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nellie On November - 23 - 2009

Kings-comparison

I was struck by a clip of Joe Lieberman during his most recent campaign for the senate. I heard the clip on Randi Rhodes and now it has been posted by the Daily Kos. Thanks to both of these tireless fact-trackers for digging this out of the archives and reminding us of something important:

Joe Lieberman, campaign promises, October 23, 2006:

“What I’m saying to the people of Connecticut, I can do more for you and your families, to get something done to make health care affordable, to get universal health insurance… I’ve been working on health insurance reform for more than a dozen years. I have offered a comprehensive program. Small business health insurance reform. Something I call MediKids to cover all the children in America on a sliding fee basis up to the age of 25. MediChoice, to allow anybody in our country to buy into a national health insurance pool like the health insurance that we federal employees and members of Congress have. Medical malpractice reform. It will cover 95% of those who are not covered now, and it will reduce the pressure on rising costs for all the millions of others who are covered.”

Not only does he dangle health care in front of the voters as a reason to vote for him, not only does he promise a Medicare-type public option similar to the coverage he gets as a federal employee—he presents himself as the voter’s best chance for getting this type of legislation passed. Their best chance.

Today, of course, Lieberman is presenting himself as the insurance industry’s best chance of blocking health care reform. Their best chance.

Brazen hypocrisy aside, this reversal demonstrates once again that the Senate is America’s Kingmaker. Lieberman said he would caucus with the Democrats—that promise has been tossed aside. He clearly knows his constituents are expecting health care reform, or he wouldn’t have campaigned on that promise. The rest of the country sees that he’s not representing his state. He’s not upholding any constitutional principle with his obstruction. Certainly not any principles of his own. And if he wanted something in exchange for his vote, he’d likely have more leverage by working behind the scenes. His motives seem to be entirely mysterious and personal. He is being a King.

The Kingmaker problem seems particularly onerous for Democrats. With the GOP, voters tend to get what they vote for—if not what they deserve. When I vote for a Democrat, I’m never sure what I’m going to get in terms of representation—in the House or Senate.

In the House, where terms are two years, a problem can be quickly corrected. Our district came very close to replacing Jane Harman in 2004 because of her constant war mongering and pandering to the GOP—so close that her voting record changed dramatically after that election. She even came out very strong for a public option this year.

Senate terms, on the other hand, are six years long—long enough so that bad votes are often forgotten when re-election comes up. And this means losing a seat is at most a vague and impotent threat for most senators. I am at a loss whenever Diane Feinstein casts her lot with the Republicans on some issue. In Lieberman’s case, 2012 is a ways off, and our health care bill will either be passed or added to the long list of failures by that time. We need accountability right now.

I used to think my vote for senator amounted to little more than ticket for someone to enjoy six years at one of the nation’s most prestigious country clubs. As it turns out, my vote is much more than that. It’s a coronation.

In 1997, Fareed Zakaria wrote:

What is distinctive about the American system is not how democratic it is but rather how undemocratic it is, placing as it does multiple constraints on electoral majorities. Of its three branches of government, one — arguably paramount — is headed by nine unelected men and women with life tenure. Its Senate is the most unrepresentative upper house in the world, with the lone exception of the House of Lords, which is powerless. (“The Rise of Illiberal Democracy” in Foriegn Affairs)

The Senate’s own rules exacerbate the Kingmaker effect: One senator can block an appointee. One Senator can initiate a filibuster. One senator can put a “hold” on a bill.

So what is the progressive solution? It is unimaginable that we can only sit back and watch popular legislation implode because of a Senate King. We must find a way to get real representation from the senate—even when one or more of the members decides to act like a monarch. But what is our recourse? How do the people exercise their power to push back against our outdated nod to obsolete aristocracy?

Categories: Games, News & Politics

35 Responses so far.

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  1. nellie says:

    Adding this link to the story:

    http://stopsenatestalling.com/

    It is a petition to Sen Reid to address the problem of the filibuster. It appeared in the comment section of an article at HP — which, it seems, has picked up another of our topics. To their credit, they site two interesting articles well worth a read:

    Filibustering our nation
    How a letter from 1964 shows what’s wrong with the Senate today

  2. Mogamboguru says:

    The US-Senate is the single most-important institution in America to thwarf, postpone, negate and outright destroy progress in the USA.

