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Bush & the Bullfight

By Robert Parry
February 1, 2006

Forget 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.

Alito Capitulation

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, Switzerland. [Washington 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 laughed.

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 Consortiumnews.com’s “Alito & 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 Reid.

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 Consortiumnews.com’s “When 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, click here.]

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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