Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I think John Podhoretz is wrong in thinking the Democrats will make a "calamitous political error" if they follow through with plans to "screw things up" in the Senate if the GOP goes through with its plans to end the Democratic filibusters of Bush judicial nominees. He bases this view in large part of how things played out ini 1995 when Gingrich and Clinton squared off over the budget. According to Podhoretz:

"Republicans learned this lesson to their sorrow in the fall of 1995. They went into confrontation mode with President Bill Clinton by sending him budget bills they knew he wouldn't sign. When he vetoed the bills, the federal government was forced to shut down. The GOP hoped the public would blame Clinton, since he had vetoed the bills.... That's not the way it went down. Because the GOP had provoked the showdown, it got blamed for the shutdown".

Podhoretz gets most of the above right, but is wrong on the most important part of the whole thing: the GOP did not get blamed because it had provoked the showdown, it got blamed because Clinton outmaneuvered them on the P/R front. It could have gone the other way, but the GOP had no one with as deft a touch at playing to the audience as Clinton. Gingrich didn't play well on TV nor in sound bites and was constantly played for a fool by Clinton and his media allies (remember the "they stuck me in the back of Air Force One issue?). Clinton had the ten second sound bites, the sob stories of those affected by the shutdown and the GOP had nothing... just a sputtering Gingrich.

Well, the same thing can and probably will happen again on this issue. While thankfully Bill Clinton is off the scene, and the Democrat notables are not known for their media smoothness, neither does the GOP have anybody who we should want out front on this issue. Frist may be a nice guy, but has no business being in front of a microphone. Even worse for the GOP, McCain and Hagel, two of the Senators with the biggest name recognition and support among the media, support the Democrats on this issue. Are they going to keep their mouths shut? Are they going to blame the Democrats for shutting down the Senate? Not a chance.

I don't think there's much of a chance that the public will end up blaming the Democrats on this one. But the GOP shouldn't let this keep them from doing what needs to be done.

UPDATE: Reading this snippet of Jon Kyl's speech, there's a chance he could be the one, the chosen one. Time will tell. And, the rise of the blogosphere and the cable talk shows give the GOP a chance to get some people who know what they're doing in front of a microphone to compensate for the political tone deafness of the GOP leadership.