    But, sooner or later, the mayority of people of America will finally get wind of this and will demand the disbanding of the most-corrupt Senate since the inception of the Roman Empire 2500 years ago, for the best of the Union.

    “Won’t happen!” -- you say?

    That’s what the minions of King George V. said of the American Revolution, too.

    Recently, I notice, that many american people are fed up with bribery and corruption in Washington to a hence-unknown level.

    You may think, that the present system of favoritism, cronyism and nepotism is unvincible and will last forever in America.

    But I think, that we are in fact witnessing the death-throwes of a rotten-to-the-core and doomed-to-fail system.

    This is not about “IF” anymore, it’s about “when” and “how” -- and also, about who it will take with it and who will be the last man standing to pick up the pieces and start America anew again.

  3. bitohistory says:

    Add up the numbers. Progressives have already lost:
    http://thinkprogress.org/2009/11/23/fox-pie-chart/
    Gop now owns 193% of all voters!!

  4. KQuark says:

    Excellent piece nellie.

    It’s all John Adam’s fault. Of course it’s not but I’ve been reading more about him lately and his anti-democratic ideals. He was a big influence in forming the Senate and Senate rules.

    Like most founding fathers he was enigmatic because he fostered some grand principles like “checks and balances” and “a government of laws not men” but he was a classist who believed in a ruling class which has become our Senate.

    I don’t know what the answer is now but to elect enough Dems, 67, to change the cloture rule. Until the cloture rule is eliminated we will live in an autocracy.

    Don’t even get me started with the crazy unbalanced representation in the Senate.

  5. bitohistory says:

    O/T For anyone wishing to see the daybreak of our friend Kalima, here is a Webcam of Tokyo:
    http://www.webcams.travel/webcam/1168095069-Weather-Tokyo-Ariake

  6. nellie says:

    Senator Sherod Brown of Ohio was just on The Randi Rhodes Show, and his last statement to her audience was that without the activism of the public — the letters, phone calls, showing up at senators’ offices — the public option would have been dead.

    He added that this kind of involvement is even more important now.

    • bitohistory says:

      Bernie Sanders said the same thing on the Ed Schultz Show. Both are correct. Teabagers take to the streets, Progressives, blog.

      Good post( as usual) nellie!

  7. AdLib says:

    Fantastic article Nellie!

    I agree that the Senate is not only incredibly undemocratic but due to the wrong-headed way it is structured, it is a permanent obstacle to real progress.

    Yes, I’m claiming the Founders screwed up with the structure of the Senate. It was a necessary compromise some of them no doubt figured would one day be corrected by future generations.

    Since States and States Rights were the powers at the time, it was no doubt a must to attract each state into the union by assuring that no other state would have more federal control over them. Thus, two Senators from every state no matter how small.

    Though the populations of some states in the late 1700’s varied substantially, it was not a case like today of having 36 million people in one state and 500,000 in another.

    It is not democratic for a small minority of the country’s population to have equal or more power than a majority but that is the case in our democracy.

    This will never change, which is too bad, but if it was possible, I would suggest a redistribution of senatorial seats among states, only guaranteeing 1 seat per state.

    Thus, Wyoming might have only one Senator while California might have 4.

    Then, the will of the majority, aka Democracy, would actually be reflected in our government.

    Or make it 100 Senators with each state being guaranteed 2 and the others distributed by state population. With so many Senate seats, it would at least be a setback to the corporations trying to buy seats, there would be too many to buy them all.

    And a sudden new influx of Senators could allow for some grass roots types to get in.

    Still, I know this will never happen, the smaller states would never agree to give up their disproportionate power and 2/3 of states would need to want and vote for such a Constitutional change.

    So we, the American people and true fans of Democracy must accept that we will never have a true democracy in this country, we will always have to battle to get the will of the majority respected in the Senate.

