Friday, January 22, 2010

What If You Threw A Super Majority And No One Showed Up?

I've been pondering the U.S. Senate seat win by Republican Scott Brown earlier this week. His victory means that Senate Democrats no longer have a filibuster proof, talk-to-the-hand "super majority" in that legislative body. This has, as I'm sure you've seen, caused quite a stir in the media about what this will mean for Obama's agenda and Congress generally.

I've been asking myself - what's surprising about this development? And, what does it mean?

To me, it's not surprising that the people of Massachusetts would elect a Republican - even to Kennedy's old seat. Despite the perception of it being a "liberal" state, the populous there has certainly elected Republican governors (remember Mitt Romney?) and Senators before.

No, that's not unusual.

And, it's not surprising that Brown seemed to get a cushy ride by the media desperate for an "upset" storyline to help them cover "a controversy." No, seen that before too.

What's surprising - and a growing concern to me - is how this win by Brown seems to reveal a backlash against Democratic party governance. The Ds are in the rare position of having the citizenry of the nation in 2008 vote them a large majority in the House, a super majority of 60 seats in the Senate and, oh by the way, the Presidency. These advantages were bestowed on them on the notion they would bring change to the nation in sore need of it after eight long years of rule by the other side. And, what have the Democats done with that? Not much. Here we are one year in and no legislation has been passed on healthcare reform, significant financial market reform, investment in job creation, substantial change in foreign policy, a new energy policy or other meaningful "change we can believe in."

And speaking of that phrase, I'm becoming a bit disappointed in President Obama. I know he was handed a horrible economy and overall situation courtesy of the Bush team, but given the set up in Congress, I'm not seeing the leadership I thought we'd have out of him. Certainly, he's a far better alternative than McCain would have been, but still. Call me impatient, but what do you think LBJ or FDR would do (and did) with Congressional majorities in their first year in office? Or, how about W (OK...Cheney) or Reagan with the Rs running Congress? Action. Good or bad, like it or not - action. That's what would happen.

So, seriously, I have to ask another question, "What if you threw a super majority and nobody showed up?"

What would that mean? Among the answers you might find are: a squandered opportunity, gains by the opposition (starting with what we saw this week) as the public gets fed up...and ultimately, inaction and a government and nation in stasis at the exact moment it should be changing. All of that seems to me to be the case now. It seems to be increasingly clear that if Obama and the Ds aren't going to get it done with all the advantages they have - even with 59 seats instead of 60 in the Senate - it isn't going to happen. Not with the parties and mindsets we have in DC now.

Why? There are probably any number of reasons. I don't claim to be an expert or know them all. But, one that seems so obvious to me...that explains why a party that talks change, runs on it, even wins big time on the premise that it will deliver it, but then does nothing to effect that big business, finance, pharma and key special interests have locked up the Democrats just as they have the Republicans. That influence means action to better society generally is outweighed by action (or, more aptly inaction) that beneifts business and special interests.

Going slow or even turning the clock backwards suits the nature of most Republicans as they are mostly conservatives after all. That's their bread and butter. Conversely, most Democrats and/or liberals are supposedly "progressive," and seek to change things. This seems to have come to a trickle so their version of inaction sticks out like a sore thumb - or, perhaps, rings like an alarm bell.

Look, despite the biggest financial and jobs crisis since the Great Depression having been brought upon us by the religion of "free markets" and deregulation championed by conservatives, there has been no meaningful counterbalance to that crisis in my mind. Sure, banks and car makers were bailed out with tax dollars, but unemployment is still high and hindering recovery, and the middle class still shrinking. (I did see that Goldman Sachs recorded big revenue last quarter and is giving out bonuses that are 47% higher than last year, however.) And, despite healthcare costs skyrocketing and threatening the financial and actual well being of millions of Americans, we don't have a meaningful change in our system yet. We're still in Iraq, we're still lagging the modern world in education. I could go on, but I think you get it.

No, the super majority party thrown by the electorate in 2008 has been ill attended and therefore I fear the opportunities have been missed. 2010 election campaigns are upon us and that also does not bode well for action this year. Expect an ticked off public to elect more Republican such as we witnessed this week by Brown. But, on the other hand...what's the difference if that comes to pass given the inaction happening anyway?

In the end, I am prepared to be impressed. I am prepared to take back what I've said above. I am prepared to give credit where credit is due. I want action. I want to see us change. I want to write a blog post in January 2011 saying, "Boy, I really had it wrong back there in 2010. My bad...glad to see healthcare reform, job creation, a lower deficit, financial market reform, etc."

But, as of Jan. 22, 2010, count me as increasingly dubious that happening.

Hey, at least the goverment is hard at work to pass legislation to limit the volume of TV commercials. That may be what I need to settle for as change I can believe in.

No comments: