It Happens Every Six Years

Posted: Feb 26, 2010 12:01 AM

Every six years, a great change takes place in those Southern senators who are usually go-along-to-get-along Democrats. Instead of voting with the liberals, they're suddenly transformed into conservatives.

The senior senator from Arkansas is a case study in this hexennial phenomenon. In her latest deviation from the party line, Blanche Lincoln has just voted to keep the nomination of a labor lawyer from coming to a vote in the U.S. Senate.

It seems only a little while ago, maybe because it was, that Senator Lincoln was providing key votes for Obamacare. She stopped as Election Day approached and at least half a dozen Republican candidates announced for her seat.

What a difference an election year can make. Or even a special election in Massachusetts, where a Republican -- a Republican! -- was elected to Ted Kennedy's old seat in the Senate. Talk about a shocker. The repercussions were national, as Democrats in Congress backed away from Obamacare.

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Not that Senator Lincoln's vote against this dubious appointment to the National Labor Relations Board wasn't justified on its own merits. Those opposing the nomination of Craig Becker, Esq., took particular note of an article he'd written suggesting that the NLRB could cancel union elections even without Congress' consent. So much for respect for the law.

It's one thing to have spent years representing the most powerful unions in the country -- the AFL-CIO and the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union -- but quite another to suggest ways they could dominate the labor market without going through the inconvenience of an election.

Craig Becker is a long-time supporter of the card-check system that would effectively replace the secret ballot in union elections, but his proposing a way to get around the law represented a new low. Having him serve on a supposedly impartial commission would have been a travesty.

In the end, the vote in this Democrat-dominated Senate was only 52 to 33 for advancing his nomination, well short of the magic number of 60 it takes to close debate.

The other senator from Arkansas did not vote. At least he was being consistent, for you can count on Mark Pryor to stay neutral in any moral crisis. Like a vote for or against the principle of free elections. And not being up for re-election this year, he didn't have to don conservative colors.

As satisfying as the outcome of this particular vote may have been for those of us who put rather a high value on free and impartial elections, there is also something deeply sad about the whole spectacle: Here was a president who has said such fine things about uniting the country behind him, and he was nominating a partisan ideologue to a quasi-judicial position.

I know there are some who don't believe a word Barack Obama says, but I'd like to hold on to the dream that he can bring us together. This nomination shredded that illusion.

Was the president so determined to reward the unions for all the backing they'd given him on the way to the White House that he really didn't care about the basic principles his nominee had dismissed so lightly -- like the rule of law, free elections and the secret ballot?

A president shouldn't be dispensing favors like some Chicago ward heeler. To quote a late great mayor of New York, the one and only Fiorello La Guardia, "My first qualification for this great office is my monumental personal ingratitude."

Barack Obama isn't the first president to make a wholly unsuitable appointment. During the early days of the Clinton administration, a professor of law named Lani Guinier was briefly nominated to head the Civil Rights Division at Justice -- but it turned out she'd written some embarrassing articles espousing race-based elections. And her incautious words had been carefully preserved in various legal journals.

No matter how hard Lani Guinier tried to explain away what she'd written, and how many times she said she really hadn't meant what she'd said, it did her no good. In short, she found herself in much the position Craig Becker did just the other day. Professor Guinier was unceremoniously dumped by the White House, and a cipher found for the position.

It's a lesson the history-free Obama administration is having to learn from scratch: As a matter of practical politics in America, better a blank appointee than someone who not only has devised some outrageous schemes but put them in writing.

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