Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Winner Take All is not the same as Democratic Process

The form of democratic government we have chosen to live under is meant to be contentious. Argument is the grease that slips and slides us on our way toward values we can live with. Not necessarily my values or yours, but shared beliefs, hammered out with enough consensus to keep us from screaming profanities and slamming doors.

The form of democratic government we have chosen to live under is meant to be contentious. Argument is the grease that slips and slides us on our way toward values we can live with. Not necessarily my values or yours, but shared beliefs, hammered out with enough consensus to keep us from screaming profanities and slamming doors.

Anncoulter1 Six years of Compassionate Conservatism have brought us the likes of Ann Coulter, who popularized changing the argument when the argument is unsupportable. That brand of compassion turned us into a nation so polarized that when Democrats won back a majority in both houses of Congress, the 70% against current policies actually expected something to change.

They have been rudely disabused from that expectation. The reason for that is peculiar to the United States Senate, where mere majority isn't a controlling factor (unless it's a Republican majority).

The Senate has organized itself around something called cloture. Cloture is the rule for ending debate and calling for a vote. Without it, debate can't be shut off and the will of a simple majority is frustrated. Crippled, because cloture requires sixty votes, rather than a simple fifty-one percent of the Senators attending. Cloture is the father of filibuster, the right to uninterrupted speech against the majority. It’s a time honored way for the petulant minority to have its way and its most grandiose moments have been in the support of racial bias.

But no one wants to give it up. It may be their bias that needs protecting next.

At any rate, these are the short answers to why we’re currently angry at the Democrats we loved a few months back and voted for, to throw the bastards out. They haven’t delivered.

Bush31percent Prior to the 2006 mid-terms, when Republicans held 55 Senate seats to 45 for the Democrats, there was virtually nothing President Bush was unable to achieve. Obviously 55 is not 60 and yet Democrats were unable to hold back or even slow down a Republican landslide of legislation, from tax breaks for the rich to making someone answerable for the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prison abuses.

There is a reason.

“Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans”-- Will Rogers

Senharryreid1 Those words are a true today as they were when Rogers spoke them some seventy years ago. Prior to this 110th Senate, Republicans were always able to arm-twist, bribe or intimidate the five Democrats they needed for cloture. Not so amazingly, in the current Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 51 to 49 majority, they are flummoxed by their inability to hold their own majority together, much less wheedle the requisite nine Republican votes.

Overturning a presidential veto also requires 60 votes, which is why George Bush is not nearly so lame a duck as his poll numbers would indicate. All legislation must eventually pass the Senate and its arcane rules. Ergo, Bush will remain virtually unassailable until January 19, 2009.

Want to change that? Impatient to get rid of Alberto Gonzales and bring the troops home? Then impeach Bush and Cheney. That will automatically launch Catch-22. A finding of guilty in a trial of impeachable offenses in the Senate requires—you guessed it—two-thirds majority, a hefty 67 votes.

Fdr So what we have left ourselves is a winner-take-all government when Republicans hold majorities and a winner-takes-not-much under Democratic control. There’s a lot of argument and speculation about why that is. Personally, I think it goes back to Roosevelt’s depression-era programs that saved the country and, in doing it, so stunned conservative Republicans that they haven’t yet forgot (or forgiven) the poor being saved.

Interesting things come out of that. There are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the country, yet we had an even split of five Democratic presidents and five Republicans since FDR. Thirty-six years of Republican presidents against twenty-four years for the Dems (who have a harder time getting re-elected).

Republican administrations

  • built our Interstate highways,
  • invented the consumer economy,
  • globalized our national business interests,
  • created the wealthiest, most environmentally damaging and best armed nation in the world and
  • oversaw the demise of the single wage-earner family

Agribusiness Republicans are big spenders, even though they tag Democrats with that label. But they spend on business. Case in point, conservative Republicans historically (and hysterically) fought farm subsidies as handouts to deadbeats, until agriculture left the family farm and migrated to big business. Last year they gave $19 billion to Big Agriculture.

For their part, Democrats unendingly spend their political capital holding on to what Roosevelt set in motion, expanding civil rights and trying without much success to formulate a meaningful (more than one-term) platform. Of the ten presidencies since FDR, four Republicans were reelected (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bush) to a single Democrat (Clinton).

We are forever captive to the fiction of our history, we Americans. The larger-than-life stories of FDR’s heroic response to a national financial collapse and his second act (born again?) as the savior of the free world during WWII is heady stuff. In the iconography of politics, Ronald Reagan is the consummate privatizer, champion of small-government and the man who faced down communism.

Ronaldreagan In reality, the Roosevelt legacy is a social security program that no longer secures anyone and threatens to go broke. Reagan’s small government (in eight short years) tripled the cumulative national debt acquired during the 204 years since our founding. He merely happened to be the guy in the Oval Office when communism finally self-destructed.

Thus, largely because of this fictive history, Democrats find themselves unable to contribute to a new (and wholly reinvented) economic template for governance. Republicans continue on a path that grows large the haves at the expense of the have-nots. They are each the victim of their prior position in a world that has dramatically left them behind and dangerously irrelevant.

History is not benevolent. History is a son-of-a-bitch. Those who freeze in history's headlights, absorbed in their own particular drama, are bound to be left flattened on the highway. We have real challenges, beyond even the scope of Ann Coulter.

The brand of  terrorism spawned by inequity is not something to be ‘fought over there so it does not come here,’ but rather a challenge directly to the haves from the have-nots. We will find a way to clean, efficient energy or leave the planet; humanity just one more failed experiment. Internationally, we will come to grips with population growth or the future, no matter its philosophic, political or environmental makeup, is meaningless.

The Senate’s all-night grandstanding on the Iraq war notwithstanding, politics is no longer relevant to its fictional past. Jimmy Stewart is no longer Mister Smith Goes to Washington. Standing against a president who (as yet) holds all the aces, does not play well on the home front and politicians who fail to recognize that the days of senatorial bluster are over, are up for a painful lesson. It is not enough to be Harry Reid, not sufficient to hold the reins of power, as does Nancy Pelosi.

The horse that is American government must do better than find his own way home, with a drunk in the saddle.
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