Sunday, November 14, 2010

Suggestion for President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid

This entry is an adaptation of a comment I left on my friend Neil's blog.

I am getting a little tired of hearing about the "shellacking" that Democrats took because you three, and especially the President, failed to be accommodating, civil, and cooperative enough in your dealings with the GOP. The shellacking was of Blue Dog democrats, not progressive ones, and there would be have no shellacking, perhaps not even a donnybrook, if you had done a better job of touting your accomplishments. As I will argue again later, Washington Democrats just don't understand the value of spectacle. Everyone in the country knew when their taxes were cut during the Bush era; remarkably few even noticed when they were cut this last time.

And that's not just because Bush sent everyone a check, while you decided to do what's best for the economy and make every paycheck a little bigger. It's because the Bush administration sent letters ahead of the checks and wrote on the checks that they were the ones who brought everyone the checks. I'm not suggesting that you should have written out checks, but I am saying that you simply do not understand the value of publicity and spectacle.

Despite the alleged shellacking, the Democrats retained control of the Senate. Unfortunately, though, the abuse of the filibuster has made that a pretty nominal victory. Any one senator can filibuster any bill, and it takes 60 votes to stop that from happening. And the Democrats don't have 60 votes, even during the lame-duck session.

Michael Moore suggested using the lame duck session to pass some of the 420 bills the House passed but that stalled in the Senate. Let them filibuster, he suggested, nutrition for children or fighting elder abuse. I agree, but I want to take it farther.

Others, in fact, have suggested both parts of my proposal (to no effect, as Democrats in Washington have seemed, for the most part, to be bent on appeasement), but what I think makes my combined ideas strong is that it brings two important actions together, and the whole would discredit the GOP more greatly than the sum of the parts.

I think my fellow Democrats in the Senate are idiots to let threatened filibusters have any effect. I think they ought to make the Republicans actually filibuster--stay up all night, read the phone book, not take bathroom breaks, the whole nine yards. On TV. Over popular bills, even bills that do what they originally proposed--which, yes, they have then turned around and opposed the moment Pres. Obama has agreed. 

I say the Democrats should bring up every bill that got through the House that would help ordinary people--and make Republican senators  actually filibuster those things.

Make them go all Mr. Smith Goes to Washington--but in order to stand for letting elderly people be abused. Make them demonstrate, on live television, their opposition to good things, for hours and hours and hours on end. Make them show the country what they're really doing and how little they care about the people who voted for them, in comparison with how much they care about taking complete control of the country back.

Make them be, visibly, the part of "hell, no"--hell, no, you can't provide nutrition for kids; hell, no, we won't say who finances our campaigns; hell, no, the wealthiest 2% of the country won't have to pay the same taxes they paid 11 years ago; hell, no, you can't have more unemployment even though there aren't enough jobs; hell, no, we won't keep the deficit down; hell, no, you can't retire at 65; hell, no, we won't do right by vets; hell, no, we won't adequately fund education; hell, no, you can't have affordable medical care; hell, no, gay people can't serve in the military, and hell, no, we won't fund the military at all if that's what we have to do in order to go on discriminating; hell, no, you can't refuse to give birth to your own sibling at the age of 13; hell, no, we won't vote for renewable energy; hell, no, we won't regulate predatory lenders.

Make them stand there and filibuster every last time; make them stand up and explain why it's not just hell, no, we won't vote for these things, but hell, no, we won't even let them come up for a vote.

By treating the threat of a filibuster as being the same as a filibuster, the Democrats are demonstrating a respect for the intelligence of the voters that, I must admit, is charming--but that totally fails to take into account the effectiveness of spectacle. In this case, the spectacle would be that of literally endless footage of Republicans talking and talking, reading aloud, reciting their grocery lists and the multiplication tables, and so on, all to keep popular legislation from being voted on, for fear it should pass--day after day, round the clock, bill after bill.

Republicans, however, do understand the visceral impact of that kind spectacle. They might try to spin the first few bills as heroic efforts to protect the people, but they know that, along about the 20th bill (or more likely, well before then), they would look like complete and utter assholes in the eyes of all sane people paying even the slightest attention.

There was an episode of Star Trek in which two countries on a planet (or maybe two planets at war) quit fighting real battles and switched to computer modeling. If the computer model of an attack said you would have died had the attack been real, you were to show up at a designated place and be killed. And people did it, because otherwise, there would be real war, and terrible infrastructure damage, and no one would have any quality of life.

Allowing the threat of a filibuster to serve as a filibuster is like that, except that the negative consequences of making the GOP filibuster would be that the Senate would grind to a halt and get nothing done, and the Republicans might become merciless and implacable opponents of everything the Democrats did.

And guys, it's time to face facts; those ships have already sailed.

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