29 December 2009

The case for the filibuster

Cato at Liberty nails it.

Thanks to incessant whining from the likes of Tom Harkin, the wonderful, arcane procedural mechanism unique to the Senate appears to be in the crosshairs of yet another group of political extremists.

Remember 2005? Senate Democrats (a minority party until 2006) threatened to filibuster the roughly dozen of President Bush's 140-plus judicial nominees who they believed were too far to the right. Senate Republicans -- including Majority Leader Bill Frist and Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch -- threw a collective temper tantrum, accusing the Democrats of obstruction and political gamesmanship. Frist, et al. then threatened to change the Senate rules to effectively do away with the filibuster.

But for the "Gang of 14," led by this site's hero, John McCain, the filibuster would be resigned to the history books. Instead, McCain, Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Lindsay Graham, Robert "Sheets" Byrd and 7 others struck a compromise -- the 7 Republicans would vote against the GOP's proposed rule change doing away with the filibuster, while the 7 Democrats would vote to invoke cloture on three of the eleven Bush appointees. Rumor has it that part of the agreement was that the rogue Democrats would also vote to invoke cloture on President Bush's yet-to-be-determined appointee to the Supreme Court. This compromise, ergo, led to the confirmation of Justice Samuel A. Alito.

To anyone who would listen, I said at the time that Republicans were making a grave mistake -- assuming that someday, perhaps even in 2009, the GOP would be faced with a Democratic Senate and a Democrat in the White House.

That day is here, and I'd ask you conservatives who stomped your feet and called McCain a traitor -- where would your party be without the filibuster today?

This was just one in a litany of instances, too numerous to count, where the Limbaugh/Hannity wing of the GOP missed the point entirely in the name of blind adherence to the party line.

In the House of Representatives, the filibuster was used until 1842, at which time a permanent rule limited the duration of debate. In 1806, the Senate codified its rules such that the potential for a filibuster was introduced. At that time, the Senate rules contained no alternative mechanism for terminating debate, so the filibuster was occasionally used to block up-or-down votes. The first Senate filibuster took place in 1837, and in 1841, none other than the famed Sen. Henry Clay threatened his Senate colleagues with a filibuster. However, Sen. William King announced that Clay "may make his arrangements at his boarding house for the winter," and Clay eventually backed down.

A rule providing for cloture -- ending a filibuster -- was not enacted until 1917, at the urging of President Wilson. In fact, from 1917 through 1975, invoking cloture required a two-thirds vote. In 1975, the Democratic-controlled Senate revised the cloture rule such that only three in five senators could vote to limit debate.

The bottom line is this: The filibuster is as American an institution as the Senate itself. Our republic -- miraculously, liberal Democrats and ultra-conservative Republicans would argue -- has survived more than two centuries of the filibuster. While the filibuster is not in the text of the Constitution, its legislative history demonstrates that its principle is equally as old.

Read the Federalist Papers. Read the text of the actual Constitution. The American system is one of divided government -- federalism, three branches of government, a bicameral federal legislature and yes, the 200-year-old filibuster -- putting a premium on the rights of the political minority. It seems that the only criticism of the filibuster comes from partisan hacks like Tom Harkin and Sean Hannity who are frustrated by their allies' inability to slam through their narrow, unpopular agendas.

Don't like the filibuster? I've got an idea.

Move to Iran.

21 December 2009

More on health care

First of all: WTF is wrong with Sheldon Whitehouse? Why does it seem that the nutjob contingents of each party are getting larger and larger?

I watched the press conference yesterday with Sens. Reid, Dodd, Baucus and Harkin. All four men praised the health care compromise as a landmark achievement. Whatever. The blowback from the Howard Dean contingent on the far left illustrates how very little this bill actually changes in the eyes of neoliberals. When the extremists start making noise, I view that as a good thing.

Reid and Dodd have one goal -- pass a bill. This particular bill, in many liberals' opinions, isn't worth the paper it'll be written on. No matter; Reid and Dodd face daunting re-election bids in 2010; in my opinion, it will take a miracle for the enormously corruptible Dodd to make a comeback, while Reid's chances are 50/50 at best. These two men don't particularly care what the bill actually says -- they will take anything. They needed some sort of bill to wave around at their constituencies and trumpet as a success.

