Follow-Up on Abolishing the Senate: Yet Another Horrendously Bad Idea
January 12, 2011 - 2:36pm ET
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The responses to my previous entry were, to put it mildly, energetic. It seems that the entrenchment of the desire to kill democracy by making it even easier for right-wing politicians currently dominating Congress to ram their agenda down all our throats runs very deep indeed, past the point of reason. And then there are others who, having wasted their time and energy on fantasies that have been shot down by Democrat Party leaders, are now content to go on the attack merely for the sake of being contrary.
But the most eye-opening comment came from powwow, who added an informed mini-post of his own that is worth adding to the debate. He also pointed to an entry of his from December that goes into the underlying problems facing the Senate. If I understand powwow's argument correctly, the filibuster rule now being debated by the left and the pretend-left isn't actually about the filibuster itself, but the cloture rule used to shut down debate. Here are three paragraphs excerpted from powwow's comment in my last thread:
Also, overlooking how the daily business of the Senate floor is now routinely suspended by both Parties, without benefit of formal recess, by way of the quorum call in an empty Chamber that doesn’t call the quorum – a convenient, but insidious and abused practice that the Majority Leader alone can end at any time, except that it would reduce his power – misses how the Senate’s operations have been increasingly corrupted by Party-driven secrecy, without benefit of any rule changes, or even predetermined purpose. [A crucial fact: If there isn't a fake quorum call suspending the Senate's business (unless and until waived by unanimous consent, or by the Majority Leader giving the Clerk the sign to return to live quorum calls), only ongoing floor debate can prevent the Presiding Officer from putting the pending question, including pending amendments, to a simple-majority vote of the Senate.]
Underscoring Michael’s point that “Each and every [recent] argument made [by Democratic Senators] in favor of abolishing the [so-called] filibuster has been nothing short of total dishonesty” is the fact that no Democratic Senator can publicly admit that “filibuster” as they’re using the word actually means “cloture,” because the Democrats, as the current majority Party, are responsible for filing the record-breaking number of cloture motions in recent years, in the absence of debating filibusters. [Those of us not invested in shielding the Democratic Party from the consequences of its actions, on the other hand, should try to avoid employing such deceptive and confusing word play; we can say "cloture" when we mean "cloture," and "filibuster" when we mean that long-lost parliamentary tactic of physically-taxing floor debate (or some form of minority objection(s) to majority requests to waive regular order).]
If the significance of that last paragraph escapes anyone, it’s probably because they don’t realize (since the media apparently doesn’t know it, or won’t report it) that only the majority Party files optional cloture motions in the Senate (and yes, they have their unspoken reasons for doing so – avoiding public debate high among them). In turn, only cloture motions can impose a supermajority threshold (and debate-free delay) on the Senate, in place of its simple-majority regular order, for the passage of legislation or confirmation of nominees.
Powwow argues that as long as Democrats can get away with pulling the wool over people's eyes, they will continue to shield themselves from serious criticism that they have abandoned their responsibility to their constituents, secure in their knowledge that we will never hold them accountable for their misdeeds. It's the cloture motion, which powwow says was instituted in 1917 so as to avoid making senators actually extend debate (thereby preventing an up-or-down vote), which is at the heart of this debate. Since no real filibusters have taken place — Bernie Sanders' much-hyped action on the Senate floor last month in the run-up to the vote on extending the Bush tax cuts for the super-wealthy was, contrary to what some over-enthusiastic supporters claimed, not a filibuster, though it was closer to one than the side show theater put on by Republicans since 2006 that is routinely coddled by Senate capitulation leader Harry Reid — the issue then becomes one of whether or not we want to allow senators to continue the practice of keeping from the public the nature of legislation that directly affects us all.
