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The big guy's burden

I think I'm getting over my outrage over the Senate "compromise" on judicial nominees and the filibuster, after venting and getting a couple hours' sleep. And with that behind me, I think I can understand a little what the Republicans are going through.

I've always been a "big guy." I've been overweight most of my life. I'm six feet tall, broadly built. When people think of the phrase "pick on someone your own size," they think of saying it to someone who looks kind of like me.

I've also always been a "brain." I started reading early, and in kindergarten was assigned by the teacher to read to some kids while she dealt with the rest of the class. I was part of a gifted and talented program in elementary school. In high school, I was on our high school quiz show on statewide public television. Although I was one of four students, I personally scored 59% of our team's total points through three rounds before being defeated.

(This might sound like bragging, but I'm trying to establish a context here. Trust me, I'm more than aware of my flaws, too.)

Now, with both size and brains on my side, I could have been quite the intimidating presence growing up. But I wasn't, for two reasons. One was, I lacked (and still lack) a great deal in the social skills department. But the other was that I was far more interested in being liked than being respected or feared. And in that quest, I deliberately downplayed my strengths in a (ultimately futile) quest to fit in, find a niche, and be liked.

One of the worst consequence of that decision was that the traditional targets of abuse and bullying (the small, the weak, and the like) saw me as an easy target. They could salve their own wounds by abusing me. It made them feel bigger by making me feel smaller.

And they knew I wouldn't hit back. I was the "big guy," and any attempt to fight back would cast me as the bad guy, the bully, and I'd face the punishment. And since I was the "big guy," I could obviously take it a lot better than the "little guys," so the teachers and other authority figures didn't take it as seriously.

On one or two occasions I didn't just take it. I'd get fed up and lash back. One time I snapped, picked up one particularly annoying pipsqueak, and threw him over a snowbank. Even though this was after prolonged taunting and other phyical provocations, I was still punished for "picking on the little kid."

It continues to this day. I deliberately keep myself from appearing intimidating. I clown around. I specialize in self-denigrating humor. Hell, I even let myself act physically intimidated by a woman I work with, even though I loom over her by a good eight inches and outweigh her by a factor of 2.5 or so.

I think that's comparable to the Republicans in Washington. They spent decades as the minority party, never holding the reins unchallenged. They've always had a Democratic majority in at least one area (the House, the Senate, the Presidency), and have defined themselves as the underdogs, struggling against the established Democratic machine.

But no more. For years, nay decades, they've fought to win all three branches cited above. And now that they've finally achieved it, they don't quite know how to act.

They do know a few things, though. They are used to being pushed around, and even though they resent it, it's comfortable and they know how to deal with it. So they let the Democrats push them around.

And they remember what it's like to be run roughshod over by a majority, and they damned sure don't want to be seen as doing exactly the same thing that got them so outraged.

And the Democrats couldn't be happier. They keep losing elections, but apparently that doesn't matter. Their power is slightly diminished, but that just means that they can't keep advancing their agenda. Instead, they can just keep stalling and blocking the Republicans from advancing theirs. Their plan seems to be to simply keep things as they are until they can regain dominance again. It's the political version of World War I trench warfare, where the fighting keeps going on and on, but not much really changes.

The Republicans need to learn to be comfortable with their size -- something I still don't know how to do. They need to discover how to use their power and authority (granted by the voters in elections) without abusing it. They need to learn how to use their clout without abusing it.

Or they can get used to spinning their wheels and going nowhere, which will suit their opponents just fine. Because eventually those voters who gave them those majorities will get fed up with waiting and abandon them.

In fact, it's starting already. I just hope it isn't too late.


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Comments (23)

Let's all give a big one fo... (Below threshold)

Let's all give a big one for JT:

Awwwwwwwwwhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh :(

Jay Tea... I know alot of l... (Below threshold)
Zsa Zsa:

Jay Tea... I know alot of little guys who are bullies...I think you are just sweet! No matter what your size. Some people are just predispositioned to be dumb little mouthy thugs! For instance. You are a big, intelligent, cool, funny guy who isn't pushy and loud. . .
In other words that is the difference between people, and in this case the Democrats and Republicans... Do you see?

I see your point, and I thi... (Below threshold)

I see your point, and I think it's probably pretty valid. For Senate Republicans, anyway. House Republicans have gotten plenty use to their size, and look how the MSM treat Tom DeLay.

Not to suggest that that's a reason to back off the GOP agenda. You're right, Republican senators need to get used to (hell, even relish) the idea of being treated like Tom DeLay. If you're pissing off the media, you're probably doing something right.

I think half the problem wi... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

I think half the problem with the GOP senators is that they don't know how to lead as the majority party.

They are still trying too hard to make everyone like them, rather than stand up for the things that got them elected in the first place.

30 years ago, if the republ... (Below threshold)

30 years ago, if the republicans 'misbehaved' the entire media would stack up against them to keep them in their place. There was no 'mainstream media' then - the term MSM implies some kind of alternative, and back then we had, what, George Will and William F. Buckley? That was it.

That has all changed. Now the media itself is a target precisely for its bias against the republicans. Fox, Limbaugh, Hannity and the blogs can call down a virtual firestorm when the democrats get out of line.

