Excerpt from the second column:
True, seven Republicans broke from their party in agreeing to abjure the "nuclear option," but seven Democrats also broke from theirs to allow votes on at least three nominees whom fellow Dems had spent years smearing as "extremist" and "out of the mainstream." And since the Senate has fewer Democrats than Republicans, the Democrats are actually the more divided party: 15.6% of Dems joined the compromise, vs. just 12.7% of Republicans.
The Democrats didn't begin using the filibuster right away when President Bush took office; they didn't need to. In 2001-02, after Jim Jeffords switched parties, the Democrats held a majority and were able to stop judges via party-line vote in the Judiciary Committee. The Republicans' two-seat net gain in the 2002 election gave the GOP the majority, whereupon the Democrats began employing the filibuster in 2003-04. In doing so, they showed an impressive unity. For once they actually seemed like an organized political party.
But the filibuster strategy was based on political assumptions that turned out to be faulty. In 2003-04, Senate Democrats thought they were running out the clock on a one-term president. Their plan for the 109th Congress was for Majority Leader Tom Daschle to shepherd through President Kerry's judicial nominees.
Instead, President Bush won re-election, and the Republicans won eight of nine contested Senate races. John Kerry* is still a senator, and Tom Daschle isn't. And the only Democrat to win a close Senate race, Ken Salazar of Colorado, said during his campaign that he opposed the judicial filibuster. Not surprisingly, Salazar was one of the seven compromising Democrats.
Did the Democrats really want to go through all this again? Well, some no doubt did. Hate is more important than success to the likes of Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy, and in any case senators from liberal states are unlikely to pay a price for obstructionism. But the filibuster strategy runs counter to the inclinations and political interests of a substantial minority of Democrats, including, as we noted yesterday, at least five of the seven compromisers.
From where we sit, then, the actions of the Republican compromisers look like not a capitulation but a way of letting Democrats back down from a losing position without being humiliated.