On March 27, 1782, the House of Parliament at Westminster voted no confidence in Lord North, then serving as Prime Minister. He immediately announced that in view of the expression of no confidence he was honor bound to resign his office, and did so. The vote was precipitated by the arrival in London of news of the defeat of British forces at the Battle of Yorktown, bringing to a sudden conclusion the war which had been the principal focus of his ministry. Lord North’s was the first resignation in the English speaking world precipitated by a vote of no confidence.
Today 53 members of the United States Senate, including seven Republicans, expressed their vote of no confidence in the service of Alberto Gonzales. The vote was procedural, as the Republicans used filibuster rules to block the actual vote–a step they have now invoked repeatedly to hamstring action by the majority in the Senate.
Isn’t this surprising when, only two years ago, when an effort was made to invoke the filibuster to block nominations, Mitch McConnell, Trent Lott and company thought it presented a threat to the Constitutional order of Government? Whereas now they trot it out themselves even on procedural and symbolic votes? To abet them in this remarkable act of hypocrisy, the media now routinely refer to the filibuster merely as a “procedural vote.” When the Democrats use it to block a judicial nomination, it’s called a “filibuster,” but if it’s ever invoked by the Republicans it’s just “procedure.” This is just more evidence of how the Republicans and Democrats interact–like velociraptors and bunny rabbits caged together–and the media lean whichever way the Republicans would have them lean in their characterizations.
Moreover, note that Alberto Gonzales and President Bush both announced their total indifference to whatever the Senate did – a further public reflection of their boundless contempt for the institutions of government.
So what separates Lord North from Alberto Gonzales? As I noted previously, both went to great lengths to suspend habeas corpus and approved heartily of the abusive treatment of prisoners. So they have much in common. However, Lord North still had a residual sense of honor. Alberto Gonzales has absolutely none.
That leaves the next obvious step: impeachment.