The republicans don't need to worry about being 'liked' anymore. If the republicans were to play hardball, they would realize that now, many powerful opinion outlets will back them up.

It would be like a kid getting picked on all the time, that suddenly has support from school officials and teachers. A much stronger position, no?

whether there's 51, 55 or 6... (Below threshold)

whether there's 51, 55 or 65 of them, each one of those Senators comes from his own state, and he alone has to answer to them. A majority cannot aford to demand that all of its members act monolitically, all the time. I'm a little tired of hearing the term RINO applied to people like Snowe, Collins and Chaffee -- if they voted the way Trent Lott voted all the time, they'd be gone in a heartbeat. INO according to whom?

JT-I understand your point,... (Below threshold)
Scott H:

JT-I understand your point, but I have to disagree.

My problem with the Republicans is that they are begining to tread down the all too-worn path of majorityitis...just as the Democrats did. Rather than being unsure of how to lead, they are instead becoming the bullies.

I would expect that kind of behavior in the House, since it is designed for the expression of popular/majority will. And I really have never had a problem with either party exercising their political strength to the fullest in that part of the Legislative branch.

When it comes to the Senate, that is a different matter. The Founding Fathers created the Senate precisely to be the break on the majority. They feared popular democracy, with great reason, which is why they established a Republic.

The Senate is the only protection the minority has within our government; it is the only place where they can exert any leverage on policy...and as a result check the will of the majority. Does that mean that the majority is sometimes frustrated and can't achieve its policy aims? Absolutely. And that's the point.

There is no guarantee that just because a party has achieved majority status, and even control of all three branches of government, that it can't become a threat to liberty. The Founders knew that, and feared exactly that kind of result.

What troubled me is the Republican's attempt to remove a very serious check on the power of any majority. Take away, or reduce, that check and the nature of our government has changed. We would no longer be a republic, instead we'll have opened the door to a parlimentary dictatorship. For an example,one only needs to look at the UK under Blair.

Blair has systematically stripped the House of Lords of any power to check the majority's will. It has, in essence, turned the UK into a majoritarian dictatorship...whatever the majority party wants it can get and anyone else's opinion doesn't count.

That is the very thing the Senate was designed to prevent...and the filibuster is the key check the minority has. Limit, or remove that, and what reason does the President, or the majority, have to seek the advice and consent of the minority?

If the majority has no pressure to seek the advice and consent of the minority, then what is the check and balance against anything the majority wants to do? And if the majority can do anything it wants, without consequence or hinderence,then we no longer have liberty. Instead we have a dictatorship of the majority.

Jay T, I am not a Democrat. I am a libertarian conservative. The Founders designed a system of government that would make it as difficult as possible for any group to achieve total political power. And I fear any group that seriously attempts to change that system, does so at this republic's peril.

I see no reason why the Republican party should be expected to behave any differently than the Democrats. Both are made up of humans, and humans are corrupted by power.

Put aside party lables, and ask yourself one question...do you want a republic that protects it minorities or a democracy that exercises popular will without constraint?

I know my answer, and I think history and the Federalist Papers tells us the Founding Fathers' answer. I am not at all sure what today's Republican party would answer.


Scott how much you want to ... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Scott how much you want to be, when the dems get control of the senate again, if the GOP tries a similar fillibuster tactic that fillubuster on judicial nominees you think is such a wonderful think, will very quickly get dispatched and there won't be one anymore.

Sorry, I don't see bully anywhere in the GOP senate right now, all I see are a bunch of wimps too scared the dems are going to call them names if they try to advance anything remotely resembling conservative policy.

I was the "little guy" grow... (Below threshold)

I was the "little guy" growin' up (98lbs as a senior) and figured out the best thing to do is make friends with a few "big guys" like you J.

It's the size of yur heart that means more to most.

I think the Senate Majority (in their infancy) are still trying make everyone happy and, not realizing they are "the big guys and gals" now, they are still timid about flexing their muscles without appearing to look like the "bullies". I, for one am enjoying this "leadership" conservatives have longed for, (growing pains abounding), and lookin forward to an extended stay as the "big guy on the block".

" I was on our high school ... (Below threshold)

" I was on our high school quiz show on statewide public television. Although I was one of four students, I personally scored 59% of our team's total points through three rounds before being defeated."

Granite State Challenge? Used to watch that religiously once upon a time. More fun than "Jeopardy!" when it came to yelling answers at the screen.

Just me, I'll take your bet... (Below threshold)

Just me, I'll take your bet -- but only if during the Republican majority, there's no rule change.

Seriously, though, there wa... (Below threshold)

Seriously, though, there was really no way for the Republicans to get a "victory" out of this situation. If they went "nucular" and changed the rules the media would never let up decrying their "kingmaking", "dismantling the Constitution, or other such. If they folded there would be no denying an absolute defeat.

What they have done here is pretty slick. Basically, they get 3 of their most desired nominees a vote (which they will sail through) at the cost of 1. Saad was probably not going to get confirmed anyway so that was a throwaway concession. Meanwhile the Punditocracy is basically split on who won. If the MSM can't make up its mind I would call that a victory. Probably the best outcome the R's can hope for.

