Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Not Open For Debate

Charles P. Pierce:

Tuesday began on Monday night, when a spectacularly wrongheaded defense of the Senate filibuster by flea-on-a-griddle Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona went up on the Washington Post’s website. I think this was my favorite part.

To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?

Holy Jesus, if a staffer wrote this, fire the staffer. If the senator herself wrote it, have her lie down for an hour in a cool, dark place. What does she think is going on in the states right now? (Hundreds of laws in dozens of states.) Stopping a well-organized effort by gerrymandered state legislatures to suppress the franchise of voters they find inconvenient is exactly what the FTPA was designed to do. (It also regulates campaign finance, and I will go to my grave believing that those provisions were the real reason why Sinema, Manchin, and other unnamed Democratic senators lined up in defense of the filibuster, which is a way of killing the bill indirectly.) Perhaps Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC Monday night had the kindest evaluation of Sinema’s column: that it was clearly written in the context of a Senate that hasn’t existed for at least a couple of decades. I’d have said 30 years, but that’s just me.

Then things died down for a while. I came back to the C-SPAN feed just in time to hear John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, lie his ass off about how the filibuster was in the spirit of checks and balances envisioned by the Founders. (The Founders said nothing about the filibuster. It was created by accident in 1789 because Vice President Aaron Burr was distracted, perhaps by dreams of empire or perhaps by that afternoon’s pistol practice, and jacked with the Senate rules in such a way that filibusters became possible.) Thune also praised the “common sense reforms” present in all those new laws. Thune represents a state in which voter suppression most recently ratfcked a referendum legalizing marijuana.
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Then the Senate turned to a couple of administration nominations: Christopher Fonzone to be general counsel for the Director of National Intelligence, and Kiran Aruja to run the Office of Personnel Management.

These two nominations gave Senators Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley a chance to beat on their little tin drums. Cotton, the bobble-throated slapdick from Arkansas, got some nifty red-baiting in on Fonzone, who did legal work with Chinese tech colossus Huawei. (He also got to toss a drive-by elbow at LeBron James.) And Hawley, apparently rehearsing his speech accepting the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, got to froth heavily on Aruja’s alleged allegiance to…wait for it…Critical Race Theory. From the Post:

But it was critical race theory that moved center stage as Hawley targeted Ahuja’s leadership of Philanthropy Northwest, the umbrella group connecting charities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. The senator focused on her support for Ibram X. Kendi, a professor at Boston University whose writings about racial equity have come under fire from conservatives — and said he worried that Ahuja would weave the language of critical race theory into federal directives.

The Post, alas, is being very childlike here. Hawley was merely engaging in the most recent iteration of Lee Atwater’s infamous declension of racial rhetoric. And to hear Josh Hawley, who cheered on the insurrectionists on January 6 and who led the charge to overturn a fairly run election, bloviate against “divisiveness” and champion “unity” is to discover whole new vistas of projectile vomiting.

Anyway, the whole exercise was an infuriating kabuki. All of the voices opposing the bill weren’t even opposing the bill. They were opposing debating the bill, because there weren’t anywhere close to 60 votes to achieve cloture to bring the bill to the floor for actual debate. But everybody got a chance to front for their point of view.

There is yet time to halt this head-on rush to the destruction of the basic rights of the individual states and the liberties of the American people to satisfy the demands, the clamor, and the expediency of the day. Never in my more than 40 years in Congress have I seen a measure come before this body that has had such built-in potential for the destruction of our constitutional system and the breakdown of law and order as the pending bill.

Oh, sorry. That was Senator Lister Hill of Alabama, talking about the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Lee Atwater taught an important lesson, and his heirs have learned well.

The Republicans don’t want to even debate the bill because there is the slightest chance that one or two of their party might actually believe in democracy and the right to vote. Can’t take that chance.

The faintest glimmering hope that democracy will not die in this darkness is that the Democrats will make as much noise as possible through campaign ads and organized efforts to rout out the GOP in the mid-terms. But that relies on the DNC and the state parties having their collective shit together, and if history is any guide, that’s a faint hope.

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