Lessons of the Bolton Fight

I’ll come right out and say it: John Bolton’s nomination to UN ambassador may not actually mean the end of the world. He’s a terrible candidate, his antagonism to multilateral institutions is ill-founded, and he’ll probably only further damage our already-trampled credibility abroad, but I don’t think he’s going to bring us to the brink of apocalypse. If anything, his brash insistence on taking the most confrontational stance possible against rogue nations with budding nuclear weapons programs—Iran and North Korea come to mind—might well inspire the few sane officials left in the Bush administration to redouble their efforts at charting a moderate and effective foreign policy. Who knows?

Nevertheless, as Mark Goldberg reports in the American Prospect this month, a lot of good may come of the actual Bolton fight in Congress, which has taught both Democrats and liberal advocacy groups a lot about growing a spine and putting some heft into their punches:

“One of the great things about the Bolton fight is that it reminds the Democrats that political struggle is not always about the win,” a Senate Democratic aide told me, “but about fighting the good fight.” To their credit, the Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tried as best they could to fight this nomination on its merits and keep the partisan rancor to a minimum; for each interview conducted by the minority staff, Biden requested the presence of a Lugar staffer. It was the White House, from a defensive posture, that sought to turn this nomination into a referendum on raw presidential power, spending enormous political capital on a fight that may end up as technically successful but that has come at a high price.

Now if we could just see this sort of fighting spirit take place when Republicans try to screw consumers with draconian bankruptcy bills, or gut Medicaid, or push through an Attorney General who endorses torture, well, we might really get somewhere.