Thursday, January 06, 2011

What are the broader implications of the US Senate and Filibuster?

Note: This is a cross-post from Blue Mass Group, but I thought I should post it here. I'm considering taking this idea and actually doing some more specific research to illustrate my point. If people would be interested in that, let me know in the comments.

Bob's diary at BMG on the damage the US Senate does to our country -- with or without the filibuster -- is a great one. When 18% of the population controls a majority of the votes in a chamber where bills must pass to become law, it's impossible to pass good law that truly reflects the population. If people are interested in reflecting on those issues -- and are willing to put the childhood mythology of American Exceptionalism to bed for a moment while they truly consider if our system is the best means of passing good, timely policy and law that reflects our population -- I implore you to go read Bob's diary and its many comments. 

What I want to do here is to address one of the more absurd points proponents of the Senate have been making -- that it somehow 'protects' us from the majority (here's an example of one of those comments). First of all, we have courts, a veto and, most importantly, public opinion to do that. However, I think it's really important to get under the skin on this issue and really take a look at this: Does the US Senate protect us from crazy Republican ideas... or, does it allow them to propagate? 

The Republicans, for years, have run a strategy where they go after their base and try to motivate them to turnout in high numbers -- winning with small majorities, instead of trying to win with a broad spectrum of support. It's normally worked -- smart politics because it's easier to rile up angry and/or scared right-wing voters than it is to count on often ill-informed, apathetic voters who are hard to turn out in the squishy middle. They also benefit because many traditional Democratic voters are low-turnout voters -- there may be more of us, but not always more of us who turn out.

This sort of strategy has existed, at this point, for a very long time, decades, in fact -- and, yet, very little of the core issues for Republican "values" voters has ever passed. Far from such things being a failure on the part of Republicans, that's the genius of the strategy: Republicans know these issues are, in fact, nonstarters. They can't pass. They never have to worry about public backlash in making these major issues in office -- or heaven forbid, *actually pass these issues* -- because of the US Senate. 

They get to run on these sorts of crazy issues, raise tens of millions of dollars on them, and get thousands of little, old ladies who go to church every Sunday to knock on hundreds of doors every major election cycle thinking they'll be able to do something on issues like abortion... without ever having to own up to the consequences of running on those issues. 

America is not alone in having government that's traditionally run by the 'right,' but we are alone in having a government that doesn't address the kinds of problems people think are important to them. We are alone, at least in 2 party systems, in having such a broken process that government completely grinds to a halt. France has had right-wing governments for most of its history in the current form of government it exists in today -- more often, even, than the US. The Labor Party in the UK was long in the minority before it arose again in the 90s, and may long be in the minority again. We are not alone in having a right-wing party that's enjoyed more dominance than its left-wing counterpart... yet we are alone in much of our policy. 

Ideology is not the explanation. The American people have long wanted the same things our partners in the developed world have had -- good education, high-quality, affordable universal health care and a higher standard of living for our population. Those other countries have achieved those things, but we haven't. There may be many reasons why, but one of the biggest surely has to do with our system of government -- the gridlock that is inherent in our system, where 18% of the population controls a majority of the votes and our biggest state -- with an economy that's larger than all but a few countries in the entire world -- has 1/68th the Representation as the citizens of Wyoming. 

Getting rid of the Senate may take a long time to come, and maybe reform may be the best option in the long run. I'm not saying there's no role for the US Senate to play, but it shouldn't be able to create a system where 18% of the population can subvert the will of the other 82% (or 10% subvert the will of 90% with the filibuster). Something's gotta give. Our country today is much different than it was in 1776; what made sense then may not make sense today. The big states are <i>much</i> bigger and people are far more likely to move to and fro, often never returning to where they're from. People should have an open mind and be willing to consider if having something so undemocratic as the current US Senate is going to be anywhere near as good as it is bad for our system. We must throw off the lessons we were taught as little children about how 'important' and 'balanced' the system is, because that wasn't an education... it was propaganda. The results of the world speak for themselves, and the way the Republican Party has been able to run itself -- without having to answer for their extremist positions to the American people because they never have the chance to act on them -- is just the way that it is. 

Being able to hold political parties accountable is imperative for the system -- both for the bad, and for being able to do the good. In our current system, Republicans may never really be able to do their worst, but Democrats will *never* be able to do anything close to their best. It's a broken system, and it's quickly leading to our ruin.

No comments:

About Ryan's Take