No We Can't

>> Thursday, January 21, 2010

While I've been trying to ignore the news for the past 24 hours, itself ironic given I did a couple live BBC radio interviews about guess what yesterday morning (which was a bit of an adventure as I am at home playing single dad to my chicken-pox addled daughter, who gracefully declined a gold plated opportunity to get on the air for the first time), two things come to mind.

1) The U.S. Senate sucks. As an institution. In class, I use the U.S. Senate as an case study of democratic institutions that aren't. Two of my classes are designed to explore the tension between theoretical conceptions of democracy (of which there are, of course, many contradictory accounts, so it can be fun for those students who bother to read a book) and empirical reality. While I have always let students reach their own conclusions, I tend to treat the U.S. Senate in a breath normally reserved for the House of Lords. It's bad enough in terms of representation that the institution is highly skewed, and the median voter as represented in the Senate is considerably to the right of the median voter as represented in the House (or in the general population).

However, to add the tacit requirement of a super majority on top of this already skewed pattern of representation is to add insult to (small d) democratic injury.

I don't make this rant as a dismayed Democrat. Indeed, as a Democrat, my natural state is dismay. I'm comfortable here. Rather, I question the institution on democratic norms. In the U.S. the students would get this, yet still want to retain the institution, thus they would, on average, logically opt to abolish the 17th Amendment. This never failed to both surprise and impress me. In the U.K., students simply want to abolish the Senate. Of course, these same students argue in favor of retaining the House of Lords, modified to make it more democratic.

2) The Democrats in the House need to get their shit together and pass the existing Senate version of HCR now, for reasons articulated by both Rob and Scott below, and that this is all we'll have for a generation on HCR. This seems to me to be the only way forward remaining. Of course, being Democrats, they can't do the sensible thing.

A little, uh, leadership from the Executive branch and that guy all about change we elected in 2008 would come in handy here. Unfortunately, all we get are noises about a version of HCR that moderate Republicans would embrace.

What's the point of having -- still -- huge majorities in the Senate, the House, and having the Executive branch again?

There are two silver linings here, and it's not that having 59 votes in the Senate is somehow better than having 60. First, Joe Leiberman is now, happily, irrelevant. Second, I have to do a couple lectures on campus next week about the current state of play in American politics, and now I have something analytical to talk about.


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