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Winner Take All is not the same as Democratic Process

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The form of democratic government we have chosen to live under is meant to be contentious. Argument is the grease that slips and slides us on our way toward values we can live with. Not necessarily my values or yours, but shared beliefs, hammered out with enough consensus to keep us from screaming profanities and slamming doors.

Six years of Compassionate Conservatism have brought us the likes of Ann Coulter, who popularized changing the argument when the argument is unsupportable. That brand of compassion turned us into a nation so polarized that when Democrats won back a majority in both houses of Congress, the 70% against current policies actually expected something to change.

They have been rudely disabused from that expectation. The reason for that is peculiar to the United States Senate, where mere majority isn't a controlling factor (unless it's a Republican majority).

The Senate has organized itself around something called cloture. Cloture is the rule for ending debate and calling for a vote. Without it, debate can't be shut off and the will of a simple majority is frustrated. Crippled, because cloture requires sixty votes, rather than a simple fifty-one percent of the Senators attending. Cloture is the father of filibuster, the right to uninterrupted speech against the majority. It’s a time honored way for the petulant minority to have its way and its most grandiose moments have been in the support of racial bias.

But no one wants to give it up. It may be their bias that needs protecting next.

At any rate, these are the short answers to why we’re currently angry at the Democrats we loved a few months back and voted for, to throw the bastards out. They haven’t delivered.

Prior to the 2006 mid-terms, when Republicans held 55 Senate seats to 45 for the Democrats, there was virtually nothing President Bush was unable to achieve. Obviously 55 is not 60 and yet Democrats were unable to hold back or even slow down a Republican landslide of legislation, from tax breaks for the rich to making someone answerable for the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prison abuses.

 There is a reason.

    “Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans”-- Will Rogers

Those words are a true today as they were when Rogers spoke them some seventy years ago. Prior to this 110th Senate, Republicans were always able to arm-twist, bribe or intimidate the five Democrats they needed for cloture. Not so amazingly, in the current Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 51 to 49 majority, they are flummoxed by their inability to hold their own majority together, much less wheedle the requisite nine Republican votes.

Overturning a presidential veto also requires 60 votes, which is why George Bush is not nearly so lame a duck as his poll numbers would indicate. All legislation must eventually pass the Senate and its arcane rules. Ergo, Bush will remain virtually unassailable until January 19, 2009.

Want to change that? Impatient to get rid of Alberto Gonzales and bring the troops home? Then impeach Bush and Cheney. That will automatically launch Catch-22. A finding of guilty in a trial of impeachable offenses in the Senate requires—you guessed it—two-thirds majority, a hefty 67 votes.

So what we have left ourselves is a winner-take-all government when Republicans hold majorities and a winner-takes-not-much under Democratic control. There’s a lot of argument and speculation about why that is. Personally, I think it goes back to Roosevelt’s depression-era programs that saved the country and, in doing it, so stunned conservative Republicans that they haven’t yet forgot (or forgiven) the poor being saved.

Interesting things come out of that. There are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the country, yet we had an even split of five Democratic presidents and five Republicans since FDR. Thirty-six years of Republican presidents against twenty-four years for the Dems (who have a harder time getting re-elected).

Republican administrations

    * built our Interstate highways,

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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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