Republican legislators are ... (Below threshold)
David Blue:

Republican legislators are giving away what does not belong to them.

The main losers from this deal are conservative judges. (And that will have consequence. I thought conservatives were supposed to know how incentives work?)

The second loser is the executive, which is practically the Republican branch of the federal government. The Republican president's power of appointment has been diminished.

If you think that in order to avoid being a bully, you should not only allow other people to be robbed but yourself help to rob them, I think you are taking self-restraint too far.

Just me- Do I doubt ... (Below threshold)
Scott H:

Just me-
Do I doubt that the Democrats would try the same thing? Not at all. But that doesn't mean conservative Republicans should act like them.

My point was that the filibuster is a key part of the protections against a dictatorship of the majority. The party that makes up that majority is irrelevant.

As a libertarian conservative I see no difference whether government power expands under the cloak of socialism, social conservatism or a never-ending war on "terror".

I do find we conservatives open ourselves up against a charge of hypocracy because we so often preach about liberty, small government and restraint...and when given power we immediately begin acting like every Democratic pork-barrel, big-government loving politician.

But then, I began to worry about the Republican party when Barry Goldwater was no longer considered conservative enough.


A gentle giant? Women love ... (Below threshold)

A gentle giant? Women love them.

Three years, eight months a... (Below threshold)
Just John:

Three years, eight months and eight days was the length of time from Pearl Harbor to VJ Day. Three years, eight months and eight days from 9/11 we're still stuck in a make believe war with no enemy and no end in sight.

And Just John still can't p... (Below threshold)

And Just John still can't post an on-topic comment.

And they remember what i... (Below threshold)

And they remember what it's like to be run roughshod over by a majority, and they damned sure don't want to be seen as doing exactly the same thing that got them so outraged.


Scott, thanks for your comm... (Below threshold)

Scott, thanks for your comments...I have never seen or heard the filibuster issue put so succinctly. It really doesn't matter which party is trying to change the rules for their benefit, it's simply wrong to errode our system of checks and balances. I consider my self a liberal and, believe it or not, wouldn't want a Democratic majority party to pull the same kind of crap that's currently going on in the Senate. Both parties are guilty of power grabs so each should remember what it's like to be on the minority side.

Ah yes, I remember it well.... (Below threshold)

Ah yes, I remember it well. After toiling for so long under the harsh yoke of the Democrats, the shy and withdrawing Republican minority gained controlled of the Senate in 1994. So demur and awkward they hardly knew what to do and so blocked over 200 of Clinton's judicial nominees. So young, so unsure of themselves.

Then Bush became president and the Republicans, like young boys timidly learning the ways of the world, began to whittle away at the rules that they enjoyed so, uh, liberally, to block Clinton's judicial nominees. It used to be that it only took one senator from the nominated judge's home state to "blue slip" or block a nomination. Well, beginning in 2001 the Republicans, those perennial wilting flowers, so unsure of how to yield their new found power, added the extra restriction that both senators had to blue slip a nomination to kill it. Then, of course, the Republicans, like gangly-legged colts taking their first steps, decided what the hell, home state dissent would only be advisory. Then the Republicans, blush with embarrassment at their new and awkward strength, did away with Rule IV which gave a minority member of the committee a say in which nominations went to the floor. Then, those unsure and wobbly kneed Republicans, gentle giants to the last, reached out with trembling hand to end the fillibuster, the last remaining obstacle to their humble and naive dream of stacking the Supreme Court with far right activist judges. Aw, aren't they just the cutest.

you can read all about it here:

"So demur and awkward they ... (Below threshold)

"So demur and awkward they hardly knew what to do and so blocked over 200 of Clinton's judicial nominees. So young, so unsure of themselves."

So many facts swimming in my head: the 200 number is actually the number of Bush nominees (out of 240) that the Democrats have approved. Meanwhile, the Republicans, those well-meaning wallflowers, oh so longing to be liked be all, denied over 60 of Clinton's nominees an up or down vote.

Jay,There is nothi... (Below threshold)


There is nothing about you that's intimidating; you seem confident and at ease with whatever size you are and I would never compare you with the republicans who aren't fighting back against what the democrats are doing, the bullies as they are using whatever means they can to stop any Republican candidate picked by Bush for a position even if they are well-qualified, YOU are better than you think; it's time to bring out your intelligence and smarts and your confidence and stop hiding in the closet.


Okay, the first part of you... (Below threshold)

Okay, the first part of your column wasn't the point (exactly) but I've always been mystified how folks are proud/ashamed of what or who they are. We didn't choose ourselves. If a person is outstanding (good or bad or ugly) the credit or fault lies with your creator (God or evolution). Why all the tears or cheering?

The goal is to accept who you are and live both within the parameters and to the limits of your abilities. This would apply to groups as well as individuals. When Republicans find themselves in command they should unashamedly use that situation, not for personal or despotic ends, but to further the issues that carried them to the majority position.

Hubris is taking yourself too seriously; humility is not the opposite, which would be handicapping, but is the acceptance that the credit for our good qualities lies elsewhere from ourselves.






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