Harkin admonished progressives that although the bill wasn't as sweeping as they hoped, the Democrats were building a "starter home," not "a mansion." When Harkin said this, Baucus -- standing over his right shoulder -- noticeably grimaced. This was telling. Harkin is one of the Senate's most overtly liberal members and an unabashed advocate of a single-payer system. Baucus -- one of the Democratic caucus' most moderate members -- is perhaps the most powerful of an enormous contingent of reasonable Democratic senators like Kent Conrad and Mark Pryor -- his reaction to Harkin's comments was classic. He was having none of it.

I'd ask conservatives who are predicting the apocalypse to take a step back and look at the big picture. When the Democrats swept back into power in 2008, the GOP was as politically unpopular as it had ever been. Even with an enormous majority in the House and a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate, the more liberal party leadership had to make enormous concessions -- drop the public option, drop the employer mandate, refuse to extend Medicare eligibility -- to get many moderate Democrats to sign on.

The Democratic Party will never -- never, ever -- in my lifetime be as politically powerful as it is at this moment. It controls the White House; has a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; and overwhelmingly controls the House. If it can't pass a sweeping health care bill now? This was liberals' chance, and it slipped through their fingers. And they lost their chance because the country deplores extremism. The country does not support a single payer system or even a public option. The ideas floated by the Democratic leadership and liberals generally are flat-out unpopular among most Americans. That's why even the rank-and-file -- Blue Dogs, Landrieu, Lieberman, Lincoln and especially Ben Nelson -- wouldn't support the asinine House bill. Too many Democrats realized they were signing away their political careers if they supported such a far left piece of garbage.

Finally, look at these numbers. You're telling me that the Democrats are going to be more popular as a result of the bill's passage? Please.

18 December 2009

... and over the cliff they go

Nearly a year into his presidency, Barack Obama continues to repeat the same, tired mistakes that has sent the Democratic Party into the wilderness time and again over the last 40 years.

Despite a deficit expected to reach $1.5 trillion next year, Obama wasted no time adding another $1.1 trillion to the pile yesterday.

The AP reports that leading Democrats believe that the spending bill will help lift the country out of the recession.

Yes, there's no tonic for an ailing economy quite like spending money that doesn't exist, driving down the value of the dollar, and adding even more interest payments to the government's staggering debt load.

And despite a plurality of Americans opposed to such legislation and the economy still deep in a recession, Democrats and Lindsey Graham appear poised to cut any economic recovery off at the knees with the disastrous cap-and-trade bill.

Sean Trende of the invaluable RCP blog calls the looming health care vote "political suicide," and he's right. Take a look at the polling numbers Trende cites, and then try to argue that most Americans want to pass the president's signature initiative. The health care crusade is like the GOP's immigration binge, circa 2005 -- no matter how much the party leadership intends on pushing extremist positions, the reality is that the vast majority of the country doesn't agree, and the party will be punished for it. This is inevitable.

I'm in disbelief that less than 11 months after George W. Bush left office, the Democratic Party has already fallen behind the party of Joe the Plumber in the generic ballot. This is astounding. The GOP continues to be run by impotent, insular, borderline-incompetent leaders like Mitch McConnell, so losing ground this rapidly is no small feat. The Democrats' freefall has been astounding, but nonetheless fun to watch.

They had better hope either Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman torpedoes their beloved health care bill, or the beatdown they'll take next November will be even worse.

09 December 2009

Score one for the adults

Before Thanksgiving, I marveled at the cults of personality surrounding both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and noted, as I have previously on this site, that the deification of these unabashedly self-absorbed political figures evinces the decline of the thinking man in American politics. Put simply, I've written many times that if you will go to the mat for either Obama or Palin, you need to put down the kool-aid.

Yesterday, Salon's Glenn Greenwald said the same thing:

"[These people] are not just random, politically apathetic people selected off the street. They are politically interested an engaged enough to spend hours waiting to see Sarah Palin. They have deep convictions about politics and overwhelming faith in her judgment and abilities. And yet they have virtually no ability to justify any of her specific views on issues. They really don't care about those. What they know is that she's a culturally familiar and admirable person. They share her views and know she's a good person, and thus trust that she will 'do the right thing' on specific issues regardless of whether they agree or even understand what she's doing. ..."