In powwow's own words:
“parliamentary deliberation” or public debate in Congress, however “disorderly” or slow, is not some pointless form of “litigating,” or “relitigating” – as President Obama dismissively termed it early in November [President Barack Obama, in his news conference said, "I think we'd be misreading the election if we thought that the American people want to see us for the next two years relitigate arguments that we had over the last two years"] – but rather a core, indispensable function of the legislative body of a self-governing, democratic Republic. An indispensable function of democratic, good government that Obama, and other short-sighted, or self-serving, proponents of a presidency that’s both Chief Executive and Chief Backroom Legislator, evidently fail to appreciate or to publicly acknowledge.
Also, from powwow's December post:
Meantime, desultory floor speeches – often amounting to little more than Party finger-pointing exercises (especially in the House) by members of the House and Senate, which frequently serve only to mark time while the backroom deal-making between Party leaders generates the product of Congress – have these days by and large supplanted the deliberative, democratic public debate for which the House and Senate Chambers, and the public committee rooms of Congress – the “sanctuaries” of the ideas and will of the representatives of the people of our self-governing nation – were designed and intended to be used.
Take that away, remove that deliberative debate, and you truly have tyranny in this country from a tiny minority of legislators acting on behalf of a tiny yet extremely powerful minority made up of large business interests. And that tyranny, shielded from all criticism by those who have warped the concept of democracy to maintain that the rights of the minority — even if that "minority" is half or most of the nation itself — don't matter, is what is the true threat to democracy. It isn't the Senate, and it isn't the filibuster. The threat is, as I have written and as the founders wrote centuries before me, the heat-of-the-moment mentality that strips away essential liberties.
Think about this: If proponents of eliminating either the filibuster or the Senate had their way in the run-up to the Civil War, slavery would still be in existence today, for a chief reason for abolition's failure in the halls of Congress at that time was political gridlock by a "majority" that refused to end the profit-making institution that kept an entire class of people in bondage and served as a tool for keeping poor White farmers from obtaining decent wages and working conditions, for even many members of the Whig Party opposed abolition, which is one of the reasons Abraham Lincoln and his fellow politicians broke away to form the pro-abolition Republican Party. But if today's pretend-leftists (who are only left-wingers when it's convenient for them to be) lived and had their way in the late 1850s, there never would have been a third party effort in the first place. Instead, they would have talked about primarying the leaders of the Whig Party while not actually doing anything to challenge its power structure, and failing to identify and nominate serious candidates. And the institution of slavery would not have ended because, well, because damn it the majority MUST have its way and those whiners in the "minority" can go screw their undemocratic selves!
Fortunately, today's pretend-leftists do not have their way, and there is no serious effort on the part of Democrats to end a procedure that is not only Constitutional, but not even close to being the obstacle to progressive legislation pretenders claim it is. So it's a moot point. What is not moot, however, is the nature of Washington politics that allows for shady back room deals to go on behind closed doors barred to the public. Without vigorous public debate, legislation destructive to the nation is passed without public scrutiny, and therefore without adequate public pressure on politicians to oppose it. "Leaders" treat us, the public, as though we are children and that they know better than we do what is best for us. It is precisely this sort of mentality that proponents of ending democracy insist on coddling. But look at the fruits of that coddling:
The USA PATRIOT Act,
The Military Commissions Act,
Revisions to FISA that let telecomm companies off the hook for helping the executive branch spy on us illegally,
The wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and other Muslim countries,
The coups and attempted coups of South American governments,
The propping up of dictators friendly to our interests that leads to violent retaliation by subjugated peoples,
The passage of health insurance "reform" that was written by for for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, negotiated in secret with Obama and Democrat Party leaders, and never truly subjected to honest public debate, ultimately rammed down our throats via reconciliation and all of it during a drawn out kabuki show that put advocates of real reform in the kiddy corner.
The list of the consequences goes on and on. It is no coincidence, by the way, that those who oppose democracy might once have criticized laws such as the USA PATRIOT Act, yet by their own arguments now happily support its passage as it happened without the tedium of extended debate, which had it actually taken place might have led saner heads to block its passage. But let it not be said that anti-democracy zealots dwell on such "stupid things" as facts or objective interpretations of history.
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