Saturday, April 13, 2013

"They deserve a vote"

The lede to this Hill article dredged up a thought that had flitted half-noticed through the ol' necktop a day or two ago:
The White House has tilted the gun control debate in its favor by centering its public relations effort around one pivotal message: the legislation deserves a vote.
The thought: maybe the best response to the Senate's galloping filibusteritis is not new rulemaking, but public shaming.

While gnashing their teeth over Republican obstructionism for the past four and a quarter years, progressives like Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, Ezra Klein and James Fallows have lamented repeatedly that most Americans are not aware of how limited the president's power is, that no one pays attention to how the Senate works, and that the media has normalized the filibuster-everything routine by constantly writing as if a 60-vote requiement to pass legislation in the Senate is a law of nature.

While the same posse has advocated reform of Senate rules, I have worried constantly that Democrats will muster the moxy to do so just in time to usher in a GOP senate. On a less partisan basis, I do think that the filibuster is a useful check on reckless legislation. I think that the problem is not the rules per se, but Republicans' 20-year drive to break through a panoply of taboos and norms that are ultimately better safeguards of good governance and civil liberties than the written rules (though admittedly, good rulemaking, including effective legal reform, can shape those norms and taboos, so there's a chicken-and-egg element to this).

The "they deserve a vote" peroration to Obama's State of the Union address this year was a brilliant rhetorical stroke (and a powerful riff) not just because it was invoked in the name of those who had lost loved ones to gun violence, but because it can serve as a readily-grasped battle cry and antidote to four and a quarter years of relentless, bad-faith obstruction.  It can be raised each time major legislation and major appointments to the bench and federal agencies are blocked.  Filibuster can really only be justified selectively, in response to a palpably extreme appointment or legislation that represents a radical departure (yes, it might have been justifiable if Republicans had the votes against the ACA).  Most of the time, "they deserve a vote" is unanswerable. The trick is making the public recognize what's going on.

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