Saturday, November 23, 2013

Same as it ever was: What the Conservatives threaten to do, the Democrats actually do do.

As always, what Conservatives only ever threaten to do, the Democrats actually do do. The most recent case in point being Harry Reid having changed the rules of the senate, busting the Filibuster and opening the door to unhampered majority rule. That rule change fundamentally transforms the nature of the senate. The ability of senators to engage in unlimited debate, which at times become unendingly long winded word-a-thons, has been a critical feature of the Senate (and once the House too), since the beginning of the Senate, and since Thomas Jefferson wrote the manual for them.

And every administration, and every majority, has been frustrated by the Senate's feature of unlimited debate, aka: 'The Filibuster', ever since.
ProRegressive's guiding principle: "Might makes right"

And every minority has been supremely thankful for it.

And We The People have benefited immeasurably from numerous majorities and administrations, who, though cocksure in their rightness, have been made through that feature to feel the pressing need to craft legislation, and to find appointments, that would be more capable of surviving the reasonable deliberations of the senate, than their own heartfelt desires might have wished or allowed for.

Majorities, no matter their party, have always been furious at having their ability to get their way stymied by the minority. The majority has often, down through the centuries, blustered and threatened much in trying to get their way, up to and including threatening to change the rules and end that critical feature of unlimited debate. One such case is pointed out in this snippet from the Senate.Gov site:
"...In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could filibuster. As the House of Representatives grew in numbers, however, revisions to the House rules limited debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued on the grounds that any senator should have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.

In 1841, when the Democratic minority hoped to block a bank bill promoted by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, he threatened to change Senate rules to allow the majority to close debate. Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton rebuked Clay for trying to stifle the Senate's right to unlimited debate....."
But those majorities and administrations have always backed down from their threats, because they were eventually made to realize that that ability of 'unlimited debate', was critical to the very purpose of the Senate. What the senates purpose is, and why unlimited debated is critical to it, is made clear in this passage, again from Senate.Gov:
"A key goal of the framers was to create a Senate differently constituted from the House so it would be less subject to popular passions and impulses. "The use of the Senate," wrote James Madison in Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, "is to consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch." An oft-quoted story about the "coolness" of the Senate involves George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who was in France during the Constitutional Convention. Upon his return, Jefferson visited Washington and asked why the Convention delegates had created a Senate. "Why did you pour that tea into your saucer?" asked Washington. "To cool it," said Jefferson. "Even so," responded Washington, "we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.""
The deliberative body of the senate, was designed to cool the heated impulses of the House and the Administration, especially upon critical issues, such as administrative appointments, judicial nominations, etc.. It is not enough for the senate to simply reach an agreement - the senate is specifically designed to prohibit a too easy agreement by a majority, being pushed through over the concerns of those who feel the issues have not yet been discussed fully enough, or who, as representatives of the interests of their states, feel  that those interests will be intolerably harmed by the issue at hand. It is critical to the purpose of the senate, that even a single Senator should be able to, if not convince their fellow senators to agree with them, then to at least compel them to consider the issue further, and by slowing down the entire business of the senate, they are able to ensure that their fellow senators feel the heat of not sufficiently heeding their concerns.

One way to accomplish that, is to remain on the floor speaking, holding the floor by force of mouth, for as long as long as they are able to stand and speak, which decades later came to be known as the filibuster. Filibusters, by design, prevent the senate from going forward, for at least as long as it takes for their fellow senators to agree to some mitigating measure, or else agree that the issue in question wasn't in fact worth the time it was costing them, and agree to table it so that other measures can be attended to.

Short of that, the process is supposed to come to a halt. This is not a glitch, it's a feature!

It is a feature of a deliberative body, to deliberate to the fullest extent which its members - who you should remember, especially today, have been elected to represent the interests of the millions of people in their states who elected them to the senate - feel further deliberation should be had (a point which even Hillary Clinton grasped, when it suited her).

Can that power be abused? Unquestionably. Name me a power that cannot be abused?

But it is more important that its exceptions should not be allowed to discredit the rule. A deliberative body , by its very nature, must be prepared to do just that, and it should not impose or amend its rules in such a manner as to put an end to that which it is - a deliberative body.

Not surprisingly, this feature of the Senate has always provoked heated debate and threats to abolish the rule, from conservatives, liberals and leftists alike, but as usual, what conservatives have only threatened to do, the proRegressive leftists have followed through on doing, as soon as they felt they had the power to follow through on their threat, even, and perhaps especially, when what they previously had claimed to believe upon principle, no longer meshed with their desires of the moment.

