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Bush & the Bullfight
By Robert Parry
February 1, 2006
the donkey. National Democrats might want to adopt some of the fighting
spirit demonstrated by a half-ton bull that disrupted a Mexico City
bullfight by jumping into the stands to scatter customers sitting in the
highest-priced front-row seats.
The bull – named “Pajarito” for “little bird” –
startled the well-dressed spectators and injured one before he was
stabbed to death by a bullfight participant wielding a sword. [BBC
News, Jan. 30, 2006]
So, Pajarito didn’t escape his fate, but he did act
with more enlightened self-interest than many national Democrats have
shown. Not only did Pajarito fight – rather than simply accept the
taunting and a stylized death – but he bypassed the matador, who is
really just a glorified butcher in a fancy costume, to go after the
wealthy paying customers who make the butchery profitable.
The way Congress now works has some parallels to
the bullfight, except the Democrats – when confronting George W. Bush –
often act like a passive bull that thinks survival depends on
cooperating with the matador. There’s scarcely a Pajarito to be found.
A day before Bush’s State of the Union Address,
Senate Democrats had enough votes against U.S. Supreme Court nominee
Samuel Alito to sustain a filibuster and thus force Bush to come up with
a more moderate candidate.
But the Senate Democratic leadership instead
stepped aside to let the Republicans win a cloture vote that shut down a
filibuster led by Sen. John Kerry, the party’s standard-bearer in the
last presidential election.
Democrats collaborated in this humiliation of Kerry
even after Republicans had mocked him as a “Swiss Miss” for urging a
filibuster while he was attending an economic conference in Davos,
Times, Jan. 28, 2006]
Presidential spokesman Scott
McClellan had piled on Kerry at a White House press briefing. “I think
even for a senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a
filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps,” McClellan
Kerry and his close ally, Sen. Ted
Kennedy, didn’t help their cause much either by failing to concentrate
on Alito’s advocacy for giving the President sweeping authority as a
“unitary executive” and his support for the President’s “plenary” – or
unlimited – powers as Commander in Chief during wartime. [See
& the Point of No Return.”]
Much as Democrats did during
poorly focused Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Kerry and
Kennedy recounted what sounded like a checklist of favorite causes of
liberal single-issue groups. The threat that Alito represented to
constitutional checks and balances – and thus the liberties of all
Americans – often was treated as an after-thought.
So, some Democrats who opposed
Alito decided that his confirmation didn’t measure up to the
“extraordinary circumstances” that the Senate’s centrist “Gang of 14” –
seven Democrats and seven Republicans – said were needed to justify a
filibuster of Bush’s judicial picks.
That meant Kerry could muster only
25 votes, while the Republicans amassed 72 votes for cloture – a dozen
more than the 60 needed to shut off debate. Those votes included 19
Democrats freed from party discipline by Senate Minority Leader Harry
On the final confirmation vote,
however, Alito was approved by a much smaller margin, 58-42, meaning
that he could have been kept off the Supreme Court if all those who
considered him a poor choice had backed the filibuster.
By contrast, when Republicans were
in the minority, they aggressively used the filibuster to get their way.
In 1991, for instance, Senate
Republicans blocked funding for an investigation into whether George H.W.
Bush and other senior Republicans illegally met with radical Iranian
mullahs behind President Jimmy Carter’s back in 1980. [For details, see
Republicans Loved a Filibuster.”]
An Angry Base
The Alito capitulation by Senate
Democratic leaders has infuriated much of the Democratic base, which
recognized the constitutional stakes of putting another supporter of the
“unitary executive” on the Supreme Court. But Reid and other top
Democrats chose to mount only a symbolic battle.
Rank-and-file Democrats have been
livid with the Democratic congressional leaders since 2002 when many
voted to give Bush authority to invade Iraq, partly as a political
gambit to finesse the war issue and then try to pivot the nation’s
attention back to domestic issues, a ploy that failed miserably.
Ever since, the Democratic base has
favored a much more critical stance against Bush’s Iraq War policies
than have most congressional Democrats. That split was on display again
on Jan. 31, before Bush’s State of the Union speech as anti-war
demonstrators protested outside the Capitol while Democratic members of
Congress assembled indoors.
Before Bush arrived, Capitol police
arrested Gold-Star mother Cindy Sheehan when she sat down in the gallery
and removed her coat to show a shirt noting the number of American
soldiers, including her son, killed in Iraq.
Sheehan was dragged from the
gallery after a policeman spotted her shirt reading, “2245 Dead. How
Many More?” [For Sheehan’s account of what happened,
Despite the fuss, most Democratic
members of Congress joined in giving Bush standing ovations when he read
his applause lines. The Democrats did show some spunk when they put up a
mock cheer as Bush mentioned his failed plan to partially privative
Social Security – and some sat silently when Republicans cheered Bush’s
plans for enacting more tax cuts.
Overall, however, the Democrats
demonstrated very little of the Pajarito spirit.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'
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