the ability to change that rule?

Really, if the Democrats were smart, they would compromise on some of these nominees and put the onus on the Republicans to have to behave “reasonably�?.

As it now stands, I see the Democrats putting themselves in the position of enhancing their image as the party of obstruction in the Senate.
The real irony is that while there has been talk in some Democratic circles that they should emulate Newt Gingrich as it pertains to the Republican Revolution of 1994, but instead they may be on track to be emulating Government Shutdown Newt of 95/96, and if we remember: that didn’t turn out too well for the GOP.

Filed under: US Politics, Courts/the Judiciary | |Send TrackBack

PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More on Byrd and Filibusters linked with [...] column today, which is worth a read: Sen. Byrd should not bring this up (and it fits into my post on Byrd from this morning): Bob Byrd gave a lengthy speech on Tuesday romanticizing filibuste [...]


  1. If the argument is “The rules are the rules” then why have a legislative branch at all?

    Comment by Paul — Thursday, March 3, 2005 @ 9:49 am

  2. If the argument is that “The rules are the rules” then why have a legislative branch at all?

    Comment by Paul — Thursday, March 3, 2005 @ 9:51 am

  3. […] column today, which is worth a read: Sen. Byrd should not bring this up (and it fits into my post on Byrd from this morning): Bob Byrd gave a lengthy speech on Tuesday romanticizing filibuste […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More on Byrd and Filibusters — Thursday, March 3, 2005 @ 3:39 pm

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