by Libby Hellmann
Are we all done with Valentine's Day? OK. For those of you who don’t like political blogs, just scroll on by, because I need to vent. It’s been over 6 months since I’ve written on politics, so I’m due. And it's President's Day anyway, which seems appropriate.
As many of you know, I grew up in Washington DC, where, when you were gossiping about the neighbors at the dinner table, you were essentially talking politics. I came from a “mixed marriage:” my late father and brother were Republicans -- my father even shared the same birthday as Richard Nixon -- and my sister and I were liberals. My mother didn’t declare until my father passed away. She turned out to be decidedly liberal.
Liberal or conservative, however, we were always expected to present our opinions based on fact. I can’t count the times I was told, “But, Elizabeth, where are your facts?” In my father's view, opinions were just hot air unless you could support them objectively. So I learned at an early age how to build a cogent argument.
Over time I began to see how facts could be manipulated. I might have even done it myself a time or two. But I could deal with it. Consider the source. Study the methodology. Analyze the implications. Understand that people often exaggerate. Still, there was usually a kernel of truth – or facts – embedded in political manipulations and exaggerations.
Not any more. Fueled by 24-hour news cycles, cable networks, and blogs, those tiny kernels of truth have disappeared. Politicians are out and out lying. Whether it’s in the pursuit of “truthiness,” re-election, or just obstructionism, the lies are blatant. And when they’re called out, neither the liar nor the listener does anything about it. In fact, it’s almost seems like lying is a badge of honor. The shamelessness makes my stomach twist.
There’s John Boehner claiming health care is dead because they don’t have 4 key Republican principles in the bill. Except all four are in the bill. There’s Sean Hannity chortling over the blizzards and belittling climate change and Al Gore. There are those who feel the US criminal justice system isn’t good enough to try terrorists, even though over 300 terrorists were prosecuted in criminal courts during the Bush years. There are the politicians who voted against the stimulus package then posed for photos with giant-sized stimulus checks in their home districts.
And let’s not even discuss Sarah Palin.
To be fair, Obama has waffled on the public option, executive pay, clean coal, and hiring lobbyists. And getting Democrats to agree on most issues is like herding cats. To his credit, though, Obama seems willing (maybe a little too willing for liberals) to move to the center. Still, neither side is ready to play nice. The two parties are so intent on “winning” or “obstructing” that nothing gets done. Congress is in a stalemate. At a time when our economy and our position in the world is so fragile, it’s unconscionable.
A lot of that impasse is due to the Senate filibuster, the ability of the minority party to basically kill bills they don’t like by demanding cloture. Cloture requires a vote of 60 in order to stop debate on a bill (the actual filibuster part) and vote on it. If they can’t get 60 Senators to vote to vote, the bill withers away.
Yes, Democrats used the filibuster to block Bush legislation. But they’re pikers compared to Republicans, who have used cloture, or the threat of it, nearly 140 times in the first year of Obama's presidency. And then claimed he was weak because he couldn’t overcome it. The Founding Fathers never intended the filibuster to be used this way (there’s are some interesting pieces on it here, here, and here) but it is, and it’s paralyzing Congress.
Some in Congress are beginning to realize the monster they’ve created, but mustering 60 votes to change the filibuster rule is, of course, going to be problematic. Especially since they'll need 60 votes to do it.
So while both parties are arguing, blaming each other, or playing the populist victim card, the opportunity to tackle the tough issues evaporates into the vapor. (I’m still confused why Harry Reid torpedoed a bipartisan effort to draft a jobs bill).
Meanwhile, a recent New York Times poll reports only 8 % of voters think their Congressmen are worthy of being re-elected. Hey guys, are you listening? A pox on both your houses.
OK. Rant over. Comments welcome.
PS Back to crime fiction for a moment... if you’re a Kindle person, the prices of 2 of my novels, EASY INNOCENCE and DOUBLEBACK have been reduced. Smashwords too. Check them out.