Sunday, January 24, 2010

Democracy Be Damned

I have always been interested in how the US is perceived by other nations. That's the main reason I visit Watching America at least once a week. Sometimes I am amused, sometimes shocked, and sometimes I am embarrassed. This week, however, I was stunned to see just how closely this country is watched. I certainly never expected to find a pretty accurate description of a particular US Senate Rule in an op-ed piece, yet that's I discovered in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung:

Now, Obama falls one vote short of the needed number, and that places his entire agenda in peril. The notion that a party with a 59 percent majority in the Senate is unable to pass its proposals contradicts the basic principles of democracy.

The result: The minority blackmails the majority more and more now. In 1960, only 8 percent of all legislation was threatened by filibuster; by 1980, that had risen to 27 percent. In practice today, two-thirds of all proposed legislation needs a super-majority for passage, because Republicans threaten to filibuster.
[Emphasis added]

The article nails it beautifully. All the GOP has to do for the next nine months is to escalate its strategy of "No, Nothing," and the 111th Congress as led by the Democrats will go down in history as the biggest waste of oxygen in history. That, of course, does not bode well for the Democrats in November.

Now, one is tempted to conclude that elections have no consequences under the Senate Rules as long as the country is as divided as it is, but that is simply not the case. The Republicans managed to get their way during the last six years of the Clinton administration and the first four years of the Bush administration simply by facing the Democrats down with the threat of the "nuclear option," the repeal of Senate Rule 22. The Democrats aren't that kind of tough. They would prefer to buy the 59th and 60th votes with plum committee chairmanships and promises of campaign assistance. The offending rule should be repealed, but the Democrats have neither the stomach nor the spine for that kind of fight, and the Republicans (because they know that) are aware that they don't even have to fight, just threaten.

Both parties like the Country Club just the way it is, albeit for different reasons. Democracy be damned.

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