The Majority Leader Flexes His Muscle

Harry ReidThe former Boxer puts on the Gloves

 The End of American Democracy?

We are on the verge of a paradigm shift in the way the Senate of the United States operates as Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada who serves as  Majority Leader, has announced his intention to dramatically change the rules governing how business is conducted in that august body.  Although he is a former boxer, like most prize fighters I have known he is a mild mannered outside the ring.  Hence he was forced to take the action he announced today. Now Republican Senators in the Grand Obstructionist Party will no longer be allowed to filibuster Presidents Obama’s appointments to critical government posts and the lower courts of the federal judiciary.

The numbers tell the story of why this action had to be taken.  As Senator Reid said in explaining his decision: In over 200 years of US Senate deliberations the Senate has employed the filibuster to block presidential appointments 168 times, but half of them occurred during the five years of the Obama administration!

The Majority Leader underscored his point by citing the great disparity in the numbers of appointments confirmed by the Senate of President Obama’s predecessors – Bill Clinton and George Bush – within the same time frame.  He reminded the American electorate by the 4th of July in his second term the senate had confirmed 80 of President Clinton’s nominees.  And by the 4th of July in his Second term President Bush had 118 of his appointments confirmed.  But by the 4th of July this year, only 34 of President Obama’s nominees have been confirmed.   These numbers supply irrefutable evidence for Senator Jeff Merkle’s contention that the Republican’s in both Houses of Congress have been exceeding their constitutional authority by “waging war on the presidency!”

However changing the senate rules to suppress the promiscuous abuse of the filibuster to thwart president Obama’s efforts to govern the country according to the vision he campaigned on, and was elected to enact, is a double edged sword.  This point seems to escape the majority of those who have been calling upon Senator Reid to take this step – which is popularly known as “the nuclear option” – and now vigorously applaud his actions.

While it is unquestionably the best way to end the Republican efforts to nullify the results of the last two presidential elections by employing the filibuster to block President Obama from implementing his policies and appointees, when the Republicans regain control of the White House and the Senate, as they inevitably will alas, it could pave the way for them to finish their effort to transform the United States from a popular democracy where the people can regulate the power of capital through government policy, into a plutocracy where the filthy rich not only own the country’s wealth but also control government policy by electing their shills to office.

The Supreme Court – which is stacked with Republican appointees – has laid the groundwork for this in the Citizens United Decision, which nullified all laws limiting political spending by corporations and allowed them to make their contributions anonymously.  At the same time the court has struck down a critical section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required the states with a history of racist voter suppression to pre-clear any changes in the voting laws with the Justice Department.  It is difficult to overstate the disastrous implications of this decision.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in the heat of a national struggle that embarrassed the US around the world and placed American diplomacy at a disadvantage in competing with the Communist Bloc, led by a nuclear armed Russia, for the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of non-white peoples in the emergent nations newly liberated from European colonialism.  With the collapse of the Communist Bloc racist right wing politicians need not worry about what the Russians think about domestic American politics, thus they are unconcerned with world opinion.

Ironically, the party that has made opposition to “judicial activism” a sacred cow now applauds one of the most blatant acts of judicial activism in history.  It will literally change the character of American politics.  The ultimate tragedy is that all of this is taking place right out in the open yet the majority are too addicted to the pleasures of wine, song, bread and circuses to notice.  Thus in their ignorance they do just what Thomas Jefferson warned an ignorant electorate would do: “Elect and return the worse people to office!”

Thus it falls to the enlightened sections of the electorate to oppose them; which means that should the Republicans capture the White House and the Senate, and the Democrats control the House of Representatives, they will have no choice but to become obstructionists and behave like the Republicans are acting now.    Minority leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to use this procedure to confirm Supreme Court nominees appointed by Republican presidents when they regain the majority – something the Democrats have stopped short of – insures that the House Democrats will have to act as a check on Right-wing Republicans.

Mad Mitch: Leader of the Disloyal Opposition
Mitch McConnell
An Unreconstructed Red Neck who vowed to wreck the Obama Presidency

At the moment however, this action will be exploited by Republicans to confirm a narrative about President Obama that they invented out of whole cloth: That he aspires to be a dictator or king!   Yet any objective observer who has been paying attention to American politics know that President Obama deeply reveres the Constitution –on which he is an authority – and entered the presidency as a champion of bi-partisanship.   Indeed, he has been so willing to compromise that he has been accused of “selling out” by his supporters in the left -wing of the Democratic coalition.  

But the Republican Party is in the hands of right-wing ideologues who view compromise, which is essential to governing in a divided government, as betrayal of their cause – which is to prevent President Obama from enacting his program.  Already the verbal arsonists in right-wing media are hysterically ranting about the “Obama dictatorship.

Alas, the majority of Americans are clueless about the deeper meaning of the gridlock we are witnessing in Congress – the polls show that they blame both the Democrats and Republicans – but serious scholars of American governance know better.  In his scholarly tome “It’s Worse Than It Looks,” Norman Orenstein, one of the most knowledgeable scholars of the Congress, places the blame for the increasing dysfunction of the US government right where it belongs: On congressional Republics!

The upshot of all this is that America is becoming ungovernable right before our eyes; the longest functioning democracy in history is becoming unworkable. And when future historians, far removed from the political passions of this moment, interrogate the government’s records from this period seeking the cause of this catastrophe, they will discover two things. The collapse of our democratic political process was self-inflicted, and it was the work of impassioned right-wing ideologues in the Republican Party who approached negotiations with the attitude of a suicide bomber!

They will point to the fact that American style popular democracy – which I believe has the potential to be the best system of governance in the world – is only possible with an informed electorate who choose representatives that are committed to serving the best interests of the majority of American citizens.  And they will marvel at the extent to which working class white Americans were persuaded to cut their own throats by supporting politicians promoting policies that were opposed to the interests of their class and hastened their demise.  It is the very definition of dangerous folly!


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 22, 2013

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