Sunday, August 11, 2013

Annals of American Idiocy – The United States Senate

Celebrating All The Bad Ideas in American History, Politics and Economics

[Editor’s note:  There are innumerable writings about how great America is and what wonderful things have been done in this nation.  This is one of an irregular series whose topics are all of the things America has gotten wrong.] 

Democracy is not rule by the majority.  Democracy is a careful balance between the right of the majority to prevail and the ability of the minority to retain basic rights.  This balance is difficult but critical to a successful democracy.  If the balance is too much in favor of majority rights, the rights of the minority are trampled.  If the balance is too much in favor of minority rights, the will of the majority is thwarted far more than it should be.

When the Founding Fathers confronted the issue of creating a legislature they faced this problem because of the popularity disparity among the states.  The solution was to have one side of the legislature, the Senate, have an equal number of members from each state regardless of the population of that state.  So under the U. S. Constitution every state gets two Senators.

How bad an idea was this?  Well the disparity in population among the states has now grown so large that a small minority of voters control 41 Senators, and under the Senate rules that is enough to thwart the majority.  Wyoming’s Senators have the same power as California’s Senators.  The result, a near totally dysfunctional body that prevent any administration from enacting most of its program, just because of politics.  And of course the authors of the Constitution never imagined a Republican party that placed politics and political power above the welfare of the nation, such an idea was not conceivable to men who had risked everything to found a nation based on equality of man (well equality of most men, women and people of African descent would have to have their equality come later, but at least the principle if not the practice was in place.)

And even worse, the Founding Fathers did not set out any rules for the Senate.  They apparently assumed that because Senators were not elected directly only the best and brightest would serve. After an intelligent and deliberative debate they expected the Senator to vote.  But instead the Senate is now composed of the worst and the dumbest.  And given free rein to create whatever rules they wanted to, they really messed up.  An up and down vote, majority rules is something they almost never do.

So the Senate has imposed upon itself some of the dumbest idea that any legislature could adopt.  Even though the Senate protects minority rights with an equal number of Senators from each state, the Senate has effectively adopted rules that require 60% approval for almost all legislation.  And any single Senator can put an indefinite hold on a any President’s nominee that requires Senate approval. the Senate is not a legislative body, it is a very unfunny political science joke.

Attempts to change any of this bring cries of horror from whatever party benefits from the archaic and idiotic composition and rules of the Senate.  The only hope, Republicans who care little for anything other than their own agenda may change Senate rules to enable a Republican President, when there is one, to get his way more often.  But barring that, the U. S. is stuck with the most dysfunctional government that is not Israeli.

The United States Senate – The Worst America has to offer for a legislative body.

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