Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Democratic Crybabies

The Democrats are so pathetic.

Their latest plea is that if Martha Coakley doesn't win in Massachusetts today, they'll lose their critical 60-seat Senate block and with it, health care reform.

It's bullshit. If the Democrats wanted to pass health care reform, or anything else, they could do it today. Any time they wanted, with a simple majority vote, they could end the filibuster rule that enables Republicans to block legislation.

This is so simple, it's useful to break it down the way a child might approach it.

Democratic Senator: Sorry, little girl, we can't pass health care reform without 60 votes.

Child: In school they taught us there only 100 Senators. So don't you need only 50 votes?

Dem: Yes, but there's a Senate rule that allows the minority party to do something called a "filibuster," and when they do, the majority party needs 60 votes to overcome it. Filibusters used to be rare, but now the Republicans do one for every bill we try to pass. Those meanies.

Child: Well, where did the rule come from?

Dem: The Senate passed it.

Child: By a majority vote? I mean, 50 Senators?

Dem: Yes.

Child: Then don't you need only 50 Senators to repeal it?

Dem: Huh?

Child: I mean, if you think Republicans are meanies who aren't being fair about the rule, why don't you just change the rule?

Dem: That would make the Republicans really mad!

Child: So you're afraid of them?

Dem: Of course not!

Child: Then why don't you change the rule?


Child: I was afraid of bullies, too. But then I stood up to one and he backed down. You should try it.

The only thing my hypothetical child might be missing -- and only because she's so innocent -- is that the Democrats might actually like the filibuster they're always complaining about. Here's a link that nicely lays out how the filibuster works and why the Democrats are motivated to keep it: essentially, because they can use it to excuse their failure to fulfill their promises to their constituents while simultaneously invoking mean Republican abuse of the rule in their fundraising efforts.

So are the Democrats cowards or cynics? I'm not sure. Sometimes, watching them, I see a study in learned helplessness -- they've let themselves be beaten down so many times they just want to cringe in the corner and give up. Other times, I see the Stockholm syndrome -- they want to lick the hands of the people who are punching them. Or maybe they do indeed know exactly what they're doing -- their "inability" to cope with those obstreperous Republicans is great for fundraising. Regardless, listening to them whine about how they can't pass legislation because they don't have 60 votes is like listening to a guy who says he can't work because he's wearing handcuffs -- handcuffs he's put on himself, and to which he's holding the key.

Ironically, undergirding the cynicism and cowardice is stupidity. I doubt the average voter knows that much about the details of health care reform or any other proposed legislation or platform. Most people don't choose a product because they really know the product's features; instead, they make an emotional decision based on the product's brand. At this point, the Republican brand is "bully." Not good, you might think, because most people hate bullies. But the Democratic brand is "coward." And looking out at a scary, uncertain world, a lot of people would rather be led by a bully than by a coward. Until the Democrats grasp this obvious, fundamental point, their fortunes will continue to come down to the results of single special elections, their turns in the White House to interludes between bouts of Republican incompetence so profound that desperate voters will temporarily grasp at any alternative. You can call this state of affairs a lot of things, but "prescription for getting things done" will never be one of them.

Between one party that's "corrupt and inept," and the other that's "batshit insane," what can be done? Digby has the best and most level-headed plan I've come across. Read it on Hullabaloo here.

P.S. Yesterday Scott Horton blew gigantic holes in the government's attempt to cover up torture and murder at Guantanamo. Overseas papers are all over the story, but the American mainstream media won't touch it. Make a difference -- post, tweet, or forward Scott's article and do what you can to make America a nation under the rule of law.


Annette Gallagher said...

You are 100000% right. I have wondered the exact same thing about that damn rule myself a dozen times. Like Jon Stewart said about the MA Senate race, "If this lady loses, the health care reform bill that the beloved late senator considered his legacy will die. And the reason it will die is because if Coakley loses, Democrats will only have an 18 vote majority in the Senate, which is more than George W. Bush ever had in the Senate when did whatever the f**k he wanted to."

Walt Mussell said...

Annette, you beat me to it. As I read this, the first thing that came to my mind as well was Jon Stewart's comments from his show last night.

Barry, you and I disagree politically on a number of items. But I think we're in agreement that both political parties have pretty much been useless in terms of job performance.

