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Opposition, Not Obstruction

I'm going to make this my slogan. I was thinking of doing a post to outline it's true meaning, but better, perhaps, to simply illustrate. My post on tax reform at Tapped is one such example. What Atrios has to say is another. The massive disrespect for the rule of law that Alberto Gonzales represents is a clearly a characteristic he shares with his boss. Blocking him from becoming Attorney-General, even if possible, would do almost no good. And there would be a political price to be paid. The thing for Democrats to do is to raise all the objections to him (practically speaking, Senator Salazar probably ought to take the lead here), note how unfortunate it is that the president has so little respect for the rule of law or for the safety of our troops, vote "no," and let him get confirmed.

Democrats need to closely horde their (very limited) capacity to actually prevent things from happening. Like a parliamentary minority, their main role is simply to raise objections and frame an alternative vision. They're not partners in the running of the government, not legislators in the traditional American sense. They're an opposition, that needs to be clear about what it stands for, clear about what it thinks needs to be done, and basically willing to let the party of government govern until they get a chance to contest the government's visions with their own on an election day.

November 12, 2004 | Permalink


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» Obstruct To Save America from Oliver Willis
I think that Matt Yglesias is suffering from what I call the DC-based approach to things. He [Read More]

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» Playing Your Cards Right from Foreign Dispatches
Matthew Yglesias, as usual, has a much better take on how to deal with an issue than does Atrios, this time, the nomination of Alberto Gonzalez. Rather than waste time and energy in obstructionism guaranteed to play into GOP efforts [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 12, 2004 9:21:40 AM

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Talk Left has an interesting article on the role of the Attorney General and the upcoming hearings on the nomination of Alberto Gonzales, predicting that Gonzales will be confirmed.The excerpts from the Ashcroft hearings in 2000 are insightful as is [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 13, 2004 1:43:16 PM


Democrats need to closely horde their (very limited) capacity to actually prevent things from happening.

The filibuster should be reserved for wingnut SCOTUS nominees and the truly insane.

I fully expect Frist to nuke the filibuster as soon as the Dems use it, so they might as well save it for when it counts. Maybe then the "process story", as Atrios puts it, will reflect poorly upon the GOP.

Posted by: def | Nov 12, 2004 1:22:14 AM

You are right on. A related point is what one blogger said [maybe even you, Matt]: starting 1.1.05 the Dems have to make sure that the Reps OWN the federal government. They control all 3 branches. Everything that happens is the Reps fault. Pure & simple. The Dems need only put together a coherent alternate vision or, to lower the bar, version.

Posted by: renecharland | Nov 12, 2004 1:28:42 AM

I agree. Democrats should bring out the obstruction guns only for those fights that will have the longest term consequences if we lose. SCOTUS nominations are the most obvious. The gutting of Social Security would be another. Beyond that, the Democrats are probably just going to have to "allow" the Republicans to do their worst.

It sucks. But that is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in.

Posted by: Chris Andersen | Nov 12, 2004 2:03:53 AM

I understand we won't be able to block much, but I wouldn't mind the democrats being obstructionist next week.

The debt ceiling has to be raised by the 18th. A fiscal responsibility amendment would be of great use to us vis a vis social security reform, tax reform, missile defense, and so on.

It's a little ironic that the Republicans would think a fiscal responsibilty amendment was a poison pill. Do you think they would risk economic meltdown over a fiscal responsibility amendment? Will we blink first?

If Frist ever tries to use the nuclear option -- it will make him look like a megalomaniac. Might as well make him use it to beat down a traditional Republican value and look like a hypocritical megalomaniac.

I think we have a very low chance of getting a decent supreme court justice no matter what we do. Judging from their history with the lower courts -- they are going to send wing nut after wing nut at us and we will have to fillibuster for four years straight -- so much so that the entire populace will think we are insane. My guess is that each new nominee will be worse than the previous and we will eventually have to give in.

As for this obstructionist vs. opposition stuff . . .

You may have noticed that as a party we are not that unified on message. If our congressmen don't look like their fighting the Republicans with everything they have -- we'll have a large number of shrill liberals freaking out. Not saying it's neccessarily a bad a idea. Just get ready to play wack a Naderite and have a few of them try to strangle you for giving in to the dark side and being Republican-lite.

Posted by: fle | Nov 12, 2004 3:02:49 AM

Reading this blog and the comments I see no reason given why Gonzales should be opposed as our next AG.

