Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

April 8, 2009

GERSON'S NOTION OF 'NORMAL'.... There are quite a few errors of fact and judgment in Michael Gerson's latest anti-Obama column, premised on the notion that the president is "the most polarizing new president of recent times." The general gist of the piece is that Obama needs to do a lot more to make Republicans happy, or he'll be a "source of division."

But let's just focus on this point from Bush's former chief speechwriter:

That makes last week's votes on the budget resolutions a landmark of ineffective governance. Not a single Republican in the House or Senate supported the bill, largely because the Democratic majority forced its will. Republicans were flattened, not consulted. Democratic leaders talk of enacting controversial elements of the budget through the "reconciliation" process -- which would require 51 Senate votes, not the normal 60, for passage.

Now, there are a lot of problems contained in these three sentences. For example, Republicans balked at the Democratic budget, not because Obama was mean to them, but because they preferred an insane alternative. What's more, Republican leaders enacting controversial proposals through the "reconciliation" process -- tax cuts, welfare reform, Medicaid reductions -- and Gerson didn't seem to think it was particularly outrageous at the time.

But what really gets me is the notion that to pass legislation, the Senate should aim for "the normal 60" votes.

This is simply wrong. There's nothing "normal" about this. Gerson buys into the all-too-common notion that the Senate has always required a 60-vote supermajority to pass every meaningful piece of legislation. That's nonsense.

This 60-vote standard is a modern creation, and routine filibusters on all bills are a new tradition. Gerson considers it "normal," when in fact it's a bizarre fluke with no foundation in the American legislative or political tradition.

It is, as this chart from Norm Ornstein makes clear, an entirely modern creation.


To suggest the majority needs 60 votes for passing every bill is anything but "normal."

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

Bookmark and Share

We've heard so much about all this crappy SCLM's messenging from right-wing has-beens and enablers from Steve, Kevin, ...., DeLong etc. Our talking amongst ourselves isn't going to affect anything. These media clowns and their sponsors need to be letter/call- bombed until they take notice that we (and likely most "normal", fairly centrist non-activist Americans) are sick of their lying trash.

REM also, to organize counter-TEA-parties and protest low CG taxes, cap on FICA tax, child credits for the wealthy, etc.

Posted by: Neil B ◙ on April 8, 2009 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

The Rethuglicans taught us how to govern with the 60 vote/50 vote consideration. Where is the nuclear option? From the Dumbocrats, nary a word about that. The sad thing is, Harry Reid is probably spending his time thinking about how to capitulate to the Rethugs instead of how to get Obama's agenda through.

Posted by: Frak on April 8, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

YOur are right, There isn't a lot of point to bitching amongst ourselves. Bitching to the media does work: Howard Dean on CNBC, UPS pulling their ads from O'Reilly are just two examples.

The MSM isn't conservative or liberal: just cowardly and unprofessional.

Posted by: wonkie on April 8, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Keeping the cloture for every item coming to the floor of the Senate is a sure fire way to stop the changes Americans endorsed in the most recent election.

Majority rule is what our nation is founded upon, with rights for the minority. Our current minority party, however, insists on abusing their rights with lies and misrepresentations of the process. Someone tell our representatives to our right they are growing obsolete by the day if they stay with their obstructionist strategies! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 8, 2009 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

To my mind the central flaw in Gerson's piece is his use of the word "governance" as in Obama's "governance" fails. Because he doesn't mean "governance" since, by definition, if Obama can get his policies through and enacted he's succeeding by any measure of actual "governance." Gerson pretends that governance ought to or must mean "consensus." But we don't have a consensus driven system at all--to get that you might want to adopt the policies of some muslim communities and force long winded, round robin discussions designed to create total consensus before formal decisionmaking. But a democracy doesn't require that at all. And there's no reason why it should. If, for example, 99 senators agreed with Obama and McCain was against the policies Gerson would still insist that "good governance" required Obama and the 99 senators to move right to satisfy the fringe group. But Obama doesn't have to do that to govern. So its not governance.


Posted by: AIMAI on April 8, 2009 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

I know it is difficult for "conservatives" to understand certain things about how government is run but might I suggest Schoolhouse Rock? I mean, they cover this so a 3rd grader can understand it, which should cover the reading and comprehension levels of the average conservative.

Might I suggest I'm Just a Bill for starters.


Posted by: MsJoanne on April 8, 2009 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Gerson buys into the all-too-common notion that the Senate has always required a 60-vote supermajority to pass every meaningful piece of legislation.