Not co-incidentally, the person who first followed through on the threat to abuse the powers of the senate, was our previous college 'professor' president, Woodrow Wilson. And not too surprisingly, he had once piously (and correctly) stated that:
"...It is the proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government and to talk much about what it sees. It is meant to be the eyes and the voice, and to embody the wisdom and will of its constituents. Unless Congress have and use every means of acquainting itself with the acts and the disposition of the administrative agents of the government, the country must be helpless to learn how it is being served; and unless Congress both scrutinize these things and sift them by every form of discussion, the country must remain in embarrassing, crippling ignorance of the very affairs which it is most important that it should understand and direct. The informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function. The argument is not only that discussed and interrogated administration is the only pure and efficient administration, but, more than that, that the only really self-governing people is that people which discusses and interrogates its administration. The talk on the part of Congress which we sometimes justly condemn is the profitless squabble of words over frivolous bills or selfish party issues. It would be hard to conceive of there being too much talk about the practical concerns and processes of government....."
Forcing the senate to talk much about contentious issues, until someway around them is found, is precisely what the filibuster ensured. But later, when Wilson was in power and frustrated that he couldn't get his way on those issues which some senators found to be contentious, then President Wilson, reversed his concern for administrations being fully interrogated, and instead:
"... stormed that the “Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.” The Senate, he demanded, must adopt a cloture rule."
Again, that 'little group of willful men' were not simply a few buckaroos holding up the proceedings of the local Elks Lodge, but were senators, men who were duly elected to represent the interests of the inhabitants of their states, some numbering in the millions, and as such, their unwillingness to go along with the wishes of the President, represented far more than simply their own 'willful' opinions, they were exerting the rights which Wilson once defended... when it suited him.

The principle which he seemed to grasp as a disinterested academic, he reviled when his own opinions and interests were at the heart of the issue in question, revealing that he never understood it as a principle in the first place, nor cared for 'principles' that were not subordinate to the interests of the moment. After calling for a special session of congress, Wilson proposed that the rules of the senate be amended with a rule for Cloture, which enabled "a two-thirds majority to end debate and permitted each member to speak for an additional hour after that before voting on final passage."  which was adopted.

There is a case to be made for cloture, as much as I dislike admitting it, at least as it was originally adopted, that being that if a super majority of two thirds of the senate could be persuaded that a point had been fully fleshed out, and that the interests of all were sufficiently attended to, then that super majority should be able to move past further unproductive and obstructive talk, and on to the action of taking a vote upon it.

Part of me is still rankles at that, it seems to me that the 'deliberative body' should remain just that, but though it is critically important that the senate's rules should be formed so as to ensure that the rights of We The People are properly considered, its rules are just that: rules, not rights. And it is a reasonable position to take, that with a two thirds super majority being the constitutional threshold for other important decisions, Supreme Court nominations, etc., a case can be made that it comports with how important Senate decisions are constitutionally structured.

But there is no case to be made that proRegressives, either then, or later, or now, took their positions upon principle, rather than hypocritically putting on airs in order to get their way. Wilson was sure he could get a 2/3 majority, and that the opposition couldn't - had he felt otherwise, he would have found a different, more satisfying, number.

And a more satisfying number is precisely what the Democratic majority in the Senate decided upon again, when in 1975, having recently picked up some seats in the senate, but not enough seats to reach a two thirds super majority, they made the same utilitarian power calculus as Wilson had, and altered the rules for invoking Cloture, reducing it from the original and reasonable two thirds super majority, down to a more usefully attainable quantity of three fifths, which is the magic number of 60 votes required today... er... yesterday.

Same as it ever was.

What the ProRegressive says is a matter of principle, is a 'timeless principle' only when it suits him. Just as Wilson postured a fine defense in his earnest dissertation, so did Sen. Barack Obama in 2005. Then, he too was so concerned for what the American people expect, that he said in defense of the filibuster:
"...What they don't expect is for one party - be it Republican or Democrat - to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster - if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate - then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse...."
Such a 'principled stance' has proved to be, just as with Wilson in 1917, and by Obama today, to have been discarded, without even the semblance of concern for principle, in order to suit their interests and desires of the moment:
"...I realize that neither party has been blameless for these tactics. They've developed over years, and it seems as if they've continually escalated. But today's pattern of obstruction -- it just isn't normal. It's not what our founders envisioned. A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the result of an election is not normal, and for the sake of future generations, we can't let it become normal...."
Translation: The proRegressives have decided to have their cake and eat it too, for the 'greater good' which...  just so happens to serve their own political interests.

IOW: The only principle a proRegressive recognizes, since the days of Thrasymachus, is that of 'Might makes Right'.

Same as it ever was.

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