Republicans weren't happy. But then, like iguanas and Klingons, they never are.
Their latest bit of misery flowed from Senate Democrats' willingness to use the filibuster (or the threat of it) to block a few of President Bush's more objectionable (read: right-wingiest) judicial nominations. So, to remedy this intolerable situation, they hatched a plan, a diabolically clever plan, that would allow them to rewrite Senate rules and eliminate the filibuster as a weapon/tactic. This plan, due to its extreme and desperate nature, was dubbed the "nuclear option."
The public, however, in an increasingly, disturbingly rare rejection of conservatives' tough love (or is it benevolent hate?), was less than enthusiastic regarding the nuclear option. For this reason, Republicans, ever mindful of maintaining their re-electability until such time as they can safely suspend free elections, quickly drafted several less drastic, less inflammatory, less autocratic alternatives. These rule changes would, they hoped, be more palatable to the public while still minimizing or negating the use of the filibuster.
Of course, the whole matter came to nothing as the two parties reached a last-minute compromise. And for once, it seems, the Democrats compromised wisely. And if you don't think so, just look at the "non-nuclear" options the Republican leadership was ready to launch:
The Porch Furniture Option:Filibusters called to prevent the confirmation of judicial nominees would still be permitted but, in an attempt to keep them short, the senator who holds the floor must be dressed only in briefs (plus a bra for female senators) and sit in a cushionless, unpainted, coarse-weave wicker chair.
The Circle of Doofuses Option: At the time a filibuster begins, all minority party members of the Judiciary Committee shall start a game of Hacky Sack. Their speechifying colleagues may address the chamber for as long as the sack is kept aloft without the use of hands.
The Droogs Option: For every minute a senator filibusters he agrees to submit to a matching minute of Clockwork Orange-like "reconditioning." That is, s/he will be strapped in a chair and forced to unblinkingly watch a mind-bending barrage of film and news footage depicting the "liberal nightmare" s/he helped create, is part of and is working to perpetuate. The video, already in production, features scenes sure to pierce the psyche and crack the will of any fuzzy-headed freethinker, including the 1968 Democratic Convention protests, Michael Dukakis riding in a tank, the "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" clip, the Iran hostage crisis, atheists performing abortions on school children reading pornography (courtesy: Fox News) and women and blacks voting. The soundtrack, designed to assist in and accelerate the reprogramming process, is a heinous brew of Christian Rock and Young Country.
The "Hey, Is It Too Late to Get You Guys to Go Back to the Nuclear Option?" Option: Filibusters may proceed as they always have, with no limits on frequency or duration. The HIITLGYGGBNO Option, however, stipulates that neither the senator who holds the floor nor his/her campaign organization nor his/her political party may engage in any fund-raising activities for the duration of the filibustering period. Democrats -- knowing that any sustained reduction in campaign contributions could quickly reduce them from a vanishing party of hopeless losers to a vanishing party of hopeless, penniless losers -- have already announced a major direct mail effort soliciting donations to their "Save the Fund-raising Fund."
The Legally Above the Law Option: In some ways similar to the HIITLGYGGBNO Option, but the LAL Option states that for the full duration of any filibuster Tom DeLay may engage in whatever dubious fund-raising/vote-selling activities he so chooses without being in violation of House ethics rules.
The Manure Option: All filibusters shall consist exclusively of paeans to and/or about Ronald Reagan.
The Catch-22 Option: Should an opposition senator sincerely feel that a Bush judicial nominee is outside the mainstream and dangerous to the American way of life, this is proof that s/he is rational and therefore has the obligation to filibuster. But when a senator attempts to block an up-or-down floor vote on a judicial nominee by engaging in a filibuster, this proves s/he's crazy power-mad and should be forcefully removed from the Senate and committed to a state-run mental institution.
The New American Paradigm Option: Democrats shall retain the right to block a floor vote, but the Republican majority -- taking a page from the Alberto Gonzales/Abu Ghraib Prison book -- shall now consider themselves exempt from accepted standards of conduct, from the "rules of engagement," as it were. This exemption means that minority party senators will not so much filibuster as be "coercively interrogated" by their colleagues across the aisle. It remains to be seen if senators will be willing to oppose a nominee when it means being subjected to electric shocks while standing on a small box for hours, being lead around at the end of a dog's leash and/or forced to form a naked "human pyramid" with the likes of Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd and Hillary Clinton. The politician's natural fear of telling the truth may also cause our elected officials to think twice before daring to doubt a presidentially handpicked jurist.
BOB WOODIWISS: His column appears here the last issue of each month. His book, Keys to Uncomfortable Living, a collection of humorous and satirical essays, is in bookstores now.