I didn’t do a post yesterday because the WiFi card in my antiquated laptop shut down; I must’ve forgotten to feed the hamsters again. Before that happened, I did do a long post over at TPMCafe.com, proposing six rules for intra-party etiquette, that you might find interesting. And my enforced inability to cyber-jabber did encourage me to listen to some other voices.Over at Bullmooseblog.com, my colleague Marshall Wittmann indulged in one of his periodic fantasies about a John McCain/Bob Kerrey third party ticket. Upon encountering him today, I suggested The Moose was grazing amongst the funny mushrooms again.On a more serious note, I attended a Progressive Policy Institute event (a link to the video should be up on the CSPAN2 site later today) featuring Larry Diamond, whose new book about the Iraq occupation, Squandered Victory, is a riveting account of the Bush administration’s “arrogance, ignorance, isolation and incompetence” in post-invasion Iraq, and the consequences we are facing now and for the immediate future.And just a few minutes ago, I read a powerful piece in The Weekly Standard by Matthew Continetti about the deeper origins of Ralph Reed’s latest troubles, which suggests his involvement in the Abramoff/Indian Casino scandal may turn out to be the tip of the ethical iceberg. Continetti runs through a whole series of questionable lobbying and p.r. campaigns Reed has taken on during his relatively brief but extremely lucrative career as a consultant (e.g., several contracts with Enron), and notes that Reed’s past ability to disguise his sources of income cannot survive the scrutiny he’s invited by running for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. “For once,” says Continetti, Reed’s “political timing is off.”Reed remains the front-runner for the GOP nomination, with an array of GOP establishment figures in Georgia and in Washington in his corner. And he did manage to intimidate one potential primary opponent, State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, into backing off, even though Oxendine was leading Reed in early polls. But he still faces state Rep. Casey Cagle, who has won the support of a large number of Republican legislators. And they aren’t being bashful about going after Reed on his ethics record and his unsavory Washington associations. In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed piece earlier this week, Bob Irvin, a former GOP legislative leader, called on Reed to drop out, with this prophecy: “If you should win the nomination, many thousands of Republican voters will desert us for the Democrats in 2006, defeating not only you but also many other good Republican candidates, maybe even Gov. Sonny Perdue.”Now there’s an eminently achievable political fantasy that The Moose and I can share.
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By Ed Kilgore
I ran across a quote from Kyrsten Sinema this week that made me angry, so I vented my spleen at New York.
In a cloying little exchange of pleasantries before Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema spoke from the podium of Mitch McConnell’s eponymous center at the University of Louisville on Monday, the Senate Republican leader called the Democrat “the most effective first-term senator” he’d ever seen. McConnell was probably being sincere given Sinema’s role, along with Joe Manchin, in saving the filibuster, the chief tool in the GOP’s obstructionist bag of tricks. He could have called her a “one-term senator” since her demise in 2024 seems all but certain after she alienated as many Arizona Democrats as she could, but that wouldn’t have been gracious. Instead, he went on to give her the highest token of his esteem, calling her a “deal-maker.”
For her part, Sinema noted that she and McConnell share a “respect for the Senate as an institution,” a statement she reinforced by calling for the restoration of 60-vote thresholds for executive and judicial-branch confirmations in the upper chamber, which were abolished by serial Democratic and Republican majorities in 2013 and 2017, respectively. Sinema is, you see, an old-school respecter of the Senate, which makes me sick to my stomach.
Anyone who spends time around the Senate (I worked there in the late 1980s and early 1990s and with Senate offices for years before and after that) is aware of the extremely high regard in which senators hold themselves “as an institution.” They don’t publicly bash House members as petty-minded, party-bossed parochial Lilliputians who have to spend all their time running for reelection. But the unstated though very real mutual disdain of the two congressional chambers is deeply rooted in the Senate’s distinctive constitutional role as an anti-democratic redoubt of entrenched privilege.
This is nowhere more apparent than in Sinema’s beloved filibuster, which in its most recent incarnation has made supermajorities a requirement for even routine legislation. But lest we forget, even if the filibuster went away, the Senate’s grant of equal power to all 50 states is profoundly undemocratic. The states themselves are not allowed to get away with such a gross misappropriation of legislative power. In the 1964 decision in Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, under the Equal Protection Act of the 14th Amendment, state legislatures had to respect the principal of “one person, one vote,” with seats in the upper as well as lower chambers being awarded in districts of equal population. As Chief Justice Earl Warren famously wrote in the Court’s opinion in a 8-1 decision:
“Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests. As long as ours is a representative form of government, and our legislatures are those instruments of government elected directly by and directly representative of the people, the right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system.”
The logic is the same with respect to the model for all those once-oligarchical state upper chambers, the U.S. Senate itself. But the Senate has its own separate, unassailable constitutional basis. The Article I, Section 3 provision of the Constitution providing for equal representation of states in the Senate is expressly exempted from amendment in Article V (“no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate”). So we are stuck with an anti-democratic chamber. But we don’t have to celebrate it.
It’s important to remember the two reasons we have a U.S. Senate. First, it represented a compromise with those in the founding generation who wanted an unelected body like Britain’s House of Lords to counteract “the people’s House,” the lower chamber. But more important, as James Madison made clear in “Federalist 62,” it was essential to the ratification of the Constitution that the country maintain its original character as a compact of states, not as a truly United States:
“It may be remarked, that the equal vote allowed to each state, is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual states, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty …
“Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of the senate is, the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority of the states.”
This understanding of the country as a modified confederation of states with a stronger central government than it originally had more or less perished with the outcome of the Civil War and the ratification of the Civil Rights Amendments (including the 14th Amendment, that great and still-evolving guarantee of individual rights against states rights). But the Senate remains as a relic of the era when McConnell’s hero Henry Clay and a host of other patriarchal slaveholders held the Union temporarily together by engaging in “deal-making” at the expense of human dignity. The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913 and providing for the popular election of senators instead of letting state legislatures choose them, took the chamber as far toward democracy as a flawed Constitution would allow.
“Respect for the Senate as an institution” means contempt for democracy as a fundamental value. That is why those with respect for democracy — particularly those who profess to be a member of the Democratic Party — should do everything possible to minimize the Senate’s ability to function according to the Founders’ design instead of boasting about making the chamber even more susceptible to high-handed measures to frustrate the popular will.