Thanks for the interesting link at Hullabaloo.

cumulus said...

You're assuming that the Democrats in the Senate will vote as a bloc, which they do not do. Having a simple majority is insufficient to overcome the resistance by conservative Democrats. A super majority gives the Democrats additional leverage to pressure wayward Senators to get on board.


Anonymous said...

Unless I'm mistaken (which is quite possible), measures or motions to amend the Senate rules, require an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Senators present and voting.


Barry Eisler said...

Cumulus, I don't see how a super majority gives Dems additional leverage to pressure wayward Dems. It just increases the odds that they'll be able to find the necessary 50 votes -- easier to find 50 among 60 possibilities, for example; even easier to find 50 among 70, etc. Maybe we're talking about the same thing, but regardless, what matters is they'd need to come up with 50 votes (plus Biden as the tie-breaker if they can't get more than 50 without him).

Glenn, I'm not an expert, and the rule does seem to say what you claim it does. Here's what I was going on -- it certainly sounds as though if the Dems wanted to, they could do it.




The Republicans threatened it back in 2005 - the "nuclear option." Why can't the Dems? All it would take is balls.

Dems, balls... I know, hah-hah.

aaron said...


Alternately, they're worried that they won't have the same majority at the end of this year, and want to preserve the filibuster option in that event. Burning bridges and all that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the additional links, Barry. I was mislead by the "child" into thinking the matter was about repealing the ability to filibuster. I see the point more clearly now... Who knows? Perhaps if they figure out what they really want, the half-castrated Dems'll get the ball rolling.

Barry Eisler said...

Aaron, good point, and the irony is, at the rate they're going, the Dems are going to need that filibuster sooner than they'd like.

FWIW, I'd like to get rid of the rule and others like it (individual holds) regardless of who's in power. I'm a big fan of simplicity and it would be nice to deny politicians excuses for not getting things done.

Glenn, in addition to the Nation article I linked to in my post and the additional links in my comments, I haven't been able to come up with much. Which surprises me, as this is a hot (and perennial) topic and I would have expected to be able to find more clearly on point. I think I'm right about the rule, but I should have made more certain before I wrote the piece. Thanks again for the extra information.

Anonymous said...

I found a cleaner and updated version of Geoghegan's take on the matter in his, Mr. Smith Rewrites the Constitution. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/opinion/11geoghegan.html?pagewanted=print

Though I'm not inclined to favor the current instantiation of proposed health care reform, I also can't argue against fact of the filibuster having evolved into misuse. (Well, I suppose I could if I put my mind to it. But since being rational is more fun, don't think I will.)

Thanks, Barry, for your entertaining, informative and thought provoking blog entries.

Anonymous said...

The New York Jets will be playing the Indianapolis Colts this coming Sunday. After halftime, the teams will switch sides. That is to say, er, that the team that headed 'this' way during the first half, will head 'that' way during the second half... and the team that head 'that' way during the first half will head 'this' way during the second half. Kind of complicated, if you ask me. Why not keep it simple and just switch jerseys?

May 17, 2005
Senate Leaders Break Off Talks on Judicial Nominees

WASHINGTON, May 16 - The Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, broke off talks on Monday with his Republican counterpart on efforts to head off a showdown on judicial nominations, saying he could not consent to Republican demands...

Mr. Reid's declaration means that the best chance of skirting a showdown may rest with a bipartisan group of senators outside the leadership. They are trying to reach a compromise among themselves to forestall a change in Senate rules because of Democratic filibusters against federal appeals court nominees...

"Republicans believe in the regular order of fair up-and-down votes and letting the Senate decide yes or no on judicial confirmations free from procedural gimmicks like the filibuster," Dr. Frist said in a statement on Monday, "and I hope Senator Reid and others know our door is always open to reasonable proposals for fair up-or-down votes for judicial nominees."

Mr. Reid said the Republican position amounted to a demand that all judges receive a floor vote and that filibusters be eliminated. He appealed to Senate Republicans to break with their party and prevent a change in Senate rules...


PBI said...


Just saw that you had a note about the Scott Horton article. As usual we're on the same page - it's the subject of my last post, which followed up on a couple of others I wrote about the Gitmo "suicides."

Sensen No Sen

Apologies for blog-whoring, but this story needs to be told!