Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Road Ahead or Barth Wants to Ruin Family Get Togethers

There is nobody on "our side" of the political gulf who did not cheer, feel vindicated, or thought of the many people in their lives who just have to read the University of Maryland study of the misinformed viewers of what is laughingly called "Fox News." When we calm down a bit, it might occur to contemplate that a) what is being done is a deliberate political strategy and b) is working.

The general stupidity of our fellow Americans, and their consequent disdain for facts, history or context is a constant refrain in these pages. It can be tsked, tsked here, and can lead to all the pain that comes from banging one's head against a wall, but it is as much an operative fact about the country in which we live as any of the well accepted truths which Fox viewers are either not told about or about which they are taught falsehoods.

Your faithful correspondent has fallen into the trap of arguing against the obvious way too many times. Most egregiously , while railing against the foolishness that passes for political thought, the foolish blogger pointed to the comments of a high level member of the Bush II White House to Ron Suskind during their mysterious heyday following the 9/11 attacks

the reality-based community, [defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from ... judicious study of discernible reality' don't understand that t]hat's not the way the world really works anymore...We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do

as if this was the craziest, most foul thing ever uttered in the White House when, in fact, it was pure wisdom. Cynical, maybe, but the observation which seemed so shocking to this dense fool, was, in fact, the exposition of a brilliant political strategy.

It is by following that strategy that these forces of the the right, the protectors of all that is wealthy, the defenders of those who, in Senator Sanders' memorable words, want it all, win even when the are in the minority and then, by preventing anything from being accomplished, can run against Democrats by arguing that they have not done anything.

Once again (or, "as usual"), Dr. Maddow is called upon to frame this point:

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What you‘re looking at there is the breaking of the United States Senate as an institution. What these are is filibusters. This is when the Senate decides to take the extraordinary measure of making something take 60 votes to pass instead of 50 votes.

And that‘s impossible. Supermajorities are impossible. You cannot actually pass things with supermajorities in an ongoing way. This is not the way that legislatures function. It is never the way that America‘s legislature has functioned.

If you‘re going to require a supermajority, it means that effectively this body has ceased to function. It has ceased to function as a normal majority rules legislature.

This is how Republicans broke the Senate. They have turned the Senate into a Republican stronghold not while they were in the majority, but since they‘ve been in the minority. Since they lost the Senate, they have turned it into a stronghold for their own party by using power that the Senate minority is usually entrusted not to abuse. They‘ve used that power to break the institution.

Even though they are the minority, even though there are less than 50 of them, significantly less than 50 of them, they exert all of the leverage. They get what they want. Which not only means that policies get changed to try to appeal to them, it also means that the calendar just stretches on and on and on and on with nothing ever getting done. That is -- that‘s their preference.

They are filibustering the funding of the military right now. That‘s passed every year for 48 years. It is being filibustered by Republicans right now. It‘s on the docket.

They are filibustering the appointment of people to relatively low-level political jobs at middle management levels at cabinet agencies you cannot remember the names of—people who are not famous, people who are not controversial, but who are nevertheless subject to this extraordinary supermajority rule. This extraordinary thing that was never supposed to be used the way it‘s being used. But because Republicans are using it the way they are, nothing gets done. And they have found that strategy to be in their political interest—to get as little done as possible.

And here's the bad news, the part you may not want to hear, and the part that could make you even angrier that you wasted time on this post:

Why is this happening? How do they get away with this?

It is all your (our) fault.

OK. Not "all" but there is plenty of fault to be laid right at our doorstop.

Again, Rachel explains:

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One of the consequences of the big, big Democratic victories in the House in 2006 and 2008 is that it allowed us to see, it allowed us to know what sort of laws you can get passed if the Democratic agenda, President Obama‘s agenda is enacted. Health reform with a public option, no more “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” energy legislation that finally cuts the carbon emissions, a greater amount of disclosure in corporate campaign contributions, no more bonus tax cuts for the rich—all of this was campaigned on by President Obama.

All of this has been done by the House. All of this has been achieved by Nancy Pelosi. And all of it died in the Senate slowly and painfully shortly thereafter.

The distance between that world—what is it Pelosi-stan, right -- the difference between that world, the House, where all of those things were achieved and the world that we have got with Congress now on the verge of extending bonus tax cuts for the richest Americans, even though Democrats are the majority in both houses right now. The distance between those things, the distance in what the House has done and what has been done overall, that‘s the enthusiasm gap. You‘re looking for it, there it is.

The right turned out in the last election and the left did not turn out in the last election. That‘s the gap they fell into. And, ultimately, that‘s what the United States Senate being broken has wrought. What the House has giveth, the Senate has taketh away, with the endless filibusters, with the endless obstructions and delay tactics, one of which proved to be successful tonight.

The margin that Democrats have over Republicans in the House and the Senate has been equal. Things have died in the Senate, not because Democrats didn‘t have the votes. They had the votes. The Senate broke.

Rachel and Senator Tom Udall believe the have the answer in a rules change to be brought on by a ruling by the Vice President, as president of the Senate on the first day of the new session, changing not only the Senate's rules by the longstanding view of the Senate as a continuous body, since only one-third are elected at a time as opposed to the House where everyone runs every two years. Many of us are dubious that this plan will work. And even if this dangerous tact did (remember that a prior Vice President, Cheney, was going to rule against filibusters of judicial nominees, to allow President Bush to seat even more hacks---see the Virginia health care decision of the past week) there are numerous other devices that a determined minority can employ---frequent quorum calls, or requirements that a bill be read by the clerk in full, or any number of other refusals to make possible the "without objection" that the Senate almost always needs to proceed further, to achieve the same end.

It is not a rules change that is needed. It is public opinion which needs to change. The get away with this because nobody cares: Nobody cares about parliamentary procedures, just as nobody cares about campaign finance reform which is just as boring a subject.

They are hardly as much fun to talk about as millions in tax breaks for millionaires, or calling President Obama a "sell out." But what is wrong with our politics, and why we are moving backwards as fast as Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson move us forward or tried to, is right there. Nothing will change if Republicans can just stop the Senate from doing business and not pa an political price for it.

If and when your family gatherings or parties with friends lead to political discussions, many will try to change or avoid the subject, lest unpleasantness ensue. We all know the rules: try to keep politics and religion out of social gatherings.

To do so this year, in this atmosphere, could be disastrous, though. The meme that the President can do whatever he wants but has failed to do what we want needs a response. This is not to say that the President is not without fault. He propagates the foolish Bush thing about being "the decider" or something close to a king, when he is not. The constant use of the first person as in

So I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats had been fighting for for a hundred years

is foolish and is not only wrong, but perpetuates the fiction that the all powerful sovereign has failed to do what he said he would do.

The reality is that Congress goes where the money is and the money wants to protect those who already have it. If there is a way to fight back, it is only by political action, by noise from those who expect something else from their government. That is where we, the people, come in.

So, we close with a couple of frequently quoted exhortations of presidents:

First from our greatest president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he took office on March 4, 1933:

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective

The second from the most inspirational president of the lifetime of many of us, when he was sworn in on January 20, 1961:

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,"² a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

What both presidents needed, and our current one needs now, is that we show those in our lives who will not see it, what is happening and why. It is boring, pedantic and may ruin a few dinners or even friendships. But, my friends, it is the only way.

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