Tuesday, March 01, 2005

It's Only Common Sense, People!

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Sick of all the partisan spin on the airwaves? Want a common sense analysis of the day's events? Well, you've come to the right place!

Common Sense Legislative Analysis

Having seen so many crack-brained ideas come out of the past several Republican congresses, I thought I'd seen it all. Then I heard about Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's proposal (threat?) to effectively abolish the filibuster.

The filibuster requires a vote of 60 senators to override. It is almost as old as the Senate itself. The effect of it is to increase compromise. Unless a party has 60 seats, it cannot force its will on a determined minority. So, the two sides meet and work out a compromise. Compromises are the cornerstone on which success in politics depends.

What has Republicans so incensed is that for the past several years, Democrats have blocked 10 of Bush's judicial nominees and allowed the confirmation of about 200 other nominees. Republicans blocked far more of Clinton's nominees for petty political reasons and you didn't hear Democrats talking about abolishing the filibuster.

Anyway, Frist, the almost certain Bush-backed Republican Presidential nominee for 2008, wants the number of votes it takes to override a filibuster to decrease from 50 to 51, a bare majority. They could accomplish this the next time the Democrats try to filibuster. A Republican Senator can appeal to the President of the Senate or the Presiding Officer (a Republican) that filibustering a judicial nominee is delitory and out of order. The President of the Senate will then agree and set a new precedent for a simple up-or-down majority vote on every nomination. Not so coincidentally, Republicans have a 55 seat majority in the Senate.

This is extremely shortsighted. The Republicans were in the minority in the Senate for about 50 years and in the majority only for the last 10. So, obviously, Republicans will likely be in the minority again at some point in the future. At which point, they will have effectively no power.

It is also extremely damaging to the tradtions and very nature of the Senate. Remember Mr. Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The filibuster is really the only weapon the minority have to allow them to be heard. The filibuster also helps our entire nation. The entire nation is served best by a vigorous debate in the national legislature. Also, one party can't nominate an extremist for fear of the other party using the filibuster and bringing the whole legislative process to a standstill. So, the two parties (three, if you count the president) consult and confirm a compromise candidate. The filibuster tempers the extremism of the majority, which is generally best for the nation.

The Senate was set up to be removed from the people. The House of Representatives has two year terms, so every member is constantly running for reelection and pandering to constituents rather than doing the business of the nation (hence all the pork barrel spending). The national interest is subordinated in favor of the local interest. The Senate has staggered six year terms, so that at any given time, 2/3 of the Senators are not running for reelection and can concentrate on the business of the nation. Thus removed from the ever-changing whims of their constituents, they can, at least for a time, feel free to ignore the local and state interest and make decisions based on the national interest. This makes the Senate far more of a deliberative body than the House.

Every school-kid knows the story of how Washington compared the Senate to a saucer into which you pour coffee to cool it down. The Senate is, or was until recently, a place where senators deliberated and debated what was best for the nation. Recently, however, Republicans have increasingly used the Senate to try to cram through their right-wing agenda, as they do in the House, without any regard for the opinions of the minority, the traditions of the Senate, or the best interests of the nation as a whole.

So, the Republicans have the votes to abolish the filibuster and get their way for a time. But they will have sacrificed the venerable traditions and deliberative quality of the Senate and the best interests of the nation upon the altar of political expediency.

Common Sense Foreign Commentary

In other news, Lebanon's prime minister has resigned after massive street protests calling for the resignation of the government and the withdrawal of all Syrian troops in Lebanon. The neocons and administration apologists are already spinning this as a triumph and complete vindication of the President's "bold vision" to spread democracy around the Middle East by first starting one up in Iraq.

Let's take a deep breath and look at the available evidence. The Iraqi election was on January 30. Between January 3o and February 14, nothing significant happened in Lebanon in terms of sparking a mass movement to get the Syrians out of Lebanon. The Christian minority had for years wanted Syrian troops out, but the Muslim majority of Lebanese didn't seem to care. Withdrawal was thus a factional issue. From February 14 on, it has become a national issue, as both Shiite and Sunni Muslims have joined the Christian opposition in large numbers. Simple logic dictates that something of significance must have happened on February 14.

As I'm sure all of you know, on February 14, a massive bomb exploded in Beirut, killing former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The whole premise of Syrian troops remaining in Lebanon was to maintain stability during and immediately after Lebanon's 15 year civil war. Even though the civil war ended in 1990, most Lebanese were content to have the Syrians remain to provide security. The bombing, the first since the war ended, immediately put the lie to the claim that the continuing presence of the Syrian troops was preventing violence. Plus, national crises tend to increase nationalism (remember 9/11?). And if there's one thing nationalists can't stand, it's an occupation. If that were not enough, Hariri was not only becoming an important figure in the pro-withdrawal camp, he had also been prime minister for most Lebanon's post-war history. He was a living symbol of the Lebanese people's unity and their bright hopes for their nation's future. His assassination was like John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859. It represented a tipping point between ignoring an obvious problem and confronting it, using whatever means necessary.

That is what is going on in Lebanon now. I hope that the democracy in Iraq succeeds and that all nations will soon enjoy the benefits of democracy. Iraq may yet initiate a wave of democratic change in the reason. But let's not kid ourselves: That's not what this is about. This is not about Iraq. It would be inappropriate and opportunistic to take credit.

Common Sense Jurisprudence

In other news, the Supreme Court has ruled that executing minors (people under the age of 18) constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment.

Not only is it cruel, it is very unusual. In fact it is unheard of in developed democratic nations. Of course, it isn't unusual in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and other bastions of tyrranny. Glad we're no longer in their company!

And a federal judge has ruled that, contrary to what the Bush Administration would have you beleive, it is unconstutional to lock up an American citizen and not try him.
The government has been trying to claim that American citizen Jose Padilla did not have these rights for the past two and a half years. Heck, give me just one minute and a pocket constitution and I could tell you it was unconstutional. Them Bush boys, they aren't too bright, are they?