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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Godwin's Law: The Mehlman Corollary

Godwin's Law:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

There is a tradition in many Usenet newsgroups that once such a comparison is made, the thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. In addition, whoever points out that Godwin's law applies to the thread is also considered to have "lost" the battle, as it is considered poor form to invoke the law explicitly.

Of course, I noted last year that Godwin's Law had been suspended, but it's still something to keep in mind.  What then, to make of the brouhaha over Senator Byrd's comments about the "nuclear option" that the GOP majority is trying to implement to quash filibusters against judicial nominees?

Here's what Byrd said on Tuesday:

The so-called “nuclear option” purports to be directed solely at the Senate’s advice and consent prerogatives regarding federal judges.   But, the claim that no right exists to filibuster judges aims an arrow straight at the heart of the Senate’s long tradition of unlimited debate.

The Framers of the Constitution envisioned the Senate as a kind of executive council; a small body of legislators, featuring longer terms, designed to insulate members from the passions of the day. 

The Senate was to serve as a “check” on the Executive Branch, particularly in the areas of appointments and treaties, where, under the Constitution, the Senate passes judgement absent the House of Representatives.   James Madison wanted to grant the Senate the power to select judicial appointees with the Executive relegated to the sidelines.   But a compromise brought the present arrangement; appointees selected by the Executive, with the advice and consent of the Senate.   Note that nowhere in the Constitution is a vote on appointments mandated.    
[It] was 1917, before any curtailing of debate was attempted, which means that from 1806 to 1917, some 111 years, the Senate rejected any limits to debate.   Democracy flourished along with the filibuster.   The first actual cloture rule in 1917, was enacted in response to a filibuster by those who opposed U.S. intervention in World War I.
If we restrain debate on judges today, what will be next: the rights of the elderly to receive social security; the rights of the handicapped to be treated fairly; the rights of the poor to obtain a decent education?   Will all debate soon fall before majority rule?

Will the majority someday trample on the rights of lumber companies to harvest timber, or the rights of mining companies to mine silver, coal, or iron ore?   What about the rights of energy companies to drill for new sources of oil and gas?   How will the insurance, banking, and securities industries fare when a majority can move against their interests and prevail by a simple majority vote?   What about farmers who can be forced to lose their subsidies, or Western Senators who will no longer be able to stop a majority determined to wrest control of ranchers’ precious water or grazing rights?   With no right of debate, what will forestall plain muscle and mob rule?

Many times in our history we have taken up arms to protect a minority against the tyrannical majority in other lands.   We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men.

But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends.   Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler’s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law.   Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it.   Bullock writes that “Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.”   And he succeeded.

Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution.   Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side.   Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.

And that is what the nuclear option seeks to do to Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate. 

It seeks to alter the rules by sidestepping the rules, thus making the impermissible the rule.   Employing the “nuclear option”, engaging a pernicious, procedural maneuver to serve immediate partisan goals, risks violating our nation’s core democratic values and poisoning the Senate's deliberative process.
Yes, we believe in Majority rule, but we thrive because the minority can challenge, agitate, and question.   We must never become a nation cowed by fear, sheeplike in our submission to the power of any majority demanding absolute control.

Generations of men and women have lived, fought and died for the right to map their own destiny, think their own thoughts, and speak their minds.   If we start, here, in this Senate, to chip away at that essential mark of freedom – – here of all places, in a body designed to guarantee the power of even a single individual through the device of extended debate – – we are on the road to refuting the Preamble to our own Constitution and the very principles upon which it rests. 

Would that speech violate Godwin's Law?  I don't think so, but GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman is outraged:

Senator Byrd’s invocation of Hitler’s Germany in discussing the duty of U.S. Senators to advise and provide consent on judicial nominees is reprehensible and beyond the pale. While members of the Senate are free to agree and disagree on the issues, this poisonous rhetoric only serves to illustrate the desperation and weakness of Senator Byrd’s position.

A search on the GOP website yielded no outrage about the Swifties attacks calling Senator Kerry a coward and traitor, nor about prominent wingers calling lefties Ba'athist (the new Stalinists!).  Regardless, it's clear that Byrd is right because Mehlman invoked the "desperation" response, which as we all know is a sign of desperation.