    • bitohistory says:

      I am going to have take a somewhat contrary view. While I agree with the frustrations of both the post and many comments, I do not find any easy cures to the disease of what we feel is a stagnation or lack of progress. Democracy is not mentioned once in the Constitution. It is/we are a republic.
      At he same time progressives may want to see a change in the structure in our government, conservatives/teabaggers want to
      see some of the same changes. Both sides feel that “our side will win.” Everyone involved feels that they are not being heard. Everyone thinks that they can write a better constitution.
      Addressing “democracy” and the various length of terms. What would you like? One year terms for all elected officials? President? Supreme court up for election every year? Why not just go to all changes in laws just be put up for referendums? Internet polls? Let the Polites/citizens rule!
      The Senate has been called the “cooling saucer” for many years. Derisively, it has also been called “where bills go to die. There have been many bills in the senate that have been improved, and many bills the should have been killed-and did.
      I will end this with saying, my objection is not so much with the structure we have is my objection to “corptocracy.”
      http://reclaimdemocracy.org/personhood/

      • FeloniousMonk says:

        Bito: I have great fears when anyone talks of a new Constitutional Convention. While I do not worship the ground the founding fathers walked on, because after all, they were men and had many imperfections, they did hammer out a governing definition that is still actually working after over two centuries, albeit a little awkwardly at times. But our government has made it through numerous “bad times” and survived intact. Our “bad times” today are minor in the scope of things compared to the Civil War or the Great Depression.

        I would like to see certain changes, but those are like the Constitutional definition of a citizen as a human being, and remove Corporate citizenship. Partly because it has been used as a method of corruption and partially because these “citizens” regularly deny they are when it’s of benefit to them. The last corporation I worked directly for once told their employees “we’re not an American corporation, we’re a multi-national corporation” but when you bring up where they are headquartered, it’s a whole different matter.

        • bitohistory says:

          On the “Constitutional Convention” : The constitution was written by 25-30 men. Who would re-write it now? Give me a list of altruistic statesmen, without a selfish bone or soul that could actually write it and I may, repeat may, be willing to listen.

          Concerning “corporate person-hood”: This is a pet peeve of mine. It may be boring,neglected and ignored, but I feel it is at the root of many of the problems. (I really need to finish my post on the subject)

          • nellie says:

            bito, I’m currently working on a post about corporate personhood (thanks to a timely suggestion). It is a very complex issue with broad implications. I hope to have it posted in the next week or so. It is also one of my pet peeves.

            I think campaign finance reform might be one of the solutions we can realistically try to implement. Electoral reform in general, with voting rights encoded in the constitution, paper ballots, instant runoff voting, weekend or week-long voting, subsidized debates — the whole nine yards — might provide the kind of voter influence that would bring some accountability back to the Senate.

            • bitohistory says:

              Glad you took the persohood thing. You are a more compelling author. It is complex and broad subject, difficult to make it an interesting read(for me.)

            • bitohistory says:

              Thank You~blushing~ Too kind.

            • nellie says:

              I find your posts very compelling. And interesting. Insightful. Entertaining. Engaging… It’s all good!

          • FeloniousMonk says:

            Yes, Bito, those are the key points. If we actually found two dozen relatively ultruistic people who could write a new, just document, they would be rejected as being naive and foolish, probably by both sides.

            As for the removal of corporate personhood, the only way this will now happen is through a Constitutional Amendment, and unfortunately, if you think money was poured in against healthcare reform, you ain’t seen nothing yet if we tried this. You’d think the universe was collapsing, and not just the sky is falling by what the corporate stooges would tell us all.

            • bitohistory says:

              Monk, You trying to start a fight with me? :-) Agree with you. They would be ‘strung up on the nearest light pole”
              If Scalia really was a person of his word on “what the founders really meant” the corporate “hoodnes” thing would be ended !

    • KevenSeven says:

      I have a spreadsheet that I put together a while back, you need to show me how to post it: It lists the states and population and representation.

      The Dem Caucus represents 2/3rds of America, the Thugs 1/3rd.

