WASHINGTON, DC --- Did Mitch McConnell (R-KY)“break the Senate” last week with his decision to use the so-called “Nuclear Option” allowing a simple majority of senators to change the long-standing filibuster rule?
As Majority Leader, McConnell has generally tried to convey some form of “adult-like” behavior in the Senate (as opposed to the general disjointed caucus in the House). But his actions last year -- to stall and then kill President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merritt Garland’s to the Supreme Court -- made many in Washington unhappy and dismayed by the clear partisanship the Senate has now embraced under McConnell’s leadership.
Further, McConnell’s decision last week to use the “Nuclear Option,” allowing a simple majority to agree to end a filibuster; which in turn allowed the Republican-majority Senate to push through President Trump’s replacement nominee, Neal Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court, has further angered liberals.
Beyond all the rhetoric, McConnell’s recent actions have made it clear that the kid gloves are off, and that rank partisanship will now be the order of business in the Senate.
Since the November elections, the Republicans now control both the House and Senate. Therefore, McConnell’s move on Gorsuch’s nomination is nothing more than a naked power play. Elections mean something, as people are beginning to quickly understand. And, with tax reform, infrastructure funding and perhaps a new healthcare bill forthcoming, Democrats will not forget the power-play on Gorsuch.
Those who believed that the Senate was filled with “grown-ups” who could rise above the rancor, and act as “statesmen” who are above petty political squabbles, are now on the same plain as believers in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. In short, it’s sharp-elbows and “Katy Bar The Door” in Foggy Bottom these days.
The truth is that the Senate has always been hyper-political. Fights over segregation, states rights, international tariffs, even fights over rules governing the Senate itself, have lead to heated exchanges and rancor since the beginning of the country.
I can drag out lots of stories to support this statement, all the way back to John Adams, Aaron Burr, John C. Calhoun and Charles Sumner. Instead, check out this link in Wikipedia, which does a decent job of telling the history of the filibuster in the Senate.
It has been opined by some that America is at a crucial junction. That the Age of Trump, is the beginning of the end of America, and that the partisan rancor in Washington, which seemingly is getting louder and angrier, has never been worse.
With all due respect, that’s nonsense.
The country has withstood a British invasion (1812), Civil War (1860-65), multiple economic depressions, two World Wars, The Red Scare (1940s and 50s), the threat of nuclear war (1961), the upheavals of Viet Nam, the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate and the emergence of the Women’s Movement. Not to mention real questions about personal privacy, 9/11, the Internet, trans-gender rights, health rights, and perhaps the greatest of all atrocities, driverless cars (well, maybe the last one doesn’t belong with the rest of this list).
In fact, it was a 19th Century predecessor of McConnell’s, Henry
Clay, a Whig, who it turns out also represented Kentucky throughout a long political career -- as Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams, in the Senate, and eventually three terms as Speaker of the House -- who showed us how to play the art of politics at its highest levels. Clay (who served in Washington from 1820-52) is famous for many things, but mostly for his artful manipulation of parliamentary rules. His so-called “system” lead to his ability to strike “The Great Compromise of 1850.” Here’s a link to more on Clay: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compromise_of_1850
It was Clay’s keen understanding of the process of legislation, and his mastery of Senate rules, (including and not limited to using wind-bags like Massachusetts Sen. Daniel Webster to delay actions for days in the early form of the filibuster) which eventually helped California to be admitted to the Union; the new territories of Utah and New Mexico added to the national map; enabled the sale of slaves to end in the District of Columbia; and Texas to be absolved of its massive debts (at the time) by the Federal Government. Clay’s Great Compromise also preserved the Union for another 10 years, before the eventual outbreak of Civil War.
Makes some of the stuff they’re dealing with in Washington today sound like child’s play.
Still, Sen. McConnell could learn a thing or two from his fellow Kentuckian about how to act like an adult, and how to play well with others. Have no fear, America will withstand Mitch McConnell’s grip on the Senate. It has survived much worse.
But it is interesting to note that the tenor of today’s political arguments do seem to be getting louder, and some might say, much uglier. And it’s affecting our media, too. In the March issue of Wired, the magazine takes a detailed look at how the media is rapidly changing to address this new, more agitated and angry American political and social landscape.
Alt-facts and truths are at the heart of much of this, as is technology. As people are choosing to see and hear and read what they want to, they no longer are relying on a small elite group of media elements to decide for them what they need to know. We wrote about this earlier, in Blog. No. 9 in January, “Toys for Rich Boys.” The concept of editorial balance and fairness has been replaced by “tailored” news, down to a very granular level that in some instances is driven by artificial intelligence software.
Not since Gutenberg, the birth of television, the advent of the 500-channel cable universe, or the wonders of compression technology and seemingly free access to the Internet (unless you live in a rural area) --- have we seen such a dynamic shift in media and political interest. Americans and citizens around the globe are being bombarded with access to information that only one generation ago would have seemed like science fiction. Ratings at CNN, MSNBC and Fox, despite many controversies (can you say Jeff Zucker, Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes), are not just up, they’re way up, even as advertisers are asking hard questions about brand placement tied to editorial content and overall internet advertising efficacy.
As the Internet only gets bigger, and more and more humans join the discussion, the problems will only expand, the opinions will become more varied, and the viewpoints expressed will probably take on more “bang-bang” effects to rise above the cacophony and get somebody to actually notice you.
So, in the face of all this anger, abuse, agitation and downright hostility, here’s a novel idea: Be nice.
Being nice isn’t sexy. It probably won’t blow the roof off of voter polls, and it may not always drive us to a better solution, but it’s the right thing to do.
Why not try to listen to the other side? Learn from their viewpoints. Break bread with members of the loyal opposition. Try to find common ground. Respect the other side’s views and opinions. And then go about the task of passing useful laws that will benefit all Americans.
“You can’t please all the people all the time,” Lincoln said. He also said that a “House divided against itself cannot stand.”
Instead of all the shouting, back biting and downright outrage, let’s take a deep breath, start acting like adults, and get the politicians and media mavens to start being more accountable. In short: Less rancor, more results.
Now that would be a novel approach. One worthy of The Great Compromiser himself.
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