The Defiant Majority

Last week, in another installment of his “False Equivalence Watch,” James Fallows of The Atlantic called out the NYT for an untenably ignorant portion of its account of Congressional paralysis: “in both the Senate, controlled by Democrats, and the House, under the rule of Republicans, the minority is largely powerless to do anything but protest.” The Times did later change the story, but without issuing any sort of correction or indication of a change, to reflect the actual asymmetry between the House Democrats and the “Senate Republicans (who) at least have the power to filibuster…” A minor point, perhaps, except that it is part and parcel of the reflexive world-weary conventional wisdom of “a pox on both your houses.” True often enough, but in this case it is pertinent that there were 16 filibusters between 1840 and 1900, and over 130 in just 2009 and 2010. Fair-minded reporting cannot evaluate Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans’ record as anything but a wild deviation from all historical norms, in response to a President and Senate in many ways at least as conservative as the Republican norm of the 1970s and even 1980s.

Today’s NYT has a headline referring to Harry Reid as “defiant and uncompromising.” For what, exactly, bearing in mind he is the Majority Leader of the Senate? For “pushing through a rules change to end filibusters of executive branch nominations” by ensuring up-or-down-votes on a twice-elected President’s capacity to select the staff he wants? This is not even about Supreme Court nominations or lifetime federal judgeships, nor about any laws that would help prevent, heaven forbid, gun violence.

The Times notes correctly that “in recent decades, both parties have escalated the use of the filibuster and other delaying tactics,” and acknowledges that “since Mr. Obama became president, Senate Republicans have gone especially far with the filibuster.” That is quite a bland way of admitting the truly remarkable and unprecedented way Senator McConnell and his Republican colleagues have ground Senate actions very nearly to a halt.

Does any of this matter to regular people? Only if you work for a living. You do not need to belong to a union, for example, to have some stake in the existence of a fuctioning National Labor Relations Board, not to mention a Consumer Protection agency with real authority.

As demographic changes continue, expect to see more sly, sh-t-eating references to the “defiant” majority.

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