      Which I suppose is better than the situation a few years back when the Thugs had 55 seats and represented 45% of America But not much.

    • nellie says:

      Wonderful comment! But I just can’t accept that things will never change. There must be some strategy progressives can use. Maybe we move to Utah. I don’t know. We need to do something, because this country is becoming unlivable for too many people.

      • KevenSeven says:

        The only catalyst that I can imagine that could change this is finding about 35 senators going to prison in the same month on bribery charges.

        The American people have lots of issues to concern them, and will never look at the structure of the Senate without some outrageous crime to be, well, outraged over.

        I’m open to other scenarios.

  8. KevenSeven says:

    Thanks for the clip. I am not sure it is hypocrisy, exactly. I’m not sure that is the correct term. I think it is something much more sinister.

    I wonder at times if Fredo is sane, I wonder sometimes if he is evil. I certainly regret that Connecticut did not have a sore loser law back in 2006.

    The Senate used to be even more remote and undemocratic, as you know. The Framers (genuflect when you say that!) intended that the Senate be utterly safe from the voters. Senator were chosen by the various state legislatures, so I guess we have made progress.

    Hell, used to be you needed to be a white male property (real estate) owner to vote in this country, so I like the trend.

    Imagine the effort to move a constitutional amendment to change the way we elect senators? What would you prefer? That they only have four year terms and two classes? Or should they all be elected in the presidential year?

    Try to imagine that. Imagine how different politics would be if the whole elected government stood in the presidential year.

    Ah! I have the subject of my next seminar! Gotta run!

    Seriously, Fredo just chaps my ass. I wish the party would take him out in a row boat.

    • nellie says:

      Morning K7.

      I am struck by your take on whether this is hypocrisy. For Lieberman to have foreseen Obama’s election and a real chance for health care reform would have been impossible. But it might have been within Lieberman’s world view to see another GOP president — namely, McCain — and to maintain his pretense while knowing health care reform never had a chance.

      You may have something there…

      • KevenSeven says:

        I’m just saying that hypocrisy is perhaps a pretty weak word for Fredo. I don’t want to flatter the little toad that much.

        Oh, I hate his fucking guts. Just in case that is not clear.

        • nellie says:

          That’s what I thought you meant. And I think you have a point.

          • KevenSeven says:

            And not just under my hat!

            • nellie says:

              I would post a smiley face, but I know how you hate those emoticons.

            • nellie says:

              In that case, :-)

            • KevenSeven says:

              It is not that I hate emoticons. It is that I despise the pointless and promiscuous over-reliance on emoticons.

              Sheese. Did everybody forget how to write in whole sentences and full paragraphs?

              The occasional LOL or smiley does not disturb me. Even the occasional discussion of pets. Shit, do you want to exchange recipes? I like that.

    • KevenSeven says:

      Oh, speaking of Framers and Original Intent, I am sick of hearing about it.

      None of the Framers have appeared on any of the ballots that I have ever voted.

      Their “Original Intent” is not some freaking tablet from on high. It is a document that free people should amend at will. Only a slave follows the original intent slavishly.

  9. escribacat says:

    Morning Nellie. Excellent article! You make a very good case that explains why it’s so damn hard to get a progressive agenda passed in this country. I wish I knew the answer. It seems the only way to get rid of someone like Lieberman is to dig up some dirt on him, disgrace him.

    Considering the fact that Lieberman ran for both VP and president, you are probably right that his motivation is as simple as that — he wants to be the most important player in this drama. How else can you explain this flip-flop, unless the insurance companies threatened him?

    Yesterday, I posted a link to that Lieberman quote several times on HP. I am sorry to say that the only result I got was a pack of anti-semitic jerkoffs wailing about sending Lieberman back to Israel.

    • nellie says:

      I posted the same clip under my new HP sock. (I don’t post there as nellie any more.) And I actually got some good replies.

      That’s the thing about HP — what you post can actually have an impact if you catch the site at the right time. Or it can sink into a swamp of troll nonsense if you catch it at the wrong time.

      Good morning!


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