E. J. Dionne on Senate Stupidity

As many of my regular readers know, I often find myself frustrated by something that's happening (or, more often, not happening) in the United States Senate. Over the past several years, I've been repeatedly stunned by the near-complete absence of skill, competence, or leadership demonstrated by Harry Reid - particularly when it comes to actually getting the Senate to do anything more than twiddle, fiddle, and resolve.

Given that, I was mostly pleased with E.J. Dionne's take on the Senate problem in his most recent WaPo column. His analysis of the issue, the way he hi-lighted the Republican obstructionism even on bills that they ultimately voted for, and his suggestion that voters are getting fed up with the problem were all spot-on. Unfortunately, however, his conclusion did not quite manage to hit the mark dead-center:

The rules have changed. The extra-constitutional filibuster is being used by the minority, with extraordinary success, to make the majority look foolish, ineffectual and incompetent.

Sorry, E.J., but you missed it there. But don't feel bad - it was an easy mistake to make. You just got the cause and the effect mixed up.

The minority is not using the filibuster with extraordinary success in order to make the majority look foolish, ineffectual, and incompetent. The minority is able to use the filibuster with extraordinary success because the majority is foolish, ineffectual, and incompetent.

Hope that helps.

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You are too damned generous.

The ideological polarization of the two parties makes getting anything done difficult too. What looks like partisan politics is often an actual ideological disagreement, but along party lines.

But when one party uses the filibuster when they are the minority, and decries it two years later, then I call foul. Or perhaps a "Pox on both your houses."

Remember when the "stimulus" bill went through last spring, with 167 Republican amendments but zero GOP votes? If something like that had happened 50 years ago, when the Dems had a strong Senate leader (fella named Lyndon B. Johnson), some technicality would have halted the voting, the bill would've gone back to committee(s), 167 amendments would've been torn out by the bloody roots and left to die gasping on the cold floor tiles, and the cleaned-up bill would've been on the President's desk the next Monday morning.

The theory I've been working on lately (and one without even gossip to substantiate it, mostly from knowing what the relevant research would do to my digestion), is at least pretty simple and seems to match the available facts.

The Democrats in the Senate chose Harry Reid as their chief when they were in the minority and Beltway "wisdom" had it that they would remain that way forever. Thus, seeing no need to set things up as if they had a country to run, and all wanting to go their own ways, they consciously chose a weak leader, one who would give them all very long leashes.

Now that the Dems - mostly by default - have regained the majority, they're stuck with a top strategist whose parliamentary skills barely reach beyond calling the day's session to order. And all of us are paying the price for his - and their - repeated bungling.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 19 Nov 2009 #permalink