When Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016, then President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill his seat. Though Obama was a lame duck president, in the final year of his second term, it was early in the year when Scalia passed. Democrats argued that it was the President’s right to nominate a replacement. But Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, disagreed. McConnell and his colleagues, who held a slight Senate majority of 51, refused to allow a vote on Obama’s choice until after the 2016 election was finished. .
This tactic effectively delayed action on a replacement until President Trump took office, nominating Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat vacated by Scalia. Gorsuch was confirmed on a vote of 54 to 45, with three Democrats crossing the aisle to vote with their Republican colleagues on the appointment. It was a galling defeat for the Democrats, but some agreed that McConnell had a point about the voices of the voters being heard.
So, if 8 months before the election was too soon for a clear up and down vote on the President’s nominee for Supreme Court, six weeks before the election would also be way too soon, right?
Not according to McConnell.
The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hadn’t been dead a full day before McConnell began talking about a vote on her replacement. It was a far cry from his stance in 2016 when the conservative Scalia passed away.
McConnell’s argument about the difference is that Republicans now control both the Senate – with a 53 member majority – and the White House, whereas in 2016 they controlled only the Senate. He claims that this party control over both branches gives the Trump administration a mandate that Obama lacked in 2016. That works out great for McConnell, the Republican controlled Senate, and the White House, but it leaves more than a few of his critics calling foul, Senate Democrats chief among them.
While partisan’s on either side will argue the nuances and differences between the two cases, to many voters McConnell’s stance smacks of self-serving hypocrisy. Senate Democrats have a slightly more stable base to stand on with their argument that there is a big difference between six weeks and eight months. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are changing their stance when it best suits them as well. In 2016 they said the President had a right to nominate a replacement and that the replacement he chose deserved a vote based on their merits. Now they are parroting the arguments made by McConnell and crew four years ago and demanding any replacement only be voted on after the election.
It’s the kind of performance that leaves most of us disillusioned with politics, particularly partisan politics – a system that George Washington, who famously eschewed political parties, and other founding fathers warned could some day tear our republic apart. Washington called the political maneuvering, revenge seeking, and domination of one party over another “itself a frightful despotism” in his farewell address, warning that it could lead to worse forms of despotism.
While we tend to agree with Washington – and feel it would be a refreshing change to hear each candidate out on their individual stances on various issues, rather than to hear them regurgitate party policy – the two-party system is unfortunately what we are currently stuck with. We are also, unfortunately, stuck with the kind of political hypocrisy that leads to placing the good of the party over the good of the constituents and the nation.
It’s a shame, because the American people deserve better than what they’ve been offered by the two party system. But, in true Catch 22 fashion, they can’t effect any sort of change in that system without voting, and the only candidates likely to win a majority of votes tend to belong to one party or the other. It’s all quite maddening for those of us who don’t walk the hallways of power in D.C. and disillusions a number of potential voters with the process, thus furthering the problems inherent in the two party system.
We can’t rightly say what the solution is, but what we can say is you don’t only have power over candidates on election day. They work for you, and you can call, write, or email their offices to let them know you see their hypocrisy on display and that you plan to vote in November. One voice may not make a difference, but many voices do. So we encourage you to contact your Senator. Call McConnell’s office, and tell the Senator that you see his hypocrisy, and you recognize it for what it is. And while you don’t have to tell them who you are planing on voting for, remind them that you vote, and that if the Senate doesn’t begin to do better, it could always be McConnell seeing his 36 year career in the Senate come to an end on a lopsided vote.
Because while consistency may be a dirty word in the Washington D.C. world of partisan politicians, hypocrisy is a dirty word to their constituents.