Byrd 1, Mehlman 0.


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Tracked on Mar 6, 2005 5:47:40 PM


Are you reading my mind? Consider Heresy Number Twelve version 2.0

Posted by: The Heretik | Mar 3, 2005 9:52:12 AM

Excellent reference to the right's lack of outrage over the swift boat liars "poisonous rhetoric" (to borrow a phrase from Mr. Mehlman). And thanks for the post of Sen. Byrd's full comments. His distant past may be dispicable, but his recent actions on the senate floor give me hope for a more vigorous opposition.

Posted by: Edo | Mar 3, 2005 10:09:57 AM

The PNACers themselves talk about needing a Reichstag fire. Cheney shows up at an Auschwitz memorial wearing a ski cap that had the word staff on it. Rice arrives in Germany in an outfit that look like it was designed by the Gestapo. Bush wears military uniforms and invades countries that were not a threat.

I agree with you. I think Godwin's law was shipped to Gitmo sometime between the Bush coup and the day irony died.

I, for one, welcome our NeoFascist overlords.

Posted by: George Johnston | Mar 3, 2005 10:29:44 AM

Maybe it's 'cuz I'm just a librul scum historian-type, but reading Byrd's comments in context I have to say that they're (a) entirely appropriate, (b) completely factual, and (c) dead on-target. I suspect the intensity of the anarcho-conservacons' outrage these days is inversely proportional to the distance from the center of the target to wherever whatever sling or arrow from the left they're bitching about landed.

Posted by: Musing Michael | Mar 3, 2005 10:32:56 AM

Michael, anyone who's worked with children will tell you that the smaller the cut, the larger the howl. Senator Bryd pricked the Republicans with his allusion to Fascism, and Mehlman rose up in high dudgeon. Why wouldn't he? After all, he knows all about pricks... (meow!)

Posted by: Mustang Bobby | Mar 3, 2005 1:08:11 PM

I was trying to put together a post on "being lied to for our own good" and came across GHWBush's discussion of his Iran-Contra pardons:

In 1992, when George Herbert Walker Bush pardoned conspirators in Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra affair. The pardon would be granted by the president due to the following reasons: 1) they were patriots (whether or not their actions were right or wrong); 2) they did not profit or seek profit; 3) they had long and distinguished records of service to the United States; 4) they already had paid a price "grossly disproportionate to any misdeed or errors of judgement." Then-President Bush found "the criminalization of policy differences" "a profoundly troubling development. "The act of pardoning these people would allow the country to "move on" (as it were).

Posted by: Darryl Pearce | Mar 3, 2005 1:30:50 PM

The problem with Godwin's Law, of course, is that it sets us up for fascism by making fascism impossible to evoke/identify. It gives fascist behavior the pass of silence, as it were.

Posted by: NYMary | Mar 3, 2005 7:56:40 PM

The problem with Godwin's Law, of course, is that it sets us up for fascism by making fascism impossible to evoke/identify. It gives fascist behavior the pass of silence, as it were.

Some one so quick and short with words so concise should start her own blog, Mary.

Posted by: The Heretik | Mar 3, 2005 10:18:50 PM

What's a Fascist?

There is no blood on my hands, none.

You don't understand, it's hard work. They are working hard to destroy our freedoms, and so are we.

Posted by: George dumbass Bush | Mar 4, 2005 1:36:43 PM

Since I predict the Senate will have to invoke the Constitutional / so-called Nuclear Option to get the next SCOTUS pick confirmed, I was reviewing what has been posted here on the topic - and I just couldn't pass this comment up by my old friend, Darryl Pearce:

. . . In 1992, when George Herbert Walker Bush pardoned conspirators in Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra affair. The pardon would be granted by the president due to the following reasons . . .

Don't forget #5 - restrictions in the Boland Amendment(s) were arguably un-Constitutional infringements on the Executive's war powers:


Posted by: Charlie | Sep 28, 2005 1:25:00 AM

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