Thursday, December 8, 2011

Progressive Idiocy: Forgetting How We Got Here

Caption: The Constitution. Safely hidden from prying eyes in the Library of Congress.

Image credit: National Archives

The progressive "blogosphere" is all a-twitter (and a-blogspotter, one supposes) about the latest Republican congressional travesty:
Republicans in the U.S. Senate today blocked the nomination of Richard Cordray as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The vote, on a motion to end debate, was 53-45, with 60 votes required to move the nomination ahead.

U.S. Senate Republicans Block Cordray for Consumer Bureau
Certainly, the Republicans deserve blame for this. No one made them vote to filibuster this nomination. The sad fact is, though, that the Democrats had an opportunity to change this at the start of the Senate session last January, and they demurred:
Senate Democrats had an opportunity to get together and make the Senate a working, majority-rule-based chamber. They could have recently used the “Constitutional Option” at the start of this new Congress to rewrite the Senate rules to either eliminate the filibuster outright or at least make staging a filibuster more difficult. Yet, due to a combination of a greedy refusal to give up any individual power, and a pitiful cowardice about a potential future in which the voters reject them, Senate Democrats collectively chose to throw away this opportunity. By doing nothing, they effectively voted to give Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell total veto power over everything.

After Failing to Change Senate Rules, Democrats Lose Right to Blame Mitch McConnell
[link from original article]

The "Constitutional Option" he's referring to is that the Constitution says in Article I, Section 5 that Congress can decide what rules it will work by. Generally, each new congress agrees to use the same rules as the previous one did, but there's no reason that can't change.

Why did they refuse to do this? Two possible reasons come to mind:

First, they are politicians, and politicians never give up power willingly. You might find that a cynical statement, but it is not. Politicians need power to do their jobs effectively. Whether they define "doing their jobs" as building a better society or plundering it, they need power to do it. In my opinion, this is the most fundamental rule of politics. To not understand it is to discuss politics at the level of a babbling idiot. In fact, babbling idiots would probably find such a discussion boring, too.

Second, and this is me being cynical, it seems like a great excuse for Democrats to not do the things that their supporters want them to do, but their benefactors do not. The financial, defense, and energy industries, to name three of the more blatant ones, have their own agendas and very deep pockets. Those agendas are not progressives', generally speaking.

Progressives and others have begged the Senate to make this change in the past, and they have not. Unless the power to pass legislation and get other things done is more important than having the power to stop it, then I don't think that's going to change without, as I like to say, someone making a demand.

What's more, as anyone who wants to think back as far as the last presidential administration would recall, when the Democrats could have blocked radical conservative appointments to the Supreme Court and elsewhere, they declined. They also declined to block the bill that made Bush's illegal surveillance of Americans legal, among other things. They didn't use the power of filibuster to their supporters' advantage when they held it.

So, while blaming the Republicans for exploiting this predicament is no doubt emotionally satisfying to some, it is only part of the story. The other part is that the Democrats really have no one to blame but themselves.


Paul Sunstone said...

Cujo: "Second, and this is me being cynical, it seems like a great excuse for Democrats to not do the things that their supporters want them to do, but their benefactors do not."

Bingo. Ten years ago, that might be cynicism. Today, it's surely realism.

Cujo359 said...

It's certainly a theory that fits the facts, isn't it? Nothing says a cynical theory can't be right once in a while.