Thursday, November 21, 2013

The "Nuclear Option" Should Just Be The Beginning

Today Harry Reid finally utilized the so-called "nuclear option" to end the unprecedented number of filibusters of executive appointees by Senate Republicans, which have hampered the president's basic power to govern the country.  I laugh at the term "nuclear option," since most people would term it "common sense."  How does it make any sense in a democracy for a minority to prohibit the basic functions of government because it wants to throw a temper tantrum?  Republicans warn Democrats that they could well soon be in the minority, but so what?  Isn't it about time we recognized that we shouldn't govern purely based on partisan concerns?

Our system of government in obviously broken, something easily proven by the federal shutdown this fall and the ability of individual Senators to put "holds" on nominations without even providing a reason.  The Senate likes to think of itself as "the world's greatest deliberative" body, which is a complete joke.  Can anyone tell me the last time we had a profound debate of any sort in the Senate?  Has there ever been a use of the filibuster which was not negative?  I ask the latter question having recently read Joe Crespino's fantastic Strom Thurmond's America, where the titular Senator used the filibuster to slow down civil rights legislation and defeat card check union elections.  The Senate consists of a bunch of venal blow-hards who love nothing more than the sound of their own vacuous voices.  Despite acting like a bull in a china shop, Ted Cruz fits right in there.

I would be happy to find a way to scrap the current set of Senate rules completely.  They are a relic from a time when the Senators were not even elected by the people, and these rules have traditionally been manipulated by reactionaries to stop popular legislation that they don't like.  Make the Senate like any other legislative upper house, and force it to actually do its job.  It needs to generate laws, not hot air.  In any case, these rules were never voted on by the people, nor are they part of the Constitution, and thus seem to have little to no democratic validity in my eyes.

The House could use some changes, too.  Above all, it actually needs to be representative of the people.  The current partisan mess has left Congress just about as popular as athlete's foot and root canals, yet the same shysters get re-elected.  The iron-clad nature of legislative districting has a lot to do with this.  When the founders gave state legislatures the power to create districts, I don't think they had any notion of gerrymandering, yet 200 laters we still haven't fixed that awful mistake. California has put districting in non-partisan hands, and this has both made districts more representative, and politicians more responsive.

When it comes to political and social reform, our nation seems to be sleepwalking.  Instead of holding onto moldy, failed political traditions like the Senate rules or state legislatures setting up legislative districts, we need to break free of them.  Rather than bitching about the awfulness of Congress before pulling the lever for the same old jerks, we need to find ways to make Congress more accountable.  Hopefully today will be a solid first step.

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