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Wit and Wisdom
|Posted on January 1, 2011 at 10:36 AM||comments (14)|
“Gentlemen, the do-gooders want to destroy centuries of Senate tradition by making filibusters, holds and other venerable delaying tactics more difficult. We have to get organized to stop them before the new Congress convenes on January 5. Is it OK with everybody if I lead the effort?”
“Sorry, Senator, but someone in the meeting put a secret hold on your nomination.”
“Now, it wouldn’t be a secret if we knew, would it?”
“Very well, we’ll have an election. The chair will entertain nominations from the floor.”
“On what grounds?”
“On the grounds that I want to sit closer to the window.”
“What’s that got to do with stopping Senate rules reform?”
“Seems relevant to me. In any case, I won’t let us proceed until I’m no longer smashed in this corner under the coat rack.”
“Will someone give up their seat so the Senator can be closer the window?”
“If we’re going to be rearranging the seating, I want to send out for more coffee.”
“Fine. Show of hands: who wants more coffee?”
“Uh, Senator, we can’t vote on that. There’s a threatened filibuster.”
“Remember me? Coat rack guy?”
“I see: you’re going to sit there and complain until we let you switch seats?”
“Me? No, I’m actually stepping out for a bite to eat. But my threat stands.”
“Hey, if you’re going out, could you bring back some coffee?”
“Not and have any respect for minority rights.”
“Wait a minute! I know a majority of the people in this room want to stop Senate rules reform. Why can’t we cut through all this nonsense and just do it?”
“And ignore the traditions of the meeting?”
“Traditions? The meeting’s only been going on for five minutes!”
“And look what we’ve accomplished.”
|Posted on December 28, 2010 at 1:46 PM||comments (141)|
At an early age we learn the principle that majority rules. We also learn the corollary, that majority opinion should respect minority rights. They’re both important lessons, but logically the basic principle comes first. Not so in the upper house of Congress the past few years: like an untended garden, the United States Senate has had majority rule choked off by minority rights run wild.
As Ari Berman recently pointed out in The Nation, just because we’ve gotten used to hearing that a bill has failed because it only received 59 of the body’s 100 votes doesn’t make it “any less surreal.” And because most people don’t understand that it is the dysfunctional Senate that blocks, delays and dilutes important legislation, the false impression builds that it is the entire government that’s broken, not just one part.
That false impression, in turn, fuels disillusionment with government, apathy towards voting, and in extreme cases, anger and violence. The haphazardly accumulated obstructionist rules of the Senate are threatening our democracy.
But momentum is building to rescue America's legislative system. Every Democratic senator has signed a letter to the leadership demanding rules reform in the new session starting early next month. Working from the outside, Fix the Senate Now is a coalition of organizations who’ve realized programatic change can’t proceed until the process is repaired. The basic structural reform pursued by both groups deserves all our support.