The Democrats on the whole were even happier. When Robert Byrd, former master-manipulator of Senate rules, comes out and says, echoing Benjamin Franklin, that they have ``kept the Republic,'' you know it is time, if not to fear for your country, then to fret heavily for it.
How did this come about? Just hours before the Gang of 14 hatched their compromise, Bill Frist had the votes for the nuclear option. Frist was going to lose five senators, and that would have meant a 50-50 tie broken by the president of the Senate, Vice President Dick Cheney, in favor of the Republicans.
The five losses were to be expected. Three were New Englanders: two from Maine (Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins) and one from Rhode Island (Lincoln Chaffee). No surprise here. They are a different kind of Republican, the almost extinct liberal Republican, and they might actually have been acting on principle.
Then there is John McCain, who is a party unto himself. Add to that John Warner, who decided to go against his party for what can only be called constitutional vanity. He sees himself as a lion of the Senate. He has been around for so long that perhaps he feels ownership, if not authorship, of the Constitution itself, and he allowed himself to be convinced by Byrd, an even older lion, that together they were saving it.
Had it remained at those five, the judicial filibuster -- the bastard child of Democratic bitterness over recent lost elections -- would now be banished.
Enter two latecomers, DeWine and Lindsey Graham, who were prepared to vote for the nuclear option but decided to cross the aisle and make the tough choice to join the lionized center. They both now say that if the Democrats start to filibuster again, they will defect back to the warm embrace of Bill Frist and go nuclear. Will they be willing to forfeit their newfound celebrity and stature as statesmen? That would be a profile in courage.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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