The scandalous spectacle of the Senate this past year is the fruit of its inherent defects, fulfilling the anti-democratic intent of those who founded it. The Senate was the product of just one corrupt bargain in the founding of the Constitution, this one the demand that states having smaller populations be able to thwart the will of the majority of citizens to serve their own interests. The Senate, as first established gave disproportional power to the residents of small states, it was appointed, not elected and it exacerbated the distancing from popular judgment by giving six year terms to Senators. The idea was to make it a non-hereditary house of Lords, the line about a body of wise men to cool off the heat rising up out of the rabble masking a clearly aristocratic power move. Those wise men have adopted rules of the Senate which have made the anti-democratic provisions many times worse, though on very rare occasions those have been turned to better uses.
And, what’s worse, the amendment process makes it virtually a certainty that the heavy anti-democratic hand on, this, our alleged democracy, is a permanent feature. It would take a truly revolutionary movement to get the thing abolished or, at least, democratized. By “revolutionary” I do mean it would take blood shed and the off chance that what results would be any better. The history of revolutions doesn’t make that a safe bet, I hope we can avoid it.
Anyway, the spectacle of the Republican-blue dog minority in the Senate holding up approximately 300 bills which the House has already passed, cowing the Democratic president with one of the strongest electoral mandates in recent history, and screwing We The People royally, makes revising some previous stands essential.
We, my fellow progressives, liberals, leftists, must practice hard ball, regional politics in those states where we have a say. There may be some who have read me condemn regionalist politics in the past. That was the observation of both a scruple and a protest against the prejudice fanned by the national media that a New Englander was unacceptable as President of the United States because the South and much of the Mid-West wouldn’t go for them. Of course, what that meant wasn’t that Southerners and Mid-Westerners were uniformly bigoted against New Englanders, it meant that the majority of voters in those states could be manipulated through their regionalist resentments to get them to vote against John Kerry. It is that other abomination against democracy, The Electoral College, that exacerbates the effects of regional identity. If we had the popular election of presidents, that regionalism exacerbating and disenfranchising blight on our country would vanish.
Well, we are not going to change either the Senate or the E.C. because the Constitution gives the Senate and states with a minuscule population the ability to prevent it. And why would those states allow their legislators to diminish their ability to blackmail and hold up the rest of the country? Can you imagine Senators giving up two years of their terms to be more accountable or to dilute their present share of power?
That’s the situation we live under. So, the only alternative is for progressives in progressive states to bind together and demand representation that practices regional politics for our protection and our benefit. If progressive states practiced regionalism and strategically blocked legislation that the South and the Corn-Wheat Belt states wanted, we could get a lot more of what we need. We could enhance the numbers in Congress for progressives through that mechanism. We must convince the majority of residents in our states that their interest is best served by politicians that don’t sell us out to the most regressive and backwards voters who happen to be concentrated in those states. There is no reason that the myriad of popular programs, healthcare, environmental protection, civil rights protections etc. should be allowed to be blocked in perpetuity by the minority which practice regional politics.
Of course, the scruple against practicing regional politics is that it is unjust to those who live in even the most benighted states but who don’t favor those policies*. And that is absolutely true. As pointed out, things like the Electoral College automatically disenfranchise those people. But the idea that Progressive State regionalism would be to their determent is absurd. I am better served by Al Franken and Barbara Boxer than I am by Snowe and Collins. I have, at times, been better served by the likes of Dale Bumpers and others from states which used to send moderate Democrats to the Senate. I am certain there are many millions of progressive in states with horrible representation who often feel better represented by Congressional members from other states.
There are no easy answers, no perfect solutions to the horrible facts of government under our constitution. There isn’t anything that isn’t going to force a hierarchy of principles. But there is often no room for doubt that higher level moral issues are frequently sacrificed for things amounting to conventionalized manners. Democracy is in the emergency ward because The People’s lives are being destroyed. This is an emergency. We need to do something drastic now.
* As I’ve pointed out it doesn’t come naturally to me as a New Englander. I’ve pointed out that while Southerners were freely expressing their regionalist hatred against New Englanders my governor was from Virginia and the Speaker in my state legislature was from South Carolina. There are a number of successful Democratic politicians in the North East who speak with distinct Southern accents.