Are you implying he's misinformed about this? Really?

Steve, you're buying into the all too common idea that Republicans simply can't get their facts straight as opposed to being pathological liars.

Posted by: scudbucket on April 8, 2009 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

There are two ways to look at that chart of obstructionist tactics. One way is to blame the Republicans for exploiting a system intended to provide an avenue for minority rights. It is equally valid to point to Democratic leadership inactivity while the American system of government is subverted by extremists among their opposition. It seems to me that the passivity of Reid, and before him Daschle, is the continuing problem. It has gotten to the point where not only is governance obstructed, but even the seating of a Senator after recounts show he got the most votes is in question. Harry Reid needs to make up his mind: are we a democracy or not?

Posted by: Eric on April 8, 2009 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

I find it hilarious that the guy who wrote speeches for *Bush* would think Obama was the most polarizing president in recent history. Did he not read his own speeches? Does he not remember "If you're not with us, you're against us"?

It's interesting to see just how desperate the Republicans are getting now that they're undeniably circling the drain. They all remind me of Nellie Olsen - furrowed brows, puffed out bottom lips, whining about how unfair life is while they try to bully others. What a bunch of hacks. Let's flush again and be done with 'em.

Posted by: Limbaugh's Diabetes on April 8, 2009 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that Dem senators feel free to filibuster (vote against cloture on) Dem legislation, is a pretty clear indication that Dems DO consider 60 the threshold for most votes. I am not convinced that there are only a dozen Dems who think this is OK to do, and I doubt there is much pressure within the caucus to hold their no votes for the up-and-down votes. If it were common, Greg Sargent wouldn't be devoting so many posts to Dems who agree to merely vote FOR cloture on EFCA.

Posted by: Danp on April 8, 2009 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you're buying into the all too common idea that Republicans simply can't get their facts straight as opposed to being pathological liars.

They know what they are saying isn't true, and they know they will be given a loud voice that won't challenge them. If the Democrats don't develop a more effective response to this, they will ultimately lose the propaganda wars and will squander any opportunitities to effect real and meaningful changes.

Posted by: qwerty on April 8, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

"A lie told often enough becomes truth" Vladimir Lenin.

"Steve, you're buying into the all too common idea that Republicans simply can't get their facts straight as opposed to being pathological liars." scudbucket

I agree. It's time to stop giving the Republicans like Gerson and others the benefit of the doubt. One needs to repond, forcefully, but with facts, facts and more facts -- referenced facts and analysys) And keep pounding away day after day, year after year, decade after decade, until these "Republicans" as completely and totally discredited.

Remember, William James said "There's nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it."

And THAT's what Republicans are counting on. That the public will not believe they would deliberately lie to keep themselves in power. So we need to show the public that they do, with facts and facts and facts hand repeat them often and forcefully. And when they invent "facts" we take a deep breath and show they are inventing them.

It's like statistics, people have claimed stats are a dishonorable way to conduct business for so long that the public believes it... but those big businesses(esp insurance companies), all base their calculations on probability using statistics...

Posted by: Kurt on April 8, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with you 110% Kurt. Keep beating the lies and liars with facts,Facts and more facts until these idiots are completely discredited.

Posted by: Gandalf on April 8, 2009 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

The chart in the original post is interesting, but could we see stats on how often supermajorities were needed to pass budgets?

Posted by: TG Chicago on April 8, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

They were pushing that "polarizing " meme on Faux news last night - I wondered where it came from. Morning Joe Blow was repeating it this morning - I had to turn it off, so I switch over to the Today show and there is Laura Ingram chosen as the opposing view Du Jour AAAAK! Damn liberal media

Posted by: John R on April 8, 2009 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Michael Gerson was supposed to be the Christian's Christian in the Bush administration, the voice of conscience to a man without one of his own, and most importantly, the man well-versed in the Bible who could seed speeches with code words to let the faithful know that Bush was one of them. Let's face it: Gerson either believes his own BS, is delusional, or is a cynic who knows that his meal ticket is to carry the wing nut banner down the Main Street of mainstream media. This Republican Party can only be courted with money and sex, and the Democrats can't outbid the right in these departments.

Posted by: HenryDE on April 8, 2009 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

I might not mind the 60 vote minimum if I believed for a nanosecond that the GOP would tolerate it once they had 51 votes.

You want the filibuster, guys. Make it immutable LAW, (preferably with safeguards like Hilzoy suggested)instead of Tradition/Custom and maybe it might be reasonable to put up with this.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 8, 2009 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly