Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Advise and Consent

With typical double-speak, the Republicans, this time Bill Frist, are showing how to redefine the language to suit their ends. Everyone on the right side of the aisle jeered, and many on the left groaned, when Clinton needed to be told the definition of "is". Since it's a simpler word that "consent", one could forgive them for taking issue. One could go philosophical on them and challenge the definition of "being", etc... but it seems pointless in the present redefinition milieu.

When I hear "consent", I think consensus. For nearly 30 years now (make that since the late '70s), I've been involved in one group or another where the word "consensus" was the decision model. Early in that game, I recall learning to arrive at consensus, you had to avoid straw polls, show-of-hands, and certainly ballots. So, for years, the senate has had a few flavors of super-majority votes, as they are want to call them. Either 60 or 66 senators have been, or still are required for these super-majorities. The fuss arises over confirmation of flaming conservative judicial appointments, some of whom have been rejected in Bush's last court-packing attempt. Frist, giving his portrayal of the simple, moral man, "just want[s] an up or down vote". This of course is the simple majority. Simple majorities for simple folks. He thinks a simple majority is consensus. Time to visit the definition of "is", it seems. The "consent" of the senate should approach "consensus", so I'd say, one thing consent is not -- there's that messy "is" again -- is not one vote over half. That is not consensus. Nor consent.

Since we're picking on the whole package, let's dispel the Advise part too. If the senate is to speak with one voice, which it doesn't, its "advice" would be "send us confirmable judges". Failing that, and getting practical, they say things like "If you send us this name, we'll hold up the others. Is that what you want?" It doesn't take a super-majority to do this, rather the complement of the super-majority. We probably need a word for the super-minority! Their advice is delivered in necessarily negative terms. No reasonable person expects the recommendations of the minority to show up on the list of nominees.

So why is the media giving the Republican leadership a pass on their Orwellian twisting of Consent into meaning a simple majority. I'm sure the major media have writers who can make this simple argument much simpler:

Consent ~ Consensus

consensus >> majority

By the way, I think consensus is achieved when those who will always object, the remaining few see a sufficient number of their ideological brethren accede, probably not without some quid for their quo. But consensus is never "one more than half".

No comments: