Monthly Archives: November 2006

Brownback Mountain, the Peak of Situational Ethics

In May, 2005, at the height of the nomination battle over President George W. Bush’s far-right judicial picks, Sen. Sam Brownback took his stand against the Democrats’ dreaded filibuster. “All of the President’s nominees–both now and in the future–deserve a fair up or down vote,” Brownback declared. As 2008 draws nearer, Brownback’s ambition is exposed. The junior senator from the once-moderate Jayhawk state yearns for a chance to direct the right’s never-ending kulturkampf from the Oval Office. He is thus bending over backwards to secure the endorsement of the Christian right, the dominant faction of an attenuated conservative coalition. To earn the support of the GOP’s man-on-dog wing, Brownback is even willing to contradict his imporation for the “fair” treatment of Bush’s nominees. As the Republican battle-cry goes, whatever it takes! In October, Brownback used a parliamentary maneuver to stall Bush’s nomination of Judge Janet Neff to Federal District Court. Neff’s sin? In 2002, she attended a longtime neighbor’s lesbian “commitment ceremony.” “It seems to speak about her view of judicial activism,” Brownback said at the time. “That’s something I want to inquire of her further.” Now, with Neff’s nomination pending, Brownback is mulling torpedoing her once and for all. “I’m still looking at the Neff situation, and I will in the future,” the senator said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Neff isn’t Brownback’s first flip-flop on Bush’s nominees, however. In June, just weeks after calling for an up-or-down vote for the president’s judicial picks, Brownback placed a hold on the nomination of veteran Republican fundraiser Julie Finley to be the US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Finley is the founder of Women in the Senate and House (WISH), which raises money on behalf of female Republican candidates who are prochoice. It was that aspect of Finley’s résumé that riveted Brownback’s attention, even though abortion is practically irrelevant to the mission of OSCE. Brownback’s hold on Finley was celebrated by the Republican National Coalition for Life, an anti-abortion group founded by Phyllis Schlafly to counter Finley’s campaign at the 1992 Republican National Convention for a pro-choice platform. In an interview with me in June 2005 RNCL President Colleen Parro painted Finley as a heathen with no place in her party, despite Finley’s decades of fundraising on behalf of conservative candidates. “There are a lot of issues about which reasonable people can agree,” Parro told me. “That takes place all the time in the Republican Party on matters that are not fundamental. But the right to life is fundamental. You are either prolife or you’re not. If you’re not, and you want to be a Republican, you should just be quiet.” (Finley was ultimately confirmed after reassuring Brownback during a private meeting.) On policy matters, the reactionary element that controls the GOP is absolutist. Either you’re with the Christian right, or “you should just be quiet,” as Parro said. Yet when it comes to political procedure, the base’s ethics are situational at best: all of Bush’s nominees deserve up-or-down votes — except for those with lesbian friends or impure views on wedge issues. This hypocritical dynamic is the fuel for Brownback’s ambition. And as Brownback summons support for his candidacy from the grassroots, a once-muscular conservative coalition grows perilously narrow.

It Ain’t Over

In case you thought I decided that Jim Webb and John Tester were going to deliver us from evil and gave up on blogging, here’s a little update. I’m in the process of redesigning my site and migrating my content to a new server that will be powered by better technology than the complete crap Blogger supplies. Until that day, which is coming very soon, check out the best new blog I know of, published by TNR refugee Spencer Ackerman. See you in a minute.