Harry Reid, Constitutionalist

By James Fallows
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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/11/harry-reid-constitutionalist/281756/