The Bizarrely Named 'Nuclear Option' Did Not 'Humiliate' Republicans

Dubious terminology in reporting on the end of filibusters for the president's nominees
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Senate Democrats ended the filibuster for most presidential nominees this week in a move that's been dubbed "the nuclear option," despite the fact that, even metaphorically, it shares virtually no characteristics with the detonation of a nuclear bomb.*

"President Obama will get a short-term lift for his nominees, judicial and otherwise," the New York Times states, "but over the immediate horizon, the strong-arm move by Senate Democrats on Thursday to limit filibusters could usher in an era of rank partisan warfare beyond even what Americans have seen in the past five years." That article goes on to state that "for the foreseeable future, Republicans, wounded and eager to show they have not been stripped of all power, are far more likely to unify against the Democrats who humiliated them in such dramatic fashion."

Now hold on just a minute. 

Perhaps there are Republican Senators who feel humiliated by this move. If so, there isn't anything wrong with the newspaper reporting that (preferably with evidence). But if this really is regarded as a "humiliation," then there's a more important story that needs telling. To humiliate someone is to make them feel "ashamed and foolish" by "injuring their dignity and self-respect." It would be totally irrational for Senate Republicans to feel humiliated by this loss of leverage on nominees. Dignity and self-respect are not implicated in party-line votes on Senate rules. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a muddleheaded narcissist with entitlement problems whom political journalists ought to expose: 

Senator X acknowledged today that when the majority party stripped him of the ability to block majoritarian votes on judicial nominees last week, he regarded it as a personal affront to his dignity that also diminished his self-respect. Asked why Senate colleagues pursuing rule changes would have the capacity to humiliate him, despite the fact that their actions have nothing to do with him personally, he explained that he's spent too long in an insular world that irrationally personalizes all manner of things to the determinant of the country, and that the political press uncritically adopts that frame in its reporting.

Informed that most people would find it far more humiliating to constantly call people on the phone and ask them for money, pander to the lowest common denominator of the public at large, and cater to moneyed interests rather than the public good, he smiled with whitened teeth offset by artificially tanned skin and shrugged. 

Now that would be an awesome article.


*What are they going to call it if the filibuster is ever done away with entirely, the global-nuclear-holocaust option? Asteroid apocalypse? Efilibusterbola?

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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