Thursday, September 22, 2005

In Defense of Obstruction

In response to my post about John Roberts, my bother Neil, one of at least several readers, describes the US Senate as “the most useless group of 100 politicians ever assembled” largely because he considers the Senate to be a roadblock to accomplishing anything. I agree that the Senate is pretty useless these days but I would argue the opposite point. The Senate is no barrier to an administration bent upon war, corporate statism, fiscal prolificacy and circumscribed liberty.

The Senate failed to exercise its most solemn Constitutional responsibility when 77 senators gave, with virtually no debate, BushCheney an open ended authority to wage war against Iraq. Ninety-six Senators voted for the USA Patriot Act, which vies with the Alien and Sedition Acts as the most egregious infringement of fundamental liberties in American history. The Senate has passed the entire BushCheney economic plan. The Senate will soon confirm John Roberts for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court despite the fact that neither he nor the administration that nominated him have provided any real assurance that Roberts will not be an activist judge for the radical right. The Senate has routinely approved unqualified and questionable individuals for office: former FEMA director Michael Brown and the recently indicted chief federal procurement officer, David Safavian.

Far from a barrier, the Senate punches whatever ticket BushCheney presents. The framers of the US Constitution intended something very different. James Madison described the Senate and the Legislative Branch as an important part of a system of “checks and balances” in the Federalist No. 51. Instead, today’s Senate is a rubber stamp. And it’s not just a matter of party control. The Democrats were the majority in the Senate when it gave BushCheney authority to invade Iraq and passed the Patriot Act. Nor is the trend new. The Senate and the Legislative Branch generally have been abdicating responsibility to the Executive for the since World War II. (Can you say, “Gulf of Tonkin” resolution”?) The past four years, however, have demonstrated an alarming reluctance to challenge Executive Branch actions that seriously concentrate power in a small group in pursuit of messianic goals that threaten America at home and abroad.

This nation could benefit from some “obstruction”. The Senate is failing as a bulwark against radically changing the nature of government in ways most Americans do not support. BushCheney and his Republican machine control two branches of the federal government and have near majority on the third branch. They can work their will even with no real mandate for their radical ideas. BushCheney’s electoral “victories” were barely that, if at all. Despite complete Republican control, this administration cannot demonstrate any real accomplishment. Their record is a litany of disaster. In four years these people have squandered a $5.6 trillion surplus, lied and fabricated America into an ill-advised, costly no-win war that has taken almost 2,000 American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, alienated traditional and potential allies and catastrophically failed to protect New York and New Orleans from anticipated threats. BushCheney has systematically weakened environmental and public interest requirements, hindering Americans’ ability to take initiative to protect themselves. As far as I can tell, the Senate has done nothing to restrain the Executive Branch in any significant way.

The Senate is the last bulwark. In political science school, we learned that the Senate was a place to stop things, especially bad things, from happening. A few determined senators could check actions they believed to be against the public interest. The civil rights filibusters of the1950's demonstrate how little it takes to stop the legislation. But more than the filibuster and delay, the Senate is a place where a Senator can force the nation to consider and discuss issues. The Senate is the one place where BushCheney can be forced to articulate his policies; it is the place where America can actually take time to think before it decides. That’s not happening these days.

I agree with my brother that the Senate is a failed institution. And the failure is a Democratic one. No one expects Republican senators to oppose their president (although combat veteran Chuck Hagel’s call to withdraw troops from Iraq is as courageous as it is solitary). But Democratic senators have all too often supported BushCheney’s madness and have acquiesced to Republican strategies to limit debate, control information and exclude their particpation. They have much to answer for. Democratic Senators can redeem themselves, at least in part, by stopping this administration from further wrecking the country and the world. For the life of me, I cannot understand why BushCheney’s record of repeated failure, fiscal sleight of hand, skyrocketing deficits and usurpation of Legislative authority is not a reason for Democratic senators to stand up and say “ENOUGH!”.

Needless to say, I want a Senate that will oppose BushCheney’s radical evangelical vision for America and the world. The men who wrote the US Constitution knew all too well the danger of a powerful executive, unchecked by any countervailing authority. I wish that wisdom was evident in today’s Senate.

A Postscript.

Neil is right about lifetime Senate seats, at least for some. Robert Byrd has been a senator since 1959, Ted Kennedy since 1962. But tell Max Cleland, Tom Daschle or Chuck Robb about lifetime positions. Hillary Clinton can probably remain a senator for the rest of her life. She has more opportunity now and in the future as a senator than she could ever have as president. Not only will she face a divisive campaign but the Wingnuts will try to cripple her just like they did to her husband. All she needs now is the courage to stand with fellow Democrat Russ Feingold and Republican Chuck Hagel to stop BushCheney’s insane war in Iraq and I might believe that she will be worthy of her opportunity.