James Gill: Mussolini touches Senate campaign

Check out that photo online of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s head superimposed on Mussolini in full pomp.

Landrieu gazes sideways, her blond hair protruding slightly under the black fez that rounded off Il Duce’s regalia. It is such a striking image — those dictators sure liked a stylish uniform — that Landrieu should get it framed.

The intent, however, was not to flatter. Indeed, her campaign, knowing, of course, that it would not be forthcoming, demanded an apology from U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, who hopes to unseat her in the upcoming election. An aide to Cassidy had tweeted a link to the blog that cooked up the photo.

The blog, the Hayride, denounced Landrieu as a “cancer” for taking part in a “fascistic endeavor,” which was about as over-the-top as a Mussolini strut along a Roman balcony.

Her offense was to support banning the filibuster for most presidential appointments. Opinions vary on the wisdom of guaranteeing that a bare majority of the Senate will get its way, but this is not a proposition that Mussolini would have espoused. To invoke a tyrant’s name in a debate over the nuts and bolts of democracy is crazy.

Opinions on the filibuster vary all the more because politicians’ principles are admirably flexible. Members of the Senate’s minority party always assert it is a sacrosanct tradition, but, the minute they find themselves in the majority, requiring 60 votes for cloture becomes an outdated drag on the nation’s business.

The rules were changed last week after Democrats decided filibustering fools across the aisle had finally gone too far in their determination to block President Barack Obama’s nominations. Republicans say Democrats will be sorry when the boot is on the other foot, and they are probably right.

There has been a wholesale reversal of opinion in both parties since the Senate changed hands. Sen. David Vitter has been no more two-faced than other members but, since he is one of ours, his conflicting pronouncements may serve as an example.

In 2005 when the Republicans held sway, alleging filibuster abuse and threatening to change the rules, Vitter spoke for them. “The issue is primarily one of fairness to these individual nominees,” he said. The GOP would insist on a “yes or no vote.”

The situation was defused when Democrats promised to keep their filibustering within reasonable bounds, but Republicans, after they became the minority, did not exercise similar restraint. The final straw came when the Senate failed to act on three nominations to the Court of Appeals in D.C. Filibusters were jettisoned, and the Republicans hoist by their own petard.

“There’s the Democrats for you,” said Vitter — “jam it through, no compromise, unilaterally make up new rules whenever needed.” What was once a simple issue of fairness, had now become “scary and dictatorial.”

Relax, guys.

There is no need yet to lie awake listening for the clomp of jackboots in the middle of the night. The Constitution has checks and balances aplently, and filibusters have not always been used for benign purposes anyway. They were popular, for instance, among Senators opposed to civil rights legislation. The Republic is not going to collapse because it just became harder to thwart the will of the majority in the Senate.

The Landrieu campaign was not alone in taking umbrage at the Mussolini mock-up. It is not surprising that retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness should take Cassidy to task because they each hope to be the Republican who beats her. Landrieu, who is branded as vulnerable every time she runs for election, may be more than usually so this time if the voters continue to take such a dim view of her Obamacare support.

Maness must rank as the No. 2 GOP challenger, and can therefore be forgiven a little hyperbole as he goes after Cassidy.

But to call the Mussolini crack “callous to the Greatest Generation of Americans” and an insult to “those in uniform who protect us from tyranny” is quite over the top.

But, in the circumstances, quite appropriate.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.