Paul Greenberg

Where do these people think they are, the House of Commons? The other day the U.S. Senate, sometimes laughingly referred to as the World's Greatest Deliberative Body, considered a motion of no confidence in the country's attorney general.

To what end? There is no constitutional provision in this country for a vote of no confidence. It's a parliamentary, not congressional, maneuver. And should remain so. Let's leave it to the Brits-like cricket, haggis and toad-in-a-hole.

In a parliamentary system, a government that loses a vote of no confidence is toppled and may even have to face new elections. Here our chief executive serves for a fixed term-four years, for all you civics students out there-and the members of his Cabinet, including the attorney general, and, yes, all those federal prosecutors who just got fired, serve at his pleasure. Not at the pleasure of the U.S. Senate.

So what was the point of this motion of no confidence?

The short answer: none at all.

The news stories kept referring to the vote as "symbolic." It would have been a way to signal the Senate's displeasure with the current attorney general. A particularly pretentious way. Like putting on an English accent. Like the ones you hear these days on tonier office receptionists and NPR. Trendy bunch, these senators.

Why not just pass a good ol', all-American resolution of censure? That's what the Whigs did to Andrew Jackson-before the Jacksonians came back in the next election and expunged the resolution from the Senate journal in a boisterous ceremony. Resolutions of censure can backfire.

Even if this if this vote of no confidence had passed-instead, it failed to garner the 60 votes required to proceed-the effect would have been the same: nothing at all. Symbolic votes are just that, only symbolic.

It's the president of the United States, currently one George W. Bush, who gets to pick the members of his Cabinet, including the attorney general. Here's what he had to say about the Senate's action, or lack of same, last week: "They can have their votes of no confidence, but it isn't going to make the determination about who serves in my government."

Linguistic note: In his typical (awful) way with words, the president tends to use the terms administration and government interchangeably, but that's a whole other problem. The problem with the Senate, at least this week, is that it seems to have confused itself with a European parliament.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.