Political Animal


April 20, 2013 12:09 PM Please Allow Me to Revise and Extend My Remarks…

What's wrong with that nincompoop Harry Reid?

By Jamie Malanowski

Well, not really revise, but let me go on for a minute about the pro-minority biases that affect our democracy. We were all schooled about the genius our Founding Fathers exhibited when they loaded up the Constitution with checks and balances, but when you stop and think about the sheer number of non-democratic institutions and rules that are central to our government, it’s clear why we get so little done. The states, of course, are inherently unequal. So is the senate and the electoral college. Throw in congressional redistricting, the filibuster, closed primaries, the disappearance of the open rule—and we’re not even talking about twisted, Lewis Carroll type formulations like `money is speech’ and `corporations are people.’ Sure, I’m unhappy that the Senate did not pass the gun registration provision, but what everybody should be screaming about is how in the hell is it that you can’t pass legislation when you have 54 votes? In last February’s exciting Super Bowl, the Ravens beat the 49ers 34-31. How would it have gone over if at the end of the game, the ref said “Sorry, but in order to win, the Ravens needed 39 points, or three-fifths of the points scored. No decision.” Kind of ridiculous. Fundamentally unfair. What’s wrong with that nincompoop Harry Reid that he has allowed this suicide rule to continue to undermine democratic government and Democratic policies?

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.


  • wilder on April 20, 2013 12:53 PM:

    Ouch -- you had to reopen my Super Bowl wound.

  • somethingblue on April 20, 2013 1:37 PM:

    Government isn't a football game, and there's nothing inherently anti-democratic about a supermajority requirement. Why should it take a 2/3 majority to ratify treaties? Why not just 51 votes? The difference, of course, is that the treaty requirement is in the Constitution, whereas the filibuster is just made-up and the Democrats could kill it anytime they wanted. They just prefer not to. (Another difference between government and football is that football requires two opposing teams.)

  • Rick B on April 20, 2013 1:39 PM:

    I think there is an argument for the filibuster.

    Senators are elected for six year terms, many from safe states where they represent the power structure. So of majority rule were always the case in the Senate there is a strong likelihood that for long periods of time America would have a government hamstrung by an unremovable permanent majority in the Senate.

    The primarily modern mostly urban states would find themselves under a crony-powered government controlled by the rural low-population states.

    The real problem is the very existence of the Senate - period. It was as close to a hereditary body as the founding fathers could possibly create. It is in fact designed to give the wealthy a lock on stopping legislation the plutocrats don't like. In 1786 that was primarily wealthy Southern planters whose wealthy was largely measured in slaves. Wealth has changed a little bit, but the rest has not.

  • Kyle McCullough on April 20, 2013 1:43 PM:

    It's not going to change until we insist on change. Tell your Senator, "I will not vote for you again if you vote to keep the filibuster. Period. If your main opponent is horrible, I will vote for a write in."

  • David NOE on April 20, 2013 1:56 PM:

    And unfortunately,equal representation in the Senate is the only part of the Constitution that can't be amended. Only way out is to write and adopt a whole new Constitution. Lots of luck with that!

  • emjayay on April 20, 2013 2:18 PM:

    In 1790, the smallest population state (TN) had .9% of the total population. The biggest (VA) had 19%. (Both complicated by the 2/3 slave thing.) In 2011, the smallest population state (WY) had 1.8% of the total population. The biggest (CA) had 12%.

    I know, there's a lot more complicated ways to analyse these stats. But it seems like what we have now with the Senate is a lot like the founder's intention. Of course, they were starting from a very individual, provincial bunch of almost separate little countries toward a more unified deal. And they didn't know about things like corporate money power drowning out everything else. And they sort of pictured the Senate as the wise old educated guys making well considered decisions.

    They also thought of the national army as a bunch of local militias called up in times of war who were mostly armed with their own muskets.

