GOP Stall Tactics as an Art Form

The Volokh Conspiracy recalls a list of tactics promulgated by the OSS for use by allied agents in positions of responsibility inside Nazi Germany — the name of the game, apparently, was to maximize damage while maintaining your cover, by using feigned incompetence and stalling to generate the kinds of failures that are equally attributable to either malice, or just forgivable incompetence.

Clever, but these tactics should all strike a more familiar and menacing chord. They might as well be copied out of the playbook of the Republican opposition, the one they’ve been running day in and day out since January 20, 2009. Examples:

  • (3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.”  Attempt to make the committees as large as possible–never less than five.
  • (4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
    • Is President Obama a citizen?
    • Is he a socialist? Is he patriotic?
    • Does he use the phrase “Islamic fundamentalism,” or other buzzwords, enough?
    • Is any attempt to tinker with financial policy a tax hike?
    • Will health care reform (somehow) lead to euthanasia?
    • The list goes on — and includes the acknowledged practice of filing frivolous amendments to upset a delicate consensus.
  • (7) Advocate “caution.”  Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  • (8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision–raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.
    • Has the Republican caucus ever not raised a constitutional objection to a major policy decision?
    • Politicians should make such objections — but only when they have a good faith basis for it, the kind that’s lacking in, say, the health care reform “litigation.”

Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator they are not, but the Republican Party knows what they’re doing.


  1. I guess you weren’t watching the news during the Bush years. You’re describing politics Ames – not a GOP-specific phenomenon.

  2. Not really. Have you ever seen such monumental distraction-politics? Or such abuse of the filibuster?

    1. Distraction politics? I thought you were a student of history? See:

      “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?”


      Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States

      Shall I continue? You’re better than that Ames. Hyperbole for the historically ignorant is cheap blogging.

      As for use of the filibuster…it’s been steadily on the rise since the 1970s.

      I suspect it will continue to be used more frequesntly with each successive congress, regardless of who is in power.

    2. “You can do better” is a sly way to make a wounding argument without any real substance.

      But really — has the GOP EVER engaged on the merits? On ANY of the main issues for the past year? And I don’t mean Republican blogs, I mean mainline politicians.

      Also, re: filibuster,


      1. Ames – there is no constitutional requirement that the minority participate in the majority’s agenda. They have every right to oppose it and the voters will determine if they approve of that strategy.

        I also don’t see the real problem with filibusters. Is it not more principled to protect the public from bad legislation than to allow it to go through?

        1. You’re assuming that all legislation subject to filibuster is bad legislation, when the opposite is often true; it’s also not really germane to the discussion, to be honest. Obstructionism for the sake of it is no virtue, whether the legislation in question is good or bad.

          1. You’re assuming that the GOP thinks that some of the legislation is good and filibusters anyway. If you fundamentally disagree with the legislation being opposed, it doesn’t matter what the assessment of others is. You have an obligation to try and kill it.

            1. Except that’s not really the point at issue; the GOP isn’t generally fundamentally opposed to what the Democrats are proposing most of the time – until the Democrats propose it. Might I remind you that during the recent HCR debates the Republicans in general did everything they could to sink it, even though the idea of compulsory insurance has been a mainstay of Republican thought since the HillaryCare debacle?

              1. But that was just one part of a huge agenda the Right didn’t trust. The end-goal for most liberals is universal healthcare. Why support incremental steps towards that?

                1. You say “universal healthcare” like it’s a bad thing.

                  As to incremental steps – possibly, but the other aspect is that it’s a Republican idea disavowed solely on the basis of partisanship, which leads to the charge of obstructionism for the sake of it having a little more weight.

                  1. But the thing is that the Left won’t stop there – when their stated goal is universal healthcare why support the eventual bastardization of a good idea.

          2. Filibustering isn’t so established a part of debate as to include it in the toolbox of procedural devices used in the ordinary course. It’s long been understood as a last-resort for use only on Big Things; Republicans framed it that way as recently as the last Presidency, when Democrats used the filibuster to stop ONLY things like the Roberts and Alito confirmations. Time has vindicated those decisions. Comparatively, EVERY piece of Democratic legislation has been subject to a serious threat, or the actuality of a filibuster, effectively turning the Senate into a supermajority chamber. There’s a line past which a valuable exception becomes, by overuse, a pernicious rule. The GOP has pushed the filibuster to that point.

