Observing the Presidential Election cage match, I cannot help but identify with Richard Dreyfuss’ wonder at the spectacle of the Third Kind unfolding before him in the Spielberg classic. As he stands looking up at the alien presence, you can feel his excitement and fear: is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end of the human race? Like many of you, I fear that what we are seeing is indeed the beginning of the end of the American experiment.
Except the real world kind’s motif is decidedly one note, rather than five .
What is before us, if we are honest with ourselves, is a partisan cacophony voraciously pitting us versus them, and you against me. Their one note admonishing the evil “them” is a sour note indeed.
I have been given a lot of grief over the last couple of decades for pointing out the similar strategies of the two major parties. The game is much easier to apprehend after shedding the rose or violet colored glasses. Little is more curious than the peculiar human faculty to see the inconsistency and failings in THEM without apprehending the same in WE.
Now I know, most of you think I am as alien as ET when I say such things, but bear with me today: I have a simple proof of the truth of which I speak. It is simple and lying in plain sight, yet apparently eludes complacent Americans: Obstructionism.
It is tempting to dig into the diverse details, but I am committed to keeping this missive a manageable length. In deference to the exigencies of the scarcity of time, I want to focus on just one, yet quintessential, mechanism of obstruction in American politics, the U.S. Senate Filibuster .
There is very little in American political lore which can compete with the pyrotechnic nature of the filibuster. Though much has been said, the scrutiny has been consistently superficial. Demopublicans and Repubilocrats alike both “use” and “abuse” this parliamentary device first leveraged by Cato the Younger to thwart the agenda of Julius Caesar.
Two millennia hence, politicians have not changed.
In theory at least, we Americans like to think we have changed since the bad old days. We could have an extended conversation over the degree of truth in this American myth, but it seems that if we can agree on little else, one cornerstone of the American ideal is the rule of law. Which should have us asking “what is the law governing the filibuster?”
Fortunately, this is actually an easy question. The filibuster is a senate rule: Senators past enacted rules by which they conduct business and the filibuster is but one part. As in the time of Cato, this particular rule has been used to thwart a mere majority in favor of a large minority. A longer post could contain plenty of examples of partisans from both sides of the isle using the filibuster, or the mere threat of a filibuster, to obstruct the agenda of the other. The most famous filibusters being the lengthy filibusters of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 by Strom Thurmond, and of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Robert Byrd.
My point here is to not beat on Democrats at all: I like them no less than the others. I am not even here today to suggest whether such obstruction is a good or a bad thing. (Actually, I think it is bad, if you were asking, but this is not relevant to my point.) Here is what I want to call attention to:
At the risk of insult, I want to sharpen the point a bit: at any time in the last 120 years or so, the majority party was capable of eliminating the filibuster. They could, if they chose, completely eliminate this obstructionist tool—for at least the duration of their majority.
Democrats and Republicans choose the status quo.
The hard truth here is that they NEED obstruction. They understand that people do not vote enthusiastically for those who compromise. The filibuster gives Senators a platform to be seen “fighting the good fight”. And you, my fellow Americans, consistently give them a pass on this behavior and eagerly blame the color of the jersey in opposition to your team. When the GOP is in charge, Democrats are the obstructionists. When Democrats are in charge, the Republicans are the oppressors of progress.
It is called Confirmation Bias.
So I ask you dear reader to peek out behind your rose colored glasses and violet goggles. Take a cold hard look at the facts rather than the partisan performances. See how they are using us like a cheap moist towelette at a fried chicken diner. As we stare at the spectacle before us, it is hard to not be fascinated. The billionaire parade, the Madison Avenue advertisements, the patriotic bunting and vacuous bloviations all conspire to mesmerize us.
My belief is that this is no third kind, but rather a kind we know all too well.