  • Citizen Alan on April 20, 2013 2:27 PM:

    While it pains me to defend Harry "Spineless" Reid, there is a point about the filibuster people refuse to acknowledge. Had it been eliminated or weakened as so many people wanted, what would have been the actual result? Lots of bills passed by the Senate which would have gone nowhere in the House, coupled with the very real threat of losing the Senate entirely in 2014 and then not having the filibuster to defend against stupid Republican legislation. In support of this argument I point to the following: there was nothing positive in the Manchin Gun Bill that was good enough to counteract the poison pill the GOP wanted to put into it (and would have had the Dems not filibustered it) -- a law that would REQUIRE every state to honor the concealed weapons permits granted by any other state!

  • Madeleine Begun Kane on April 20, 2013 3:03 PM:

    Remember majority rule?
    We learned all about it in school.
    It's been hung out to dry
    In the Senate. Here's why:
    Foolish Reid is a GOP tool.

    Harry Reid is again voicing threats
    To reform Senate rules. Oh yes, let's!
    But his words have no stock,
    As Republicans block
    Most Dem action - abuse Reid abets.

    Madeleine Begun Kane

  • FlipYrWhig on April 20, 2013 4:10 PM:

    Reid hasn't gotten rid of the filibuster most likely because he doesn't have the votes to do it. Senators like having special perks and powers, and he'd be asking them to give them up for a principle that stands to benefit them little. I'm at the point where I don't really give a rat's ass if the Senate in Republican hands would do terrible things -- at least it would be clear at the next election that they did them, and the public can act accordingly.

  • dr sardonicus on April 20, 2013 4:11 PM:

    I believe the Founding Fathers were quite explicit about not wanting the legislative process taken over by runaway majorities comprised of the unwashed masses. They were also quite upfront about the minority interests they wanted protected being their own. Since then, of course, other minority groups have found the protections that were originally accorded to property owning white males to be useful to them as well.

  • JackD on April 20, 2013 4:15 PM:

    Harry Reid has a group of Democratic Senators, including progressives Diane Feinstein and Carl Levin, who will not vote to change the filibuster rule. It's not all about Harry.

  • Doug on April 20, 2013 5:13 PM:

    Just how old are the Democrats who voted against a talking filibuster? Perhaps age is part of it because, as far as I know, *none* of today's Senators, Democrat *or* Republican were in the chamber when the current rules were put in place.
    Today's rules, as far as it goes, *are* their "tradition".

  • iyoumeweus on April 20, 2013 5:44 PM:

    Here is one way to extend our representative democracy
    Section 1: ARTICLE II, Section 1, Paragraphs 2 and 3 to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed and superseded by this amendment. Henceforth, the President and the Vice President shall be elected directly by a popular vote of all citizens 18 or over on Election Day, as determined by the Congress and approved by the President in accordance with the Constitution.
    Section 2: Amendment XII and Amendment XXIII shall be superseded by this Amendment except for the following sentences of Amendment XII:
    a. The person having the greatest number of votes for President shall be President
    b. The person having the greatest number of votes for Vice President shall be Vice President
    c. No person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice President of the United States.
    d. The President and Vice President shall not be an inhabitant of the same state.
    Section 3: Each member of the House of Representatives shall represent no more then 250,000 +/- 12,500 citizens. As the nation’s population increases or decreases the number of House member will increase or decrease to accommodate this requirement. Congressional Districts shall be compact and drawn along state, country, city, town and village lines wherever possible to accommodate equal representation. In some instances, election district boundaries may have to be used but in no case can election districts be divided except in accordance with state, county and local laws. In cities with a population greater than one million (1,000,000) Congressional Districts need not be compact but drawn in such a manner so as to reflect the various ethnic, cultural and neighborhood interests, differences and diversities residing within our country.
    Section 4: Any state with a population of five million (5,000,000) shall be able to elect another Senator and receive an additional Senator for each additional increase in five million citizens. All Senators shall be elected at large and represent the entire state in Congress.
    Section 5: The Congress shall have the power to establish by law all procedures pertaining to the election of President and Vice President including: the certification and transmission of election results, a sorting and winnowing process of potential candidates, voter identification, guaranteeing each citizen the right to vote in secret and ensuring each vote is counted.
    Section 6: Federal judges shall have the power to review and adjust Congressional District boundaries to better reflect Section 3, but the compliant must come from within the Congressional District(s) with an accompanying petition signed by ten per cent (10%) of those residing within the district(s).
    Section 7: a. Any state having fewer than 250,000 citizens shall be guaranteed one representative and two Senators.
    b. The District of Columbia may elect representatives in accordance with its population and Section 3.
    c. The District of Columbia being once a part of Maryland may take part in electing Senators from Maryland.
    Section 8: The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

