Bill Frist looked pained, but then he kind of always does. He was trying to put a shine on the reaming he had just taken. He said there were some good things about the filibuster compromise, and there were some bad things too. He said that in the long run nothing may have actually been settled regarding judicial nominations.
Something must have had Frist spooked, because when minority leader Harry Reid spoke about the deal, Reid, by contrast, was all smiles. Reid also had huevos on his face, but he pointed out that the minority had been heard, the majority had mostly gotten its way, and from Maine to California a nation was breaking out in song.
But poor Frist. It had gotten particularly personal for him. He had lost control of his party. He had thrown in with a bunch of extremist pro-family outfits in the hopes they would break his way in the '08 presidential race. He had seen a pack of veteran Senate bald-spots whip up on him so bad that they made him look like a newbie frat boy doing bad things with a bar of soap. "Welcome to the Senate lounge, young man. This is what we do to ambitious neophyte upstarts around here."
It was all so rich. So insider. So metaphorical. It came as America was being pulled to the extremes by frizzy-headed pro-choice Marxists and creepy hair-blown pastors throwing around the Old Testament and otherwise talking in code. Both extremes were just itching for a fight. That way, all their precious little 501 C-3's would seem that much more relevant, critical, historic. "The Senate is now at war," the interest groups could write in their next fund-raising letter. Well, yeah, and you caused the war to begin with. Starts to turn you in circles after a while.
So Frist took the bait from the pastors, but Lord know whether he even heard John McCain's footsteps from over in Camp Moderate. There the former prisoner of war (you can't script this stuff) who cannot lift his arms above his head owing to repeated torture (in a war that Frist did not take part in) was cobbling together a coalition to save his branch of the constitutional Republic. As soon as the cameras started panning McCain's way, and the media began scripting resolution to what had been a seemingly intractable conflict, Frist's position began to seem indefensible and hopeless.
Truth be told, from day one, the boneheadedness of it all was astonishing. When Frist came out of the gates with the preachers up in Kentucky talking about how you were either on God's side or the other side, he misread his country. Within days, the polling was showing that most Americans thought such talk was pretty radical.
No longer content with invoking God, he beat a retreat into the land of substance. "Every nominee deserves a vote," Frist began saying, over and over. This was powerful stuff, actually, something the Democrats really couldn't argue with. It was the kind of simply drawn statement that, amid the din and the chaos, you had to sit back and listen to and think, "You know, the guy has a point. Judges probably should get an up or down vote." But then he flubbed again. Instead of relying on the power of his argument, he decided to bring along a nuclear bomb to waste the opposition.
Maybe Frist just wanted to look tough. Maybe Cheney was telling him to act like a man. But in the end, what Frist's nuclear option essentially said was this: I must destroy the village in order to save it.
Problem was, upstairs in the lounge, the old Senate lions had grown to love their village.
By nightfall, they had roasted Frist at the stake.
I confess to a liking of the Senate 14 who authored the compromise. I'm tired of the extremes in American life. It's not so much that the extremes don't have a right to say what they want but that our officials pay way too much attention to the extremes. This was not the Great Fight of Our Time, but amid the shrieks of the stupid, the 14 found compromise when the alternative was bad. The 14 should now be given complete control of the Senate chamber and start a new party.
As for our other U.S. senator, Lamar Alexander, he appears to have escaped the fracas without serious injury. Knowing what I do of him, I fully expected him to make it 15, not 14. Then again, perhaps the notion of crossing the state's senior senator, our nation's majority leader, was just too rude. Whatever. I've been waiting patiently for Lamar to pick an important Senate moment in which he might express his Lamar-ness. He just missed it.