I applaud Pres. Obama on his efforts for bipartisanship. At any other point in our history a great amount of good could be done for the people with a leader like him. This,however, is not any point in our history. This is the age of polarization. Former Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), in a Daily Show interview about a month ago, that speculation that this Congress was in gridlock was not really true. In fact, this Congress had passed more legislation than any Congress in 50 years. He was right, but this is about quality not quantity.
We got a healthcare bill, but it didn’t provide a public option and includes a mandate to buy insurance from private companies. We got a financial reform bill that Wall Street CEO’s said would be good for their companies. We got “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed, almost. At every fight, Pres. Obama and Democrats compromised away significant progress to avoid pissing too many people off. This is why I’d like to know if Pres. Obama ever watched “The West Wing.”
Pres. Obama could learn a lot from the fictional Pres. Josiah Bartlet. Bartlet’s first years didn’t go as well as any president would hope. At one point, Pres. Bartlet is convinced by his Chief of Staff to voice his opinions and push for progress. Actor John Spencer’s character, Leo McGarry, then gives a short speech to the White House staff saying:
“We’re gonna lose some of these battles. And we might even lose the White House. But we’re not going to be threatened by issues: we’re going to put ’em front and center. We’re gonna raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.”
I think Pres. Obama could learn from those words. I think he has great ambition, and vision. He has failed to have the will to make them reality. To start with I believe he needs to take a strong stand on tax policy. The House recently passed an extension of the Bush tax cuts for everyone but the wealthy, those making over $250,000 a year. In the Senate, Republicans plan to block it, and a compromise is apparently in the works. I believe the President should stand his ground. His party is still in the majority. He believes he knows what is right for the country, and he should fight to take that course. The major stumbling block is the dreaded Senate procedure known as the “filibuster.”
What I don’t understand about the filibuster is why it’s dreaded. Here is my idea. Have a Democrat go into the Senate and propose the extension of the Bush tax cuts that Pres. Obama wants. What are Republicans going to do? Yes, they can block the bill. There are not 60 votes to limit debate, but if it’s a filibuster they want; let them try. These days filibusters aren’t what they used to be. Strom Thurmond’s 24 hour opposition to civil rights in 1957 doesn’t exist, but it could, and Democrats could make it happen.
Here’s how it works. Senate rules require that any Senator be allowed to speak about a particular issue for as long as they see fit. However, the speech only has to be relevant for a short time in a legislative day. A legislative day is not a calendar day. A legislative day can last for many days as long as the Senate recesses rather than adjourns. So for three hours the debate on one issues must be relevant, but for several days afterword it can be anything. A Senator can read from every phonebook in the country if they want to. The only way to stop it is for 60 Senators to vote to limit debate. Generally, all of this is ignored and the threat of a filibuster stops a bill from moving. The Senate majority leader, in this case Harry Reid (D-NV), can require a “traditional filibuster” meaning that Republicans have to hold the floor. If they relinquish it the bill goes to a majority vote. Now, Senate rules allow the Republicans to easily hold the floor for a very long time, but that is what Democrats should be hoping for. Let Republicans stand up and read their recipe books. Plaster the image of Mitch McConnell reading whatever he chooses in the effort to prevent tax relief for 98% of Americans. (As a side note, it would actually be interesting to know what our elected leaders choose to read.) Let C-SPAN and cable news provide 24-hour coverage of “Filibuster 2010.” In the end, the winner will always be someone trying to do something not someone trying to stop everything. If Republicans want to prevent anything from getting done, so be it. But make sure it’s being spread to every household in America. Make it public, and make it personal. Democrats need to spread the word to low-income and middle class families that their taxes are going up because Republicans want to read recipes and phone books instead.
If Pres. Obama wants to be a great leader, he must stand for what he believes and let Republicans show Americans that they are standing in the way.