Disciplining Durbin

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., watches as Sen.-elect Barack Obama speaks at a news conference in Chicago where Durbin announced Friday, Nov. 5, 2004, that he will run for Democratic whip in the new Senate and said he already has the votes to get the job.
This column was written by William Kristol.
Conservatives (and, one trusts, many liberals) have been appalled by Sen. Durbin's comparison last Tuesday, on the Senate floor, between "what Americans had done to prisoners in their control" at Guantanamo and what was done by Nazis, Soviets, and Pol Pot. Conservatives (and, one trusts, many liberals) have also been appalled by Sen. Durbin's non-apology last Friday: "I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood." In other words, Sen. Durbin apparently still believes there could be a proper use and understanding of an "historical parallel" between American soldiers and Nazis.

So what, if anything, is to be done? Newt Gingrich, my friend Hugh Hewitt, and others have suggested that Sen. Durbin should be censured by the Senate. His comments are, to be sure, deserving of censure. But is this the best action to push for? For one thing, Democrats can explain that resolutions of censure have typically been reserved for ethics violations, not for meretricious statements -- thereby perhaps succeeding in confusing the debate and wriggling off the hook. And asking for passage of such a resolution puts the burden on the Republican majority to act -- which raises the possibility, maybe a probability, that the attempt will seem partisan if pursued, and if Republicans at some point back off, will then make them look weak as well.

Why not put the burden on the Democrats? When Sen. Trent Lott made a far less damaging, but still deplorable, statement two and a half years ago, his fellow Republicans insisted he step down as their leader. Shouldn't Democrats insist that Sen. Durbin step down as their whip, the number two man in their leadership? Shouldn't conservatives (and liberals) legitimately ask Democrats to hold their leader to account, especially given the precedent of Lott?

Senator Durbin is scheduled to join Democratic chairman Howard Dean at a big fundraiser at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., this Tuesday. I assume he will withdraw from that appearance. But if he cannot appear with his party chairman, one can ask how he can lead his party in the Senate? And if he does appear with Dean Tuesday night, and stays in his party's Senate leadership, doesn't that tell us everything we need to know about today's Democratic party?

William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.
By William Kristol