Friday, November 22, 2013

Democracy and filibuster follies

Corey Robin, who teaches political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, put the Senate's changes to the filibuster rule in perspective:

… But what does the vote actually mean? As Phil Klinkner explained to me, and as [an] old Washington Post piece confirms, before this vote, senators representing a mere 11% of the population could block all presidential appointments and all legislation.

From now on, senators representing a mere 17% of the population can block most presidential appointments; senators representing 11% can still block all legislation and all Supreme Court nominees.

That is, the U.S. Senate remains a deeply undemocratic institution. It was designed that way, above all to protect those states that insisted on defending their property in human beings -- to defending slavery

Over time more and more democracy has intruded on the U.S. Senate. Only in 1913 did we the people come to be able to vote directly for Senators; until then the members were appointed by often-corrupt state legislatures. I am old enough to remember when the required votes for cloture (getting to a vote) were reduced from 67 to a "mere" 60 in 1975 by a Democratic majority sick of being hamstrung by filibusters.

Yesterday's fix is only a beginning. If we were serious about about democracy, we'd amend the Senate out of existence. Why should a tiny fraction of the population be able to frustrate majorities? That's a real question. Are not elections the proper means to decide the direction of the country?

Another small step for democracy on a long road ...


Rain Trueax said...

I think it'd take a lot more educated populace than we currently have to trust the masses to make all decisions regarding laws, rules to live by, spending, or wars. You see it all the time with the polls where people swing this way and that with each ad. We have a republic which is hard enough to ensure people vote for leaders who will use wisdom to make their decisions. Currently I don't trust the masses anymore than the congress ;). Somehow we need more educating on actions and consequences, about how do you pay for what you want, economics, social responsibility, etc. Mob rule is democratic in that it's the majority in an area but how often is it really anything but run by emotions? I think it's why the founders went for a republic. Even then, the trick is to get people to vote wisely for those leaders.

Oregon gets quite a bit of democracy in action with ballots which can pretty much undo anything the state government has okayed or create new bills-- like limiting taxes or making it unconstitutional for gay marriage. I've seen so many times where the majority vote has been a huge disappointment to me. It's not that I'd do away with putting ballot measures up by petitions but that also gets subverted with the corporations hire people to get those signatures who have no interest in the cause but only in the paycheck.

That said, if we did have federal ballot measures for a majority vote... we'd likely be out of Afghanistan tomorrow ;)

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain -- I'm firmly of the opinion, following Winston Churchill (who often regretted this), that "democracy is the worst form of government except all those others that have been tried ..."

Rain Trueax said...

Well we in the United States don't have one for now and not sure who truly does. I'd be interested in that to see how it appears to work to let the people vote on all choices with I guess no need for elected officials other than those to carry out those new rules or laws? Most forms of government that I am familiar with are either dictatorships or republics. I'd love to see an example of one that was a true deomocracy. I think with our polling, we come close but with the country divided in half for what each wants done, it would be hard to say where direct voting would take us.