Vincent Fiore
May 17, 2005
In the Senate, "DefCon 1" nears
By Vincent Fiore

In the Senate this week, what promises to be a contentious culmination to what Republican Senator Trent Lott originally coined as the "nuclear option" will almost certainly take place. Majority leader Bill Frist will call for a vote on Texas Nominee Priscilla Owens, first nominated by President Bush to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in May, 2001. At that point, the Senate chamber might be said to have gone to DefCon 1.

The term, "DefCon," short for Defense Condition, is the chief operating procedure of NORAD, or North American Air Defense, located in the Cheyenne Mountains of Colorado. Little known until MGM's thriller "War Games" in 1983, DefCon has five strict protocols, five meaning "at peace" to one, meaning the nation is "at war."

With the GOP stopping Senate Democrats from filibustering seven federal appeals court nominees, coupled with United Nations nominee John Bolton heading for a possible filibuster of his own, it will be political warfare not seen in the Senate chamber since the combative days of 1964. Then, the Senate set out upon a 57-day marathon to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964, finally culminating with Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, who railed for some 14 hours against fundamental rights for blacks.

So what of all the proposed deals and cloakroom accords that were winding their way around Capitol Hill? Various senators are still trying to hammer out a last minute deal, but it may be too little too late.

And so let it be. If the fundamental issue here is an up or down vote for a sitting president's judicial nominees which have been held back by Senate Democrats for four years now raising the political warfare level to DefCon 1 is not only appropriate, but a necessary and practical option.

There is no precedent for the Democratic obstructionism that has plagued Bush since his inauguration in 2001. The closest that comes to mind and what Democrats continually point to is the filibuster against Abe Fortas in 1968, whom President Lyndon Johnson attempted to appoint as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The differences here are many. Johnson was a lame-duck president, and Fortas was already elevated to the Supreme Court in 1965. Along with the twenty-four Republicans, nineteen Democrats voted against ending the filibuster against Fortas, a truly bipartisan effort. Proven to be ethically challenged as well, Fortas would not have had the votes to pass muster on the Senate floor, so he soon withdrew his nomination.

For Republicans, the risk lies in not exercising the so-called "nuclear option." As stated by National Review editor Rich Lowry, Senator Bill Frist should "take away their ability [Democrats] to mount unprecedented judicial filibusters through the so-called nuclear option, then sleep the sleep of an utterly justified defender of Senate tradition."

Much has been made by the mainstream media over the GOP exercising its right to restore the intended "advice and consent" role of the Senate. But little has been said about the damage that will occur among the Republican Party faithful if the 55 senators who have an obligation to the voters and the president do not act.

Republicans know that the last bastion of power for Democrats lies within the courts. Unable to enact legislation through the Democratic process of elected representation, Democrats instead rely on the courts to essentially decree their socially liberal policies.

That is why Senate and House Democrats, along with the mainstream media, look upon the "nuclear option" as in political terms a true war to be fought for what will be decades of ideology, and a judicial bull-pen for future Supreme Court nominees.

The courts are all that the modern day Democratic Party has any type of influence on, and everybody, from the New York Times editorial room to the campus of UC Berkeley, knows that if Democrats lose this fight, they lose generationally as well.

A president's high court appointments often outlive him and can become his most enduring legacy. Through court rulings, judges keep alive a president's ideology, and often frustrate the opposition party. It is what Republicans see today, as decades of liberal appointments have turned America's courts into halls of judicial activism.

President Bush has nominated what he terms as "traditionalist" jurists to bench. Democrats respond by calling them "radicals," and seek to keep their power centered among the courts.

It is time to go "nuclear" in the Senate, and reign-in Democratic obstructionism. As of today, Republicans stand at DefCon 2. Very soon, another somewhat nostalgic barometer of war, the "Doomsday Clock," will strike 12:00 midnight, signifying the onset of the nuclear option, and the protocol of DefCon 1.

To the Republican rank and file, DefCon 1 could not happen soon enough.

© Vincent Fiore


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Vincent Fiore

Vincent Fiore is a freelance political writer based in New York. His commentary has been posted over numerous Web sites and publications around the world. Your comments are always welcomed.

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