            1. There are no defined rules for the filibuster. As I said, if it’s being used incorrectly, in the opinion of the electorate, that’s why we have elections. You’re still laboring under the assumption that the public wants Congress to be doing all of these things. Their dismal approval rating leads me to believe that the public would prefer inaction to them screwing things up. As David Brooks has said, good legislation has a minimal impact on people’s lives but bad legislation can have a tremendous impact. I’d prefer we err on the side of caution.

              1. Oneiroi · ·

                Caution unless it’s about oil drilling ;)

                (sorry couldn’t help myself)

                1. Well, crude oil is several million years old and made up of obsolete life forms, so I guess it’s only natural that Conservatives would feel an affinity for it.

                  (I’ll get me coat.)

          3. Let’s also not forget about “secret holds.” 13 secret-held nominees this time in Bush’s administration; 120 in Obama’s. Hundreds of completely unimportant positions unfilled, because they’re being held, for no stated objection, or the case of Coburn, a stated non-objection.

        2. Ames – there is no constitutional requirement that the minority participate in the majority’s agenda. They have every right to oppose it and the voters will determine if they approve of that strategy.

          Mike, while I agree that the minority has a right to oppose, I don’t see why that means they must work so hard to keep stuff off the table in the first place. By not voting for cloture, and then recording votes against important legislation, the GOP makes two tactical errors. First, it allows the Democrats to prattle on and on about how we’ll never know if an idea would have worked or not because their version never got to a vote, and second, it makes them look like they have no alternate ideas to offer themselves. Why should voters return the GOP to Congressional power if there’s nothing to return but a hollow shell?

          1. It’s not my impression that they actually do have ideas to offer.

          2. When you say ‘alternative ideas’ you’re suggesting that that the legislation is needed in the first place. As an example I would point to social security reform under Bush. Liberals decided that there was no actual need for reform and thus offered no alternative ideas. I would argue that they have taken a similar approach to education reform while it has been the Right that has offered most of the groundbreaking ideas in the last 10 years.

            If the GOP offers no alternatives to the current liberal agenda it doesn’t mean that they have no ideas, it might just mean they think nothing needs to be done. Keep in mind that CONSERVATISM is rooted in an affinity for the institutions we have. Liberalism is rooted in the notion that all institutions are flawed and they must constantly be reformed. This speaks to the very heart of political philosophy.

            1. Ok, so if you have no new ideas (!) then what’s wrong with letting ideas you oppose come to the floor and be voted up or down? It seems to me that the GOP COULD make a lot of politicla headway if it allowed actual voting, instead of running everything into a wall.

              And you are right, we liberals do believe any institutions are flawed, because they are created by people how are flawed. But you are wrong to say that we lack affinity for the institutions we have.

              1. Let’s use an extreme example: Suppose you propose new legislation that would ban all Americans from traveling across state lines. What is the correct thing for me to do as the opposition? Let it come to a vote and possibly pass or filibuster? Maybe they are being extreme but the GOP leadership feels that way about a LOT of the liberal agenda. So, from their perspective, it’s better to protect the public from bad ideas rather than chance a vote.

                1. Well, that sure is an extreme example. The correct thing to do is fillibuster, although to suppose that there’s actually a risk of such legislation passing is quite a bizarre hypothetical.

                  But the GOP is essentially saying that the entire liberal agenda is so extreme it cannot be put to a vote for fear it may pass. It’s the entire agenda. As in, what people voted for. Even a duly elected majority may stray far from the public’s wishes on individual wishes, what we have here is a minority that is fearful to let the majority enact any of its agenda. That majority doesn’t agree with the GOP’s view of what’s right or wrong for this country.

                  1. But the GOP is essentially saying that the entire liberal agenda is so extreme it cannot be put to a vote for fear it may pass. It’s the entire agenda.

                    Is that an accurate statement? What % of liberal-proposed legilsation has been filibustered in the last year?

  3. Hold on… comparing the GOP to OSS agents… working against the Third Reich…?

    I think this may be the first real example I’ve seen of an anti-Godwin, until now a purely theoretical entity.

    Be careful not to let it touch a real one, or things might start imploding.

%d bloggers like this: