Thursday, April 18, 2013

"They deserve a vote," cont.

Five long days ago, when the Senate broke a filibuster to allow debate on the Manchin-Toomey bill extending background checks on gun sales to gun shows and the internet, I wondered whether public shaming was not a better response to filibuster-everything obstructionism in the Senate than rule changes ending or sharply curtailing the filibuster.

Naive hope, at least in the short term. But Obama shares it. Last night, responding to the successful filibuster of the actual bill, he turned the spotlight not only on the moral cowardice of senators who voted to block the bill, but on Senate dysfunction:

Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders –- not just to honor the memory of their children, but to protect the lives of all our children. And a few minutes ago, a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it. They blocked common-sense gun reforms even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery....

A majority of senators voted “yes” to protecting more of our citizens with smarter background checks. But by this continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward (my emphasis). 
Obama has complained about obstruction in the Senate before. But not, I think, in a sustained way. This assault picked up the thread from the powerful peroration in Obama's State of the Union speech, which protested the filibuster without spelling out how it works:
Each of these [gun control] proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.
Presidents, we're told, can't sway public opinion by force of rhetoric -- that is, can't make the electorate favor a policy they oppose.  But most Americans are unaware either that nothing can pass today's Senate without sixty votes or that this state of affairs is a recent development. James Fallows is regularly driven mad (e.g., today) by the media's failure to educate the public on this front.

It's hard to imagine, I admit, that a senator would be more ashamed to vote to block a gun control measure than to vote against it.  But more vigor from Obama in response to filibustered appointments, and a sustained attack on filibusters, holds, and obstructive tactics of all kinds, could make a difference.

I still think that the filibuster remains an important firewall against an extremist GOP, and that the Senate's problem is more a matter of corroded norms and taboos than dysfunctional rules.

"They deserve a vote"

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