Telling the 48 Democratic Senators what they should do is all fine and dandy. But I am sure they don't even read this blog.

Your audience would be better served if you told us why Gonzales is the wrong choice for AG. I know that is not as much fun as telling the US Senate what to do, but it is more usefull.

Posted by: Ken | Nov 12, 2004 4:33:53 AM

Matt, I am a longtime reader and admirer of your site, but this line of reasoning really bugs me, I must say. Why in God's name should the Democrats not be obstructionists? We certainly don't have a parliamentary system. When we see things that will hurt the country, why not do our best to block them?

I understand the "political capital" line of reasoning, but isn't that the same sort of thinking that so devestated us in '02? I think part of the job of Democrats in Congress is to make very clear that we object to the agenda of this Administration.

You may not consider yourself a down-the-line Dem, but by your own reasoning, Gonzales could be a disastrous choice for AG. Why not make this clear?

Posted by: JD | Nov 12, 2004 4:59:28 AM

Plus, there will be no Senator Salazar while this is debated. Not to nit-pick or anything.

I guess the thing that is bothering me is that you are suggesting a course of action that will leave us not only impotent, but voiceless and emasculated. We should clearly and forcefully register our objections to what they're doing at every opportunity.

Posted by: JD | Nov 12, 2004 5:07:49 AM

I think we will all know a lot more about Gonzales after the confirmation process. I, for one will be very interested in hearing his explanation for the pro-torture memos.

I am certain that he is an intelligent and articulate man -- but I suspect that the reason he was chosen was more for his partisanship and loyalty. The FBI is actively investigating the administration and still has a lot of classified reports about the war on terrorism and 911. They need to run a tight ship and it wouldn't hurt if they coordinate with the political wing to make key announcements.

I have an acquaintance who works for Gonzales. He's all proud about going to Iraq in the near future to be an advisor to the Iraqis trying Saddam. I guess its especially fun for lawyers when they just get to make shit up. To me he's just a douche bag who still thinks he might get with my sister. Apparently an expendable douchebag.

I don't think we are really telling the senate or congress what to do. The senate is unlikely to filibuster much and democrats in the house are going to at least try to tack on a fiscal responsibility amendment to the debt legislation next week. We're just rationalizing their actions to keep our morale up.

A blog like DailyKos or Eschaton can bury congressmen or media members in emails or phone calls. Mostly they just look like fools or get negative press for jumping on tinfoil stories -- but I think they might start to surprise you. There will be some interesting grass roots efforts that take off from the blogs in the next couple years. The blogs will also have a big say in who gets a headstart in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

Posted by: fle | Nov 12, 2004 5:13:14 AM

"safety of our troops" my ass. Hows about you tell that Biden twit that the last US enemy which paid any attention to the Geneva convention was Nazi Germany?

Posted by: am | Nov 12, 2004 5:25:40 AM

I think it's interesting that Gonzo learned how to be a lawyer at Vinson & Elkins, the same Houston firm that told Ken Lay his Enron scam was perfectly legal. Describing a V & E lawyer is like the old Miller Lite commercials, where the two sides argued which was the greater product virtue Less Filling or Tastes Great. Except in shouting the virtues wrought by a V & E lawyer the lines would be Legal Torture on the one side, and Pure Fraud on the other.

Posted by: poputonian | Nov 12, 2004 7:08:59 AM

What ever happened to learning from our opponents? "Attack, attack, attack!" for goodness sake. Obstruct and undercut everything.

Stop trying to do clever things with political capital; stop navel-gazing and wondering about your party "vision". Start trying to make sure that people outside the liberal blogosphere knows that this man advocated torture!

Posted by: Anonymous | Nov 12, 2004 7:34:21 AM

This from Howard Dean's website, Democracy for America:

"Two weeks before the election, the Bush administration passed a bill that was supported by too many Democrats, giving $139 billion away. The argument was that we couldn't win if we didn't support this legislation, which had lots of goodies for everyone. Well, the bill passed, and we lost anyway.

If you want to win, you have to fight, and you have to stand for something."

Posted by: Anonymous | Nov 12, 2004 7:40:06 AM

Hows about you tell that Biden twit that the last US enemy which paid any attention to the Geneva convention was Nazi Germany?

'sfunny, America's Moron, because John McCain doesn't believe that, and he's in a position to know.

