Letter 2 America (and President Biden) for January 22, 2021

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Dear America,

President Biden--typing that was like rinsing my mouth after eating a rotten egg--has the opportunity to be the most profoundly influential president in modern history.  He can use his moral authority...his "bully pulpit"...to change the way that American politics proceeds, and all it will take is a rejection of the legislative technique of "logrolling."  Logrolling is the practice of trading one piece of legislation for another despite the lack of agreement between the proponents of each.  It is the legislative equivalent of the phrase "quid pro quo," which became an indictment during the Trump administration.  And though it could be the rudiment of a cooperative environment in congress, it has become the poison that has led our political process away from true democracy into something equivalent to oligarchy, or, rule by the few, in this case, the political class.  The essence of that oligarchy--the means by which politicians stay in power--is logrolling, along with the filibuster.  What both achieve for legislators is anonymity, by virtue of which they don't have to answer to voters, at least not with regard to their votes on issues.

The quintessence of logrolling is the "omnibus bill."  In such a bill, several separate issues get conjoined for action by congress as a package.  So, if one party or faction wants aid to municipalities to help them cope with the costs of the pandemic and the other wants aid for businesses to help owners maintain their wealth while keeping employees on the payroll at a loss, the parties agree to package both things in one bill so that they can tell their respective constituents that they had to vote for one in order to get the other.  In that fashion, they can evade responsibility for their overall policies and take credit for the little good they do in the eyes of their voters while doing just the opposite at the same time.  Put another way, they can evade responsibility for the votes they cast that are contrary to what they profess to believe.  Preferable, I would argue, would be to detach issues from one another in proposed legislation so that each proposed measure was voted on separately.  In that way, voters could assess their representatives and senators on their overall performance instead of deciding for whom to vote based on party affiliation, since they don't know what the congress people would do if they were voting on particular issues that the voters are interested in.  The effect of omnibus bills is to insulate members of congress from scrutiny and to force voters to subscribe to party lines and hence to identify themselves by party rather than principle, and what we get is what we have now: good guys and bad guys; acrimony; hostility; recrimination rather than good faith adherence to principles alongside acceptance of the democratic necessity of tolerance for diversity of opinion.  And then there is the filibuster.

It's really a misnomer as it was originally the practice of taking to the podium and speaking endlessly to prevent a bill from coming to a vote.  Now, in an act euphemistically, and for that matter hypocritically, described as a function of the gentility of The Senate rather than as a political convenience that enables senators to work a three day, stress-free week, The Senate as a body has acquiesced in the expedient and self-serving fiction that requiring 60 votes in favor of closing debate over a bill is tantamount to filibustering.  Without that 60 votes, no bill goes to the floor of The Senate for a vote by virtue of a flagrantly disingenuous mechanism called "cloture," or the closing of debate.  In one sense, it is the same thing as the dubious tactic of orating for hours, or even days to prevent the vote, but without the necessity of doing anything.  The Senate might refer to the practice as a "gentlemen's agreement," but I would refer to it as evasion of the democratic responsibility to cast votes for ones constituents as their surrogate.  Filibuster and cloture are just that: evasion of responsibility, but it is masked as civility.  And I guarantee you that if equating cloture votes with filibustering and omnibus bills were barred by senate rules...if Senators had to vote publicly on bills that addressed the issues of the day, we would see true democracy working instead of oligarchy functioning as a perquisite of politicizing the two party system to make it serve as a path to a long term, lucrative job.

So President Biden, if you are reading this, please consider the simple and direct path to greatness of reining in our elected politicians by making them admit their votes to the voters. Take to the bully pulpit and chasten them. Partisanship will cease to be the raison d'ĂȘtre for casting a vote, and good faith with the voters will prevail...to the benefit of our entire nation.    

Your friend,


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This page contains a single entry by Michael Wolf published on January 22, 2021 3:01 PM.

Letter 2 America for January 21, 2021 was the previous entry in this blog.

Letter 2 America for February 11, 2021 is the next entry in this blog.

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