Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Democratic Hypocrites

A hypocrite is a person who accuses somebody else of doing something that the accuser would readily do himself if given a chance -- much like we find in the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives.

On October 7th, the House of Representative took a vote on a new Energy Bill to expand refinery capacity in the United States, reduce clean air provisions, and protect energy companies from lawsuits.

The vote was scheduled to last for five minutes. However, at the end of those five minutes, the Republican leadership was behind by two votes. Therefore, instead of gaveling the vote closed when the five minutes were up, they held the vote open. During this time, Republican leaders met with members of their party to cajole and coerce them into switching their vote in favor of the law.

It took that Republican leadership 40 minutes to round up the necessary votes. As soon as they acquired enough votes, the closed the vote and declared a victory. Immediately after doing so, the Democrats shouted from their side of the isle, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

After the vote, the Democratic Leadership held a press conference where they condemned the Republican leadership in harsh terms. (See http://www.c-span.org: “Democratic Representatives on Energy Bill Vote, 10/05/2005)

The Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D - CA) called the act, “A shameless display of the culture of corruption that the Republicans have brought to the House of Representatives,” and “A sad day for democracy.”

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D - MD) called the Republican action a corrupt act.

Hypocrisy

However, in defending his use of the term, Mr. Hoyer cited Vice President Dick Cheney’s remarks when the Democratic leadership used the same tactic a few years earlier. According to Hoyer, “Corruption is a tough word to use. It was the word that Vice President Cheney used when Jim Wright, on a Budget bill, on an economic policy for our country, held the vote open for 28 minutes. Mr. Chaney called it the most corrupt action he had seen on the floor of the House of Representatives.”

In this sentence, Hoyer admits to hypocrisy in all but name. He admits to the fact that Democrats have used the House rules to hold votes open to gather additional votes. He appears to endorse Cheney’s words in calling this an instance of “corruption” yet, at the same time, does not offer a word of contrition or an inkling of a suggestion that the Democrats would not do the same thing again if the opportunity came up.

Hoyer’s words make clear that he has one set of standards that apply when the Democrats are in power, and a different set of standards that apply when Republicans are in power.

If his claims about Vice President Cheney are correct, then Cheney also holds to this double standard. He calls an act “corrupt” when carried out by Democrats that he accepts as “policy” when committed by Republicans.

Demagoguery and the Fillibuster

In fact, the House rule allowing the leadership to hold a vote open long enough to shift the burden of a tie in its favor is no different morally than the Senate rules that allow for a filibuster. It is a procedure built into the rules that either side is willing to take advantage of when it benefits them to do so. It makes no sense to call “fowl” when the other side does the same thing.

Also, like the filibuster, if the House of Representatives dislikes the rule that allows the majority party to hold a vote open long enough to get a bill passed, then the House can vote to change the rules. These are the rules that they adopted, and these are the rules that they are playing by. Protesting acts that the rules allow would be like a football team protesting as corrupt an opposing team’s decision to go for a 2-point conversion instead of an extra-point kick.

Rhetoric and Demagoguery

One problem with protesting these make-believe wrongs is that it weakens moral language when it is to be used against actions that actually deserve condemnation. This is the story of the boy who cried wolf, with a twist. In this case, it is the story of the politician who cried fowl. Because he cries fowl at make-believe wrongs with, perhaps, the aim to rally the people, the people learn not to trust him even when he detects a genuine wrong. He cries fowl then genuine injustice has been done, and the people or click to the next web page, because they have heard these false cries too often.

From lying under oath, to “ad hominem” defenses, to bribery and cronyism, there are a great many things that deserve condemnation. There is no need to make up wrongs in order to find a reason for moral condemnation. Opportunities for legitimate moral condemnation occur every day. When the moral message is diluted by using it in obviously hypocritical accusations, it simply makes all of the other wrongs much easier to get away with, and much more common as a result.

With this in mind, it would be useful if at least one reporter would have the wits and foresight to see these cases when they occur. The next time a politician stands up to condemn an action by the other party that his party would readily use when given the chance, this reporter can ask one simple question. “Excuse me, sir. Can I report that your party has adopted a policy that you will never use these tactics, and will brand as corrupt anybody in your own party that would use them?”

After this happens a few times, perhaps we will see the end of politicians making phony charges of wrongdoing.

4 comments:

Thayne said...

I think it's possible that the criticism of the delayed vote had less to do with the delay itself, and more to do with what went on during that delay. I have heard that on other delayed votes, the Republican leadership basically threatened fellow Republicans who were going to vote against the wishes of the party leaders. Now, I don't know if that is true, but if it is, it is morally reprehensible.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

The Democratic speech that I cited above did not talk about methods, but about the fact of holding a vote open.

With respect to "threatening (party members) who may vote against the party," whether I find that morally reprehensible depends on the nature of the threat. Would my refusal to support one candidate and support an opponent if the candidate does not take a stand in favor of church-state separation count as a "threat"?

Thayne said...

Several things:

Nancy Pelosi says that past vote extensions had nothing to do with trying to change the outcome of the vote, and in fact, were done after the result was determined. I don't know if she is correct. http://www.democraticleader.house.gov/press/releases.cfm?pressReleaseID=1217

I oppose holding votes open for the purpose of changing the outcome. When debate is over and it's time to vote, the vote should occur. If Democrats have done this, they were wrong to do so.

Threatening to not vote for a candidate if he/she does not support an issue is different from saying, "if you vote 'yes' on this, then I'm going to oppose your utterly unrelated bill."

I disagree that holding open the vote is similar to fillabuster. The purpose of the fillabuster is to give the minority party a little power so the majority cannot simply trample them. Holding a vote open is done by the majority party, so it gives them even more power to force their will than they already have by virtue of their greater numbers and ability to set the agenda.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

At the press conference that I cited in my article, Nancy Polesi was there during the first few minutes, then had to rush off to catch a plane. The bulk of the discussion was done by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D - MD) who cited one example in which Democrats did the same thing.

If this is her sentiment, then she should propose a change to the House rules to establish a maximum time limit for votes. (Right now, the rules only establish a minimum time limit, not a maximum, which is why holding the votes open is legal.)

Personally, I would favor such a rule change simply because it prevents exactly this type of manipulation by the majority party. However, it takes the majority party to establish such a change. I suspect that the next time the democrats are in the majority, they will be more interested in exploiting the rule than changing it. However, I am open to being surprised on this issue.