AUSTIN, Texas -- In the magical upside-down world of right-wing blogs, it is now an accepted article of faith that Sen. Robert Byrd compared George W. Bush to Hitler last week. Republicans are demanding an apology, many have taken to high dudgeon, and another pointless flapette is on.

Actually Byrd, a noted scholar of the Senate and its procedures, made an interesting speech opposing the "nuclear option" of cutting off Senate debate on judicial nominees. "Rumor has it there is a plot afoot in the Senate to curtail the right of extended debate in this hallowed chamber, not in accordance with its rules, mind you, but by fiat from the chair," said the elderly Byrd. He is also famed for his magniloquent speaking style, a splendid old-fashioned oratory known to older Americans who had to study rhetoric. Byrd tangentially mentioned Hitler, quoting historian Alan Bullock to make the following point:

"Hitler's originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the state: The correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal."

A point worth pausing over. Byrd went on to suggest the "nuclear option" ploy is similar in that it involves the same premise: If you can't win under the rules, you change the rules. Certainly a case of rhetorical overreach, but then, that is a hazard of public speaking.

The blogger Wonkette posted an amusing collection of Republican politicians comparing this, that and the other to Nazi Germany -- a ruling on abortion, stem cell research, even the Kyoto protocol. In 2002, former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas managed to find a tax bill like something "right out of Nazi Germany. I don't understand ... why all of a sudden we are passing laws that sound as if they are right out of Nazi Germany." Rhetorical overreach plagues many: George W. Bush once managed to invoke the tragic memory of 9-11 in aid of a capital gains tax cut.

Byrd's really quite thoughtful speech should appeal to conservatives with its emphasis on historical precedent, constitutional responsibilities, and the system of checks and balances. Byrd also made a spirited attack on Franklin D. Roosevelt for his misbegotten plan to "pack" the Supreme Court. All of this was about Bush's decision to renominate 20 of his choices for the federal bench who never got a vote in his first term because of threatened filibusters. For some reason, Republicans have chosen to treat these rebuffs as though they were World War III, accusing Democrats of the dread "obstructionism." Their own record during the Clinton years of knocking off dozens of President Clinton's judicial nominees gives not the slightest pause.

The 20 retreads include some real dogs. One of these prizes is William G. Myers III, nominated for a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. His qualifications consist of having spent most of his adult life as a lobbyist for Western mining, timber and oil companies. Bush named him top lawyer in the Interior Department in 2001, apparently on the grounds that Myers once compared the federal government's management of federal lands to the tyranny of King George III.

Another gem is Janice Rogers Brown of California, nominated for the D.C. Court of Appeals, who described the New Deal as "the triumph of our socialist revolution" and praised an infamous line of Supreme Court cases from 1905 to 1937 striking down worker health and safety laws as infringing on the rights of business. (Of course your employer has a right to kill you -- what are you, out of the mainstream?)

My personal fave is Priscilla Owen of the Texas Supreme Court, who is so far out that Alberto Gonzales once denounced one of her decisions as "an unconscionable act of judicial activism."

Then there's William Haynes, principal author and defender of the administration's dubious handling of several torture issues.

All in all, a lovely bunch of coconuts, with a collective record showing opposition to human rights, civil rights, abortion rights -- pretty much everything but property rights.

Go, Byrd.

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