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Needed: A Senator With Stones

Enough of this idiocy

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 15, 2009.

One of the painful educations one receives watching the Sotomayor hearings is that the United States Senate is composed, in both parties, of some of the most hypocritical gasbags on the planet. It would be helpful that the public keep in mind that the wasteful blathering of Senators, trying to pander to their respective bases rather than doing the nation’s work, which is their job, costs us a lot. There is a ton of legislation – including health care and fiscal oversight and deteriorating state economies - that need to be debated and acted upon and wisely phrased before presented for vote and become, or not, law.

Second, this whole procedure of half-educated Senators cross examining legal experts is ludicrous. Sotomayor is no Harriet Miers, but a federal judge who’d leave the likes of Senators Cornyn and Sessions in gelded pain on the floor after arguing law. Of course, law and her record cannot be argued – there’s nothing there to disturb anyone – so phrases out of context of the sort that lace every public figure’s offerings have to be blown up and contorted into something ridiculous, which the nominee must address in the most obsequious terms, and her Democratic supporters blather away about something of no importance that makes everyone look like a damned idiot.

In the late 19th century, the Speaker of the House was Thomas Reed of Maine, about six foot three and three hundred pounds. He was a Republican, and two hundred pounds and four feet smarter than anyone else in the House of Representatives and federal government and Senate, a unit he rather despised and ridiculed. Unlike his peers looking vaguely at Robert’s Rules of Order at need, the Speaker mastered it and the rules of the House as they then stood. He could, apparently, quote huge sections of recondite bureaucratic sludge from the Chair. His wit was enough to wither the blowhards, and he was greatly feared in debate.

Back then, the House allowed Congressmen present to simply refuse to answer when the role was taken before a vote, and thereby the minority party could deprive the majority of a quorum for a vote, a silent filibuster. Reed realized that this defeated representative government. So Reed, at great political and physical risk, alone confronted and defeated the Silent Filibuster.

When an important vote fell two votes short of a quorum, Reed announced: “The Chair directs the Clerk to record the following members as present and refusing to vote.” He then read the names of people he saw in the House chamber who had not answered the roll call. Amid near riot and physical threat, Reed calmly continued. One member denied the right of the Speaker to count him as present. Such was Reed’s presence, regard, and stature that he stopped adding names and the hall went dead silent. “The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman is present. Does he deny it?” This went on for days. Eventually, the opposition collapsed. Under his direction, the House wrote a new set of rules that mandated all present in Congress to be counted as present and able to vote, and government and civilization was advanced. When later the Democrats took the majority and childishly abandoned Reed’s Rules merely to spite the former Speaker, he had the great satisfaction of seeing them reinstall it later to get their own agenda passed, as was their duty and oath.

When the attention of both the Senate and the House are needed on crucial legislation, the Senate is awash in nonsense over a Supreme Court nominee whose qualifications could be publicly weighed and questioning completed in one intensive day before the Committee. Instead, about ninety percent of the blather is from Senators going for sound bytes.

Can anyone of us imagine a participating Senator saying “enough” to this nonsense, calling his colleagues a bunch of henna haired globs of unrisen dough trying to kill time so they don’t have to vote on health care and other important issues, and denouncing the bad actors and hypocrites about him or her with the surety, the skill, and the verbal dexterity that being right often bequeaths like Thomas Reed did? Standing alone? Would the public recognize the risk and importance of streamlined procedures to eventually get rid of the Electoral College, end childish and nonsensical speeches to empty chambers, and keep government’s nose to the grindstone and not raising money for endless campaign?

Fun to find out.