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J.F. Kelly, Jr. - Contributor

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Advise and Consent, not Delay and Obstruct
The Senate grinds to a halt...

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 6/10/05

Our constitution wisely established three separate but equal branches of government, providing a system of checks and balances that was intended to prevent abuses of power by any branch. It isn’t perfect, but it works well most of the time. However, to watch the Senate in action, or rather inaction, in recent years, one might wonder how it works at all.

In addition to crafting and considering legislation, the Senate ratifies treaties and considers presidential nominees for important appointive positions in government. In recent times, the Senate seems to have devoted an inordinate amount of time to the latter task to the great detriment of its legislative duties. The 109th Congress, controlled by the president’s own party, has little in the way of legislative achievement to brag about thus far and the Senate’s most visible accomplishments to date have been to delay and obstruct nominations for key diplomatic positions and judgeships. At this writing, John Bolton has yet to be confirmed as ambassador to the U.N. I, personally, would prefer to see the U.N. evicted from its posh New York headquarters and deported, but given the unlikelihood of that outcome, I’d settle for Bolton as the tough representative we need in that pathetically ineffective and corrupt organization.

This preoccupation with the confirmation process leads me to wonder if the Senate’s priorities are consistent with those of the voters who presumably elected them to actually get something done. Is the time spent debating and filibustering presidential nominees well spent considering other pressing priorities or is it mostly a craven exercise in partisan politics, power and control? No one is suggesting a rubber stamp but shouldn’t a president reelected by a majority of the vote be permitted wide latitude in selecting key people to serve in government? Are the citizens served by disgraceful partisan battles that attack the personal views and philosophies of obviously qualified candidates and deny them up or down votes because they don’t meet some political litmus test imposed by powerful Senators of the minority party?

Those who argue that this is an historic function of the Senate need to be reminded that confirmation battles were relatively rare prior to the failure to confirm Judge Robert Bork because his perceived conservative values were judged by some to lie too far to the right of the mainstream. But who defines the mainstream, the minority party leaders or the voters who elected the president and trust him to pick the best and the brightest? The “Borking” of qualified candidates has since accelerated and consumes more of the Senators’ time only now it is delaying or denying highly qualified minority candidates such as Manuel Estrada, Alberto Gonzales and Janice Brown, to mention only a few, who have the temerity to be conservatives in defiance of the stereotypical profile that their opponents seem to feel is appropriate for members of their race or ethnicity.

To liberal Democrats like Edward Kennedy and Barbara Boxer, it is, apparently, an outrage for a Black or Hispanic person to defy tradition by being a conservative. Politicians like them have spent their careers championing the cause of poor Blacks and Hispanics, formerly a reliable part of their core constituencies, and, dammit, they are just supposed to stay loyal Democrats. How dare they think for themselves?

But times are changing, and, thanks in part to the very affirmative action programs that the Democrats supported, more and more Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities rose to leadership positions. All they really needed was a chance and a level playing field. To the consternation of the liberal politicians who often patronized them and took their grateful votes for granted, some actually became (gasp!) conservatives. “How inappropriate,” fumed the liberal leadership. “These ingrates are biting the hand that fed them. They aren’t supporting the very programs that got them where they are. They owe their success to the Democrats.”

Wrong. Most of them earned their success the old fashioned way: by hard work and study. Must they remain forever indebted to the liberal Democrats? Today, it is the Republicans that are providing women, African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities with unparalleled opportunities in government. Now, however, it is Democratic Senators who are blocking their paths, not on the basis of qualifications but on philosophical differences and political grounds. Some eminently qualified nominees, like Judge Estrada, grew tired of the delay and asked to withdraw from the tedious and demeaning process. This is a huge loss to the country and a slap in the face to minorities.

Qualified candidates deserve an up or down vote. There is nothing democratic, honorable or even traditional about delaying tactics and filibusters. Doesn’t the Senate have anything better to do? If not, I have some suggestions. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, immigration and tax reform come to mind. tOR

copyright 2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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