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Who Coined 'Nuclear Option?'

MSM has been reporting recently that the Democrats invented the term "nuclear option." Not so. Media Matters and Josh Marshall trace the birth of the term to Republican Senator Trent Lott.

the term "nuclear option" -- referring to the Republican-proposed Senate rule change that would prohibit filibusters of judicial nominations -- was coined by one of its leading advocates, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS). But since Republican strategists judged the term "nuclear option" to be a liability, they have urged Senate Republicans to adopt the term "constitutional option." Many in the media have complied with the Senate Republicans' shift in terminology and repeated their attribution of the term "nuclear option" to the Democrats.

Media Matters has an exhaustive history of the use of the term. Jeff Toobin also credited Lott with the phrase, and provides some context, in this New Yorker article:

Changing the Senate’s rules on judicial filibustering was first addressed in 2003, during the successful Democratic filibuster against Miguel Estrada, whom Bush had nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Ted Stevens, a Republican Senate veteran from Alaska, was complaining in the cloakroom that the Democratic tactic should simply be declared out of order, and, soon enough, a group of Republican aides began to talk about changing the rules. It was understood at once that such a change would be explosive; Senator Trent Lott, the former Majority Leader, came up with “nuclear option,” and the term stuck.

The Financial Times, March 10, 1998, published this amusing description of a similar use of the phrase in England, when some wanted to end the practices of playing "I Spy" and banning legislators from breaking out top hats to protest objectionable legislation.

An influential cross-party committee of MPs yesterday struck a blow against verbosity, eccentricity and paranoia in the Commons by proposing the abolition of time-honoured rituals such as the use of top hats during votes.

The plans - which include an eight-minute ceiling on speeches and the abolition of the ancient "I spy strangers" ritual for clearing spectators from the Commons gallery - were published in a report by the modernisation select committee.

The report, Conduct in the Chamber, recommended that the Speaker of the Commons be given discretion to impose a variable time limit on speeches - though never less than eight minutes - and said privy councillors who are not frontbenchers should lose their priority speaking rights.

The modernisation committee also called for an alternative to the bizarre spectacle of both male and female MPs donning a top hat when moving a point of order during a vote. "This practice has almost certainly brought the House into greater ridicule than any other, particularly since the advent of television," it said.

The committee recommended that the "I spy strangers" convention should be scrapped. The age-old cry - dating back to the era when all proceedings were secret, and used during the second world war to clear the chamber during sensitive debates - has been employed more recently by MPs as a time-wasting tactic. "We believe this archaic practice has long outlived any useful purpose," the committee said.

One Conservative MP, fresh from helping to "talk out" a bill to outlaw fox-hunting last Friday, said the convention was only one of a number of ways to "filibuster" legislation. " 'I spy' is the nuclear option," he said. "But members intent on frustrating a bill can still deliberately table numerous amendments, or shuffle extremely slowly through the voting lobbies." (emphasis supplied) (available on lexis.com)

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  • Re: Who Coined 'Nuclear Option?' (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 04:59:08 AM EST
    The truly galling thing is that they still like saying the term, even though they attribute it to Democrats. It's red meat for the base to call it "the nuclear option" because it implies they will be doing all they can for the radicals, but it scares moderates, so they say the Democrats came up with the inflammatory term, while still using it.

    Re: Who Coined 'Nuclear Option?' (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 06:32:10 AM EST
    I hope the country turns in the 2006 election. Nuclear option or not, the republicans need to get a wakeup call. We all need to do what we can to see that everyone who is eligible to vote, and wants to vote, gets to vote. We all need to do what we can to see that the votes are counted accurately. Papertrails, recounts, no electronic machines without papertrails. That's the true nuclear option - the implementation of electronic voting that can't be verified. Who thought this was a good idea?

    Re: Who Coined 'Nuclear Option?' (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 08:07:48 AM EST
    The Republicans came up with the term "nuclear option". They have been threatening it for some time now. All that needs to happen is for the Democrats to agree to VOTE. that is what they are there for. Shut up and vote, can the the melodrama.

    Re: Who Coined 'Nuclear Option?' (none / 0) (#4)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 09:27:47 AM EST
    Harry Truman?

    Re: Who Coined 'Nuclear Option?' (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Apr 27, 2005 at 05:32:54 PM EST
    Paraphrasing Gerry Owen: 'Shut up and bend over!'