Greenwald marveled that the same phenomenon is true of Obama:

"The similarity between that mentality and the one driving the Obama defenses ... is too self-evident to require any elaboration. Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual. These are personality types bolstered with sophisticated marketing techniques, not policies, governing approaches or ideologies. But for those looking for some emotional attachment to a leader, rather than policies they believe are right, personality attachments are far more important. They're also far more potent. Loyalty grounded in admiration for character will inspire support regardless of policy, and will produce and sustain the fantasy that this is not a mere politician, but a person of deep importance to one's life who -- like a loved one or close friend or religious leader -- must be protected and defended at all costs."

Greenwald finishes: "This is all about cultural identification and personality admiration, and has nothing to do with the factors that ought to be used to judge political leaders."

Bingo. And so it goes with the American experiment as the 2010 midterms loom.

Our country is helmed by perhaps the most ill-prepared man for the White House in a quarter-century, whose approval ratings have dropped more precipitously than any president's since polling data became a tool 70 years ago, and whose major domestic policy initiatives have proven to be complete and utter failures. And the de facto leader of the opposition party is a former governor of a tiny state who inexplicably quit in the middle of her only term, was unable to answer a question about what books she reads, and who once claimed foreign policy expertise because part of her state borders an uninhabited part of Russia.

If you need evidence of America's intellectual decline, look no further than its leaders.

02 December 2009

The White House vs. Politico

David Kuhn of the indispensable RCP blog has a fantastic analysis of the Obama administration's newest war of choice -- on Politico.

The White House's assault against Fox News has been well-chronicled and doesn't really merit mention here, because Politico is quite different. In this era of partisan journalism -- which began with Dan Rather and the New York Times editorial board, and has spiraled out of control to the point where virtually every news outlet presents news slanted in some identifiable way -- Politico actually stands out as one of the last bastions of tough, independent reporting. To be sure, a few of Politico's bloggers cover the lighter side of Washington. But its reporting is fair, and its analysis top-notch. During the campaign, Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin's blogs following the Obama and McCain campaigns, respectively, were daily must-reads.

In my book, Politico sits squarely with the likes of Bob Woodward and John King -- tough, unaffiliated and with no ax to grind. The administration's attack of it -- along with its war on Fox News, the striking decline of the president's poll numbers, and the public backlash against the Democratic Party's signature initiatives -- paint a portrait of a president who is simply losing control.

Furthermore, RCP's Kuhn is spot on with his analysis. The Obama campaign team wrote the book on narratives. And once elected, more so than any administration in modern history, even Reagan's, the Obama team has carefully crafted the image of the president the public sees at virtually every turn. Obama was swept into office on the back of this nonsensical post-partisan narrative, and by the platitudes of change and hope repeated ad nauseum in rallies, in ads and at debates. Without the help of narratives, it's likely Obama wouldn't even have won the Democratic nomination.

We've written here before that the luster has clearly worn off. At this juncture, the president would be wise to cease these firefights against news organizations and simply worry about governing.

That alone has given him enough trouble.

01 December 2009

Required reading

Donklephant editor Justin Gardner tosses out the new blogger who threw together this piece of partisan garbage. I read the post yesterday and couldn't believe that Donklephant would provide a forum for such drivel. Kudos to Justin, who runs one of the best blogs on the internet.

Sen. Jim Webb has some strong words for the Changemaker. (Hat tip: Donklephant) As a side note, what is it with 21st century presidential administrations ignoring the text of the actual Constitution?

The best write-up on the health care debate I've seen thus far is an exhaustive offering from our friend John Burke at The Purple Center.

I'm not sure how Harry Reid plans to cobble together 60 votes on the health care bill, what with our pal Joe Lieberman promising to filibuster any bill containing public option.

Voting for any plan with a public option in it might well spell the end of the Senate tenures of a number of the Senate's more moderate Democrats -- including Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. Mary "Louisiana Purchase" Landrieu has five more years to make voters forget. But Missouri's own Claire McCaskill might be a one-termer regardless.

30,000 more. The president has many flaws. But he put his money where his mouth is this time.

A fascinating bit from late in the 2008 campaign, entitled "How They Would Lead."

Rep. Tom Davis and others urge the RNC to step off the ledge.

And finally, a feel-good read on the Reagans and the Kennedys.