Harry Reid, Constitutionalist

"I think that 60 votes could end America's ability to govern itself."
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George Barrus

Having inveighed nonstop these past six years about increasing abuse of the filibuster, am I glad that Senator Harry Reid has finally begun to say "Enough"?

Yes.

Rather, Yes!

More nuanced reaction after I get back to the U.S. on Friday evening. But the main point is this:

Whichever party controls the government has to be able to govern. Our checks-and-balances system, crafted in the demographic and political realities of 18th-century, 13-state, slave/free, Eastern Seaboard America, and in many ways showing its age, did not ever contemplate a permanent blocking minority in the Senate as one of the regular "checks." You can look it up. Minority protection is an important part of our overall constitutional balance, but not in proceedings of the Senate. Outside a named class of special circumstances—impeachment, treaties, veto overrides, etc.—the Senate, whose all-states-equal formula already over-represents regional minorities, was intended to run as a majority-rule operation.

It's nearing time to board a long flight, so let me turn the stage over to someone with more practical experience in the realities of governing than most other Americans. This is Jerry Brown, whom I profiled earlier this year and who, in a riff that was not part of my article, said this about the distortion of the Senate. He told me this when I interviewed him in Oakland this spring:

We can't have a country based on the 60-vote standard. This is serious.

We've never had to have 60 votes for appointments or day-to day-decisions. Really, you can't govern that way. That's a radical change. 

How can you govern? Does England have 60? [JF note: Obviously a rhetorical question. His point is that the U.S. has the drawbacks of parliamentary democracy, including political polarization -- without the benefits, namely the ability to get things done.] I think that 60 votes could end America's ability to govern itself. We have to get rid of it. 

That 60 votes is bad.

And a step against it is good.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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