  • mudwall jackson on April 20, 2013 5:57 PM:

    "Foolish Reid is a GOP tool."

    my my madeleine, how short our memories are. it wasn't all that long ago that mitch and his boys were contemplating the elimination of the filibuster, and the outrage from us lefties was thunderous. of course at the time, the senate and the house were in the hands of the gop, george w. was the president and the filibuster was the only thing that kept the republicans from having complete control over the federal government. you can blame reid for failing to be bold enough to institute real reform of the filibuster, you can call him a captive of senate tradition but calling him a gop tool is silly.

  • rrk1 on April 20, 2013 6:03 PM:

    The Senate is an anachronistic institution, similar to the House of Lords, with pretty much the same effect. A majority of the Senate represents a minority of the population as Wyoming has two senators as do California and New York. One-man-one-vote has no meaning in the Senate. I don't know why the structure of the Senate cannot be changed by a constitutional amendment - other than the impossibility of getting 2/3 in favor. Doing away with the Senate strikes me as a good idea, but that would probably require a constitutional convention, which is a scary prospect.

    For those who fear getting rid, or greatly modifying, the filibuster, does anyone really think the Rethugs wouldn't change the rules to suit themselves once they got control of the Senate. It would, and will, happen in a heartbeat. So let's not pretend there are any sacrosanct traditions that the Rethugs won't throw in the trash. They will, and all in the interest of taking permanent control.

  • PTate in Mn on April 20, 2013 10:29 PM:

    The problem is not the Senate. It's not the filibuster. It's not even the fact that California's two senators represent 39 million people and Wyoming's two senators represent 600,000. It isn't even the cultural difference between rural & urban America or between the south and the north.

    The problem is that we have a two party system, not a parliament, and one of the parties has been taken over by a cabal of super-rich thugs who have been willing and permitted to spend billions of dollars to misinform, frighten and beguile Americans. Around 1980, the conservative movement set out to undermine American's confidence in their institutions of self-government, and they have been wildly successful.

  • Fritz Strand on April 21, 2013 9:37 AM:

    Would someone remind me about the last time a progressive used the filibuster to shut down the Senate?
    I am not being facetious.

    The closest I recall was when Justice Alito was nominated and the Democrats completely caved on him an a raft of other judicial nominees.

    So if you never use it, why defend its use?

  • Sean Scallon on April 21, 2013 11:32 AM:

    "What’s wrong with that nincompoop Harry Reid that he has allowed this suicide rule to continue to undermine democratic government and Democratic policies?"

    Because he's been in the minority before and knows what its like.

  • jefft452 on April 21, 2013 12:57 PM:

    “local militias called up in times of war who were mostly armed with their own muskets.”

    Not even remotely true
    “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia”
    If you go to Colonial Williamsburg, you will see a large government building on the green called “the powder house”, where the town militia’s muskets and gunpowder were stored. Every town had one
    Even the “minute men”, who kept muskets at home for rapid deployment, were special units within the provincial militia organizations. Who were only designated “Minute Companies” for a limited time by the Colonial Legislature during times of unrest or war scares