Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Democrats Did so Badly

I have been trying to figure out why the Democratic majority in Congress proved to be such a failure. Here is what I conclude. The fundamental reason for the failure was the Senate's filibuster rule. Without 60 votes, the Democrats were essentially helpless to get anything passed. The result was the mishmash we all saw. So the question becomes, why didn't the Democrats change that rule when they came to power in 2008?

The answer, I think, is the same reason why people don't keep their kitchen knives under lock and key. The filibuster was a tool that had never received much use, except when a minority of senators was very deeply and strongly opposed to something, as in the case of Southerners opposed to integration. While the Republicans began using it more often after 2006, it remained only an occasional factor since it was very difficult to rally so many senators to an obdurate stance. 2008 brought about an enormous change. So many moderate Republicans lost, and the party became so dependent on a particular segment of wealthy donors, that the remaining Republican senators could be induced or bullied into total unanimity whenever the leadership required it. McConnell began using the filibuster in a totally new way, as a day to day tactic, and this proved remarkably successful since the Democratic majority included a considerable number of rather conservative "blue dogs," and it only took one of them to make the filibuster succeed. By the time this tactic emerged, the time period during which the rules could have been changed had passed, and therefore the Democrats could not prevent the filibusters.

What remains unclear to me, however, is why Reid did not force the Republicans to actually filibuster, instead of simply winning cloture votes.

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