Lurking beneath all of the post Sept. 11 rhetoric about bipartisan handholding, there resides one single resounding fact: President Bush has nearly 110 federal judgeships to fill.
These positions are key because they could play a crucial role in pushing test cases through the federal courts that would impact issues such as abortion rights, civil rights, consumer protection, hate crimes and environmental policies. In an even broader sense, these test cases could help shift the balance of constitutional power from the federal to the state government.
In short, these federal judges will be deliberating on the doctrines that most clearly separate Republicans from Democrats.
Pre-Sept. 11, the nomination process promised to turn red of tooth and claw. Democrats were preparing to dig in their heels and block many of the nominations. The Republicans were prepared to savage their opponents for stalemating the process.
If, at the time, the infighting seemed particularly sloppy, it should be noted that this is exactly what the founding fathers had intended. Plainly, the maintenance of our representative democracy was not supposed to be easy. Neat, plausible solutions were the work of highly centralized dictatorships, and inertia. Rather, our founding father bravely trusted that the friction of a diverse group of legislators would be the better part of this nation's progress.
Of course, post Sept. 11, the nomination of some federal judges seemed suddenly inconsequential to a country grappling with the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil.
Accordingly, our leaders showed unity.
"We're a family, we're Americans," Congressman Edolphus Towns (D, NY), told me over breakfast shortly following the attack. "Families fall out. But when someone attacks us, we need to stand together."
That's sweet. It's also code for - no legislator wanted to provoke the ugly face of partisanship while the nation was still searching for a sense of order. Plainly, a centralized response would signal to the public that the United States would stand strong against a common enemy. Indeed, one would have to be pretty egocentric not to realize this was what the public needed.
Over the past couple weeks, though, the mood has again shifted. One hears rumors of partisan bickering. The battle over the judicial nominations has begun to stir again. Both sides of Congress have begun to snipe over the economic stimulus package and airport security. Then: full flown public accusations by both parties that the other side's resistance is hampering the war effort.
This brought me joy!
Plainly, the partisan infighting is the clearest sign that our representatives are back to doing what they were elected to do - fighting like hell over core beliefs.
This is not bad. Rather it is the clearest indication of the nation's well-being. I vote yes to intellectual friction and representative democracy.
After all, the friction of diverse viewpoints has always been the defining characteristic of our representative democracy.