Posted by: ahem | Nov 12, 2004 7:42:52 AM

On purely practical grounds, if we're engaged in the messy of business of trying to create democracy in the Middle East by blowing shit up, wouldn't it also be nice to send signals to the Arab world that democracies, by not endorsing torture, are in some way morally or ethically superior to the shithole governments under which they currently live?

Or not? I realize that real Americans don't give a shit about world opinion, but there's my two cents. We don't have to expect the Geneva Convention to work, but the U. S. once did a better job (I think; I'm a little young for most of the Cold War) at projecting a REAL moral superiority to its communist foe. I think we can use all of that we can get now; clearly, it's never been a top priority of our current leadership.

Posted by: govols | Nov 12, 2004 7:57:04 AM

Gonzalez = Torture = Lyndie England with a leash

KISS. Repeat,repeat.

Obstruction is pretty pointless, but the opposition should be so shrill that Leahy and Hatch are Cheneying each other as they pass in the hill. Castrati Demo Senators want to make nice and be friends with their Republican masters. I want them all gone.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 12, 2004 9:13:31 AM

MY, when have they not let the party of government govern? They've confirmed over 95% of his nominees. They were neither oppositional nor obstructionist before re-election.

Posted by: Kriston | Nov 12, 2004 9:13:33 AM

Democrats need to closely horde their (very limited) capacity to actually prevent things from happening.

It's "hoard," dammit! "Hordes" of Mongols swept through Asia; "hoards" of WMD remain unfound; "hoarding" is the act of pulling together a "hoard" of stuff.

I put it all in quotes so that a person so familiar with semantics and philosophy could figure it all out.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Nov 12, 2004 9:29:57 AM

We all love Matt here, but as you will come to realize after a while, Matt is Matt, spelling is spelling, and never the twain....

Posted by: The Navigator | Nov 12, 2004 9:45:52 AM

Simply raising objections only works if a massive effort -- probably involving major media campaigns sponsored by party of issue groups -- is made to disseminate those objections and etch them into the national consciousness, rather than just raising them on the floor and hoping the media cooperates.

Ads underlining the Gonzalez Torture Memo and tieing it to Abu Ghraib should saturate the airwaves. And then, if the Republicans want to confirm him, the Dems should vote against it, but need not take extraordinary means to block it.

Then again, they can take extraordinary means, accompanied by another round of ads underlining the torture connection and the desperate measures being taken to stop Gonzalez. And if the Republicans still want to "go nuclear", well, let them.

The issue is not primarily "obstruction" versus "objection". Its whether or not the party makes sure the message gets out as to what the objection or obstruction is about. A party line no vote will be reported as a process story just as much as a filibuster will be. The message on substance has to get out in a way that bypasses the media or forces them to address the substance.

Posted by: cmdicely | Nov 12, 2004 9:48:36 AM

We all love Matt here, but as you will come to realize after a while, Matt is Matt, spelling is spelling, and never the twain....

Well, for somebody who spends columns explaining the difference between referring to words in quotes versus without--because one must be ever-so-precise when one talks about the nature of words--such imprecision is unbecoming.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Nov 12, 2004 9:54:14 AM

"such imprecision is unbecoming"

19th century industrial ethos. I disigree. Speling onle importent to the degry it obscures meening. Utherwise moore abowt mannurs and soshul cunformity.

U maybe thowt Matt was tawking abowt Attila?

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 12, 2004 10:11:22 AM

Utherwise moore abowt mannurs and soshul cunformity.

Absolutely true. But again, Matt makes a big deal of shredding linguistic imprecision among those talkin' philosophy--really, he does. And he's openly elitist, to boot. He has it coming.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Nov 12, 2004 10:17:50 AM

Hey, Matt, it's "hoard," not "horde" in this context. Spell-checkers ain't that smart.

Posted by: Dr. Limerick | Nov 12, 2004 10:28:09 AM

I think this is a worthwhile debate, but could someone clarify what exactly the difference is between "obstruction" and "opposition." Are we talking about the perceived differences here or actually different legislative tactics?

Posted by: Jay Bradfield | Nov 12, 2004 10:37:02 AM

Hey, thanks for sharing your racism with us Matt. I'd think that it actually matters what Salazar thinks about the AG nomination, instead of assuming he's bought the party line, and I wouldn't favor using him for political purposes just because of his ethnicity. But, then, I'm a Republican and a conservative, so we differ on these issues.

Besides, anything you want to do to tar Salazar as out of the mainstream is great for us. Colorado is not blue.

Posted by: Thomas | Nov 12, 2004 10:39:01 AM

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