National Commentary

60 Votes & ‘Independents’

bentonmugFar from heeding the prodding of those “angels of our higher nature,” the human race has been governed by greed and avarice, especially since 1980 when the most powerful nation on earth officially endorsed that with the election of President Reagan and what flowed in its wake.

bentonmugFar from heeding the prodding of those “angels of our higher nature,” the human race has been governed by greed and avarice, especially since 1980 when the most powerful nation on earth officially endorsed that with the election of President Reagan and what flowed in its wake.

Now, after 28 years of that bringing the entire global economy to the brink of a complete meltdown, it is high irony that while the political preconditions exist in Washington for a complete reversal of such lunacy, the Democrats in substantial control of the White House and both houses of the Congress can’t seem to get things really turned around.

The recovery from the 2008 brink has faltered and is slowly grinding down. All talk of a second stimulus, or of even extending unemployment benefits, has become muted. While gains in health care and financial institution reform have been made, they were compromised to the point that candid observers on Wall Street concede they actually benefit the impacted industries more than the general public that is supposed to be their primary beneficiaries.

Unemployment persists and is far more endemic than the 9.5 percent official figure represents. According to a Pew Research survey released last week, the results barely making it into the back pages of The Washington Post, “The recession has directly hit more than half of the nation’s working adults, pushing them into unemployment, pay cuts, reduced hours at work or part-time jobs.”

More than half the survey’s respondents say they’re significantly worse off than before 2008, when the financial crisis wiped out 20 percent of Americans’ wealth. The public has been forced into an austerity mode, with more than six of 10 saying they’ve cut drastically their borrowing and spending. In a U.S. economy overwhelmingly dependent on consumer spending, this could not be worse news.

So, why is the nation’s majority political party, the supposed champion of the little guy, so seemingly powerless while holding such a firm majority in Washington?

Two reasons stand out for me: the obscene condescension to the notion of the 60-vote majority in the Senate, and the equally distasteful focus of political capital on the lazy, ignorant, insolent and often downright stupid so-called “swing” or “independent” voter.

Both of these are symptoms of gutlessness, at best, and too much sympathy for the greed-driven agenda of Wall Street and their ilk, at worst.

As for the notion that nothing can get done in Congress without securing 60 votes, where did this madness come from? Today’s politicians don’t even begin to draft legislation unless it is done keeping the prospect for those 60 votes in mind. Any other approach is considered unrealistic and fanciful.

That insures that every legislative measure will be watered down, in advance, from what a simple majority of 51 Democratic senators would favor.

Why do bills have to be “filibuster-proof?” Democrats should go ahead and let their GOP counterparts filibuster their brains out on any piece of legislation that matters. We saw what happened when the late Sen. Byrd and others tried to filibuster the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s. The longer it went on, the more the nation turned against them.

So let the American people see the extent to which the GOP will go to filibuster reasonable health care reform, the extension of unemployment or a truly robust jobs program. One or two circus shows like that and the talk of filibusters will fade.

As far as pandering to the “independent voter,” they are usually “undecided” for a reason, and it is seldom because they are thoughtful and engaged in the civic process to any significant degree. They are the core of those who don’t even bother to vote on election day.

To water down a political agenda to appease such as those constitutes a huge disservice to the majority of Americans who need real reform in government and its economic development priorities.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]