David Axelrod: Go read your history!

By James Fallows

Good for David Gregory. Just now, on Meet the Press, he asked David Axelrod whether the Senate's " 'majority' equals 60 votes" current operating rules made sense.

Not so good for David Axelrod. He immediately says, "These are time-honored rules."

Unt-uh. They are "time-honored" only in the sense of having been adopted awaaaaayyy-back at the dawn of time in 1975; and they have been of practical importance only really since the time of Bill Clinton -- and with a sharp increase in the last three or four years.

Can the chief political advisor at the White House really not know this about the filibuster? And if he knows the real story, why would he stick with this "time-honored" line? Either explanation is unsettling.

To round out your morning anti-filibuster ruling, below and after the jump a note from a reader in Maine:

"Right now, feels like we're all sitting at the racetrack, handicapping horses instead of governing our country. (Note disclaimer below.)We're treating the management of our national household like a sporting event. And I think the filibuster is at least partly to blame.

"Consider that 50% point -- the tipping point -- of making public policy in our democracy. It's shifted from the Senate to publicopinion polling. Look at how often the country sits there; evenly divided on the edge, in most recent elections and on many issues; how often we poll nearly 50/50 policy issues. It seems that the need for a supermajority in the Senate continually pulls the public to the tipping point.
"But it's a point of indecision, not of majority rule. And I don't believe it's what the founding fathers intended. It shifts our national discussion to the margins and to marginal issues instead of central problems. Not, "What should we do about climate change?" to "Is there climate change?" Not, "What should we do about economics reform?" but, "Should we do economic reform?"

"I can't help but wonder if, with only the need for 50% in the senate, citizens civil engagement would improve. Would less chance to derail things on the margins lead to more energy into policy development? Would citizens develop a more pragmatic view of what should be done because of the increased likeliness that something's going to be done? Would this help change our political discussions from horse-races of people (examples: Can Nancy get this through the House, will Olympia provide the extra vote? Why can't Obama get his agenda through Congress?) to the details of policy because some policy is more likely to be passed?

"I believe getting rid of the filibuster would, in the long run, make the country a more civil place by moving that tipping point back to our Senate.

"Disclaimer: My mother owns a race horse. Harness racing in Maine is like NASCAR before it was popular, but with chariots instead of cars and betting instead of breakdowns. Both, like our political and economic systems, have crashes."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2009/12/david-axelrod-go-read-your-history/32385/