Something is seriously wrong. The pollsters tell us a majority of Americans opposes George Bush's war on Iraq. The one poll that counts--the 2006 Congressional Elections--gave the Democrats a majority in both houses of Congress, with the apparent intent of replacing the rubber stamp Republican Congress with one that would restrain the President and bring his war to an end. Nine months have passed since this new Congress was seated, and the Democrats have delivered--nothing? No, not exactly nothing: they have propelled us a few miles further up the road to instutionalizing a mind- numbingly duplicitous public discourse.
Why does the Democratic Congress not stop the war? Nancy Pelosi tells us it's because the Senate can't act, and if it did, neither house would have the votes to override a presidential veto. Harry Reid says, he's tried, but the Senate doesn't have the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. He and Senator Levin tell us that to get those votes we must persuade a few more Republicans (Senator Lieberman being presumably beyond persuasion of any kind) by offering bills them the opportunity to endorse a bill that would have no effect on the conduct of the war. We thus have a national debate about how best to give the President's Congressional abettors the cover they need to continue evading the expressed will of the voters.
The continuing waste of lives and treasure is intolerable; yet the premise that Congress is dysfunctional because the majority party cannot effectively change policy goes unexamined--despite being arrant nonsense.
Take the filibuster first. We need a correction here. The Republicans did not block Senators Webb's and Hegel's attempt to support the troops by demanding they not be left indefinitely in a combat zone, with no predictable rotation home, nor any other recent Democratic initiative with a filibuster. Rather they blocked these moves with the threat of a filibuster. Under current practice a cloture vote is scheduled and if it fails the matter is, at least temporarily withdrawn. A filibuster, on the contrary, requires the physical stamina, organization, and public scrutiny of an interminable senate debate.
This behavior on the part of the Democratic majority corrupts public discourse. I need an explanation: Mr. Reid,Why don't you make them filibuster--give us the public spectacle of Democrats trying to stop the war while Republicans stand (the rules require them to stand) in the Senate--day and night--reciting Shakespeare or reading recipes into the Congressional Record as Huey Long was wont to do? Let them break Strom Thurmond's record 24 hours and 18 minutes of non-stop bloviation against the Civil Rights act of 1957. You did it symbolically--keeping the Senate in session for one night not long ago. That was a good start, but the death and destruction in Iraq, the erosion of the rule of law at home, the bankrupting of the economy and the corruption of public debate are not symbolic. These on-going travesties need to be confronted substantively.
If you need to refresh your memory Senator Reid, you might consult the Congressional Research Service's useful report "Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate", produced in 2003, when Republican's thought the filibuster an apt target for a nuclear strike, Here's a telling paragraph:
Contemporary filibusters usually are fairly courteous affairs. The Senate's daily schedule normally is arranged so that filibusters are not unduly disruptive or inconvenient to Senators. One way to make conducting a filibuster more costly and difficult is to keep the Senate in session until late at night, or even all night, requiring the participating Senators to speak or otherwise consume the Senate's time. During some contentious filibusters of the 1950s, cots were brought into the Senate's anterooms for Senators to use during around-the-clock sessions.
Maybe courtesy isn't all it's cracked up to be. The troops you so gallantly support have been known to miss sleep and hot meals; they don't get home for holidays and summer recesses. Would it be too discourteous to keep the Senate in session looking for a way out, so they can stop being blown up and shot at?
Of course, making the Republicans actually filibuster, rather than taking their stated intent for the action, would cause the business of the Senate to grind to halt--and so it should. What are you doing that's more important than ending the carnage in Iraq and restoring constitutional government in the United States?
Ms. Pelosi has an easier time in the House. She can pass a bill now and then and let it die in the Senate. But this too is an absurd evasion. It is George Bush who needs to fund his war. The Democrats don't have to pass anything; they need only to prevent passage of appropriations. Ms. Pelosi, you know as well as anyone that your majority in the House can do that on its own. The Senate can neither pass nor kill an appropriation you don't send them. You can stop the administration in its tracks; just shut down its funding. I know it didn't work out well when Newt Gingrich brought the government to a halt in a fit of pique over the seating arrangements on Air Force One. Is your contempt for the electorate so great that you really think we can't distinguish between that and an illegal and futile war? The mind boggles.
If the Congressional Democrats were serious about the substance of what the President and his party had wrought upon us, business as usual would stop dead, and that would be a good thing. Because when real people are dying real deaths for no moral purpose, the wheels ought to cease to turn until something is done about it.
So what is up with the Democrats? Are they more at ease with the Administration's purposes than the public at large? Is there something they aren't telling us? Or are they really so out of touch with life as others live it that they don't even see the dissonance between their own interests and the (not-at-all symbolic) bloody mess they are stepping in?