Democrats call the Republican proposal to block their ability to filibuster judicial nominations, the so-called nuclear option, "unprecedented." Well, it is. Since prior to Bush's election the filibuster was never used to routinely block judicial nominations, of course no one ever thought before of ending the possibility of using it for that purpose.
Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell has been trotted out to make the case against the proposed Republican rules change. "Neither I nor any other senator," he said the other day, recalling his time as majority leader in the early 1990s, "ever dreamed of taking the kind of drastic action now being proposed." This is laughable. Not only have various proposals to curtail the filibuster been kicked around for years, including one sponsored by Democrats in 1995, but Mitchell himself said of filibusters on CNN in 1994, "We should limit the opportunities for their use much more than is now the case."
Typical partisan hypocrisy is at play here, of course. Whichever party is in the minority will love the filibuster most. But something deeper is at work too. When you have little positive to offer and the tide of history seems to be moving against you, obstruction ? whether through opportunistic federalism or the filibuster ? becomes not just a tactic, but a kind of sacred cause. Just ask Senator Eastland.