The Upside of Being a Lunatic

| Wed Sep. 7, 2011 11:10 AM EDT

Sen. Richard Shelby (R–Fuhgeddaboutit) says he's mighty impressed by Richard Cordray, President Obama's pick to head up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Jon Cohn explains what this means in real life:

So is Cordray on track for confirmation? Of course not. As Shelby made crystal clear, he and his fellow Republicans really don't care about Cordray's qualifications right now. They care about the board itself. They don't like it. Until Obama and the Democrats agree to modify it to suit conservative tastes, the Republicans won't confirm anybody to run it.

....Brookings scholar and historian Thomas Mann has called this practice a "modern-day form of nullification." I agree — and I think it's worth pondering just what that means.

The consumer protection agency exists because one year ago a majority of democratically elected lawmakers passed a law and a democratically elected president signed it. Now a minority of Senators representing a minority of the country are exploiting their procedural powers (i.e., using the filibuster) to prevent that law from taking effect.

That's undemocratic. And I mean that with a small "d."

Republicans can get away with this because (a) nobody cares about presidential appointments below the cabinet level, and (b) as I mentioned a few days ago, Republicans are expected to hold lunatic views and reporters simply give them a pass on it. At its core, the press doesn't really consider this stuff spiteful or petty or partisan or dangerous or anything like that. Sure, we're being treated to the spectacle of a bunch of constitutional conservatives explicitly abandoning their black letter constitutional duty to advise and consent, but hey. It's just Republicans being Republicans, and it's considered completely sincere no matter how crazy it is.

Democrats, of course, could do the same thing to the next Republican president, but it wouldn't work. Conservatives have a huge megaphone that's able to whip its audience into a wee bit more of a frenzy than the New York Times editorial page, and the mainstream press would play along by reporting the Democratic actions as pure political payback. Which would be true, of course. But that's not how they report Republican obstructionism, when they bother reporting it at all. Democrats don't get the benefit of being thought sincerely crazy. Republicans do.

I guess you can run a country this way. Not well, of course, but then, that's what they said about the dancing bear too.

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