Friday, January 22, 2010

What has happened this week?

This week Americans have been confronted with the harsh realities of our tattered democracy, exemplified in the fallout from Scott Brown's victory on Tuesday in Massachusetts and the Supreme Court's decision yesterday in Citizen's United. Yes, both of these could easily be framed as setbacks for liberals or liberal causes (and they are) but I think that events this week have actually exposed far more fundamental cracks in the foundations of our democracy.

On Tuesday Scott Brown won what has been described as an upset victory but was actually a win that had been predicted for weeks by observers of all political stripes. There's a myriad of reasons that Brown won his race and I'm not going to rehash those arguments here, they are really beside the point. The relevant fact is that Scott Brown's victory gave Republican's control of 41 seats in the United States Senate and that is enough, in our present level of dysfunction, to give a Congressional minority near complete control over our Congress. The truly remarkable thing, to me at least, is that this version of reality seems to be accepted as true by Congressional Democrats, our Beltway media and even The White House without much pushback at all. It's now an accepted truism of Beltway conventional wisdom that a party who controls just 41% of the seats in the Senate is, effectively, in control of the agenda.

Congressional Democrats were tripping over each other to run away from healthcare reform in light of Tuesday's election - progressives, Blue Dogs - it didn't matter the ideology. The White House appeared to be aiding and abetting this retreat. Standing by (as they too often have throughout this reform process) and watching as Congressional Democrats destroyed themselves and their agenda - never bothering to simply stand firm and try to mitigate Congressional Democrats self-inflicted wounds. Certainly the administration's leverage over the Senate Caucus is limited and just as certainly they are dealing with a uniquely weak and incompetent majority leader. That doesn't mean though that the administration has no way to influence the process or public opinion. Stand up, call on the House to pass the Senate bill and ensure that nervous House progressives are sated with real assurances that needed amendments to the Senate bill will be addressed.

But I digress, The White House and Congressional Democrats have been dissapointing to be sure but the real issue we're now faced with is that it is now accepted that the United States Senate is no longer merely a check on the House or a President or hat it is no longer merely anti-majoritarian. Now the United States Senate is flatly anti-democratic and seemingly no one in a position of power is interested in contesting that narrative, It's absolutely maddening. Outside of the liberal blogosphere I've seen almost no pushback against this notion that nothing in can pass in the Senate without 60 votes. The ahistorical nature of GOP obstructionism has been well documented and occasionaly seeps into stories in papers like the Washington Post. But where is Harry Reid, where is Dick Durbin or even Russ feingold? Where is Barack Obama, where is David Axelrod or Rahm Emmanuel? Where are the voices of Democratic leadership calling this farce out for what it is?

Quietly aqcuiescing to the an ahistorical redefintion of role of the United States Senate is dangerous for our democracy and the health of our nation.

This brings us to the Supreme Court ruling that was handed down yesterday in Citizen's United. By now you've likely read an analysis of the legal merits of the case so I won't belabor what is a supremely outrageous decision. Beyond the merits (or lack thereof) of the opinion itself what we witnessed yesterday were five unelected and unaccounatble conservative Justices utterly ignoring precedent, trashing the concept of stare decisis and going far beyond the issues the case actually presented in order tio empower corporate domination of our elections and politics. Jeffrey Toobin's description of the Chief Justice's jurisprudence seems particularly apt today,

In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.

Time and time again in issues ranging from criminal law, to employment law and now to election law the Republican (they are certainly not conservative) block of the Court, with assistance from Justice Kennedy, have seen fit to ignore inconvenient procedural hurdles, stare decisis and any other historical constraints on their power in order to carry water for the Republican Party's preferred interests.

Citizen's United is a radical departure from past norms and practices concerning coprorations and their ability to influence and impact elections. If you thought that it was difficult to get our Congress to take on entrenched interests before just watch what happens in light of Citizen's United. Any Senator or Representative who dares to cross some CEO or offend the delicate sensibilities of a multi-billion dollar industry will be faced with an absolute deluge of money and advertisements to crush their re-election chances. Only those Congressman in the absolute safest of safe seats can hope to avoid this wrath, and even then they may not be safe - just look at Tuesday's election.

This is a realignment of our political process that of Biblical propotions. Combined with our new standard operating procedure in the Senate and I fear that we may have just crossed the threshold to an age of total fealty to corporate interests and otherwise near otal incapicatation of our political process. Our ability to deal with the major crises and issues of our day - healthcare, financial reform, the economic crisis, foreign affairs, climate change - may have just ben totally crippled. At this point it appears that entrenched corporate interests now only need 40 Senators under their thumb to block any legislation they deem inconveninet, with the Citizen's United decision gaining and holding those 40 votes just became all the easier.

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