>> Friday, February 01, 2013
This isn't a bar-room chat. Or an NRA-sponsored gun forum. Or a two-way on Fox News. It's the US Senate. Isn't there even a minimum threshold of plausibility?-Peter Foster, "The US gun debate is no longer anchored in reality; if it wasn't so tragic, it would be funny";The Telegraph, January 30th, 2013.
Regrettably, as a foreigner, Mr. Foster--who otherwise makes some excellent points--clearly has no comprehension as to how the American system of democracy, which I am informed is the greatest governmental system in the world, works. To wit: he asks, "It's the US Senate. Isn't there a minimum threshold of plausibility?"
In a word, no.
To proffer an example: this is an august body which cannot pass any act of legislation without a majority. "Majority", however, does not carry it's vernacular meaning, or even it's Constitutional meaning, of "51% or more of a vote"; in the United States Senate, a majority is defined as sixty percent of a vote. The reason it's so defined is not because the law does so or the Senate does so, but rather because the Senate has adopted procedural rules that can only be overcome by what is usually described in other contexts as a "supermajority" (which, in the Senate, again, is simply a majority, because that's how things work). These procedural rules involve not just the infamous filibuster, but also esoteric rituals like invoking cloture.
Cloture and the filibuster are not what anyone usually thinks they are. For example, many people used to think that a filibuster was that thing Jimmy Stewart did in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, where the titular Mr. Smith heroically stalls the entire agenda of the legislature so that he can avoid facing corruption charges by talking and talking and talking until he passes out. (This is vaguely heroic insofar as Mr. Smith has to put forth a great deal of effort and is also, conveniently, factually innocent of the corruption charges he's trying to avoid.) In the modern filibuster, however, all a Senator (including ones who faced corruption charges--I guess that makes some of them a little like Mr. Smith) has to do is Invoke Cloture (Sen 1; V, S; Casting Time: 1 standard action; Range: 500' radius emanation from caster; Duration: permanent; Saving Throw: none; Spell Resistance: none) with a relevant Senate committee saying he's thinking about talking until he passes out but has no real intention of doing so, but since he's considering the hypothetical of the what-if? of perhaps talking until he's tuckered if the committee passes something along to the floor, and the bill or nomination dies.
This year, the Democrats made some noises about redefining a majority to mean a majority, except they couldn't do it because they didn't have a majority--except, see, it turns out there's a special twist in the laws of magic sort of like the one that allows Aslan to come back from the dead in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, or maybe it's more like the whole business with the keyhole in The Lonely Mountain appearing once a year when the sun sets a certain way in The Hobbit. As it happens, on the very first day of the session and only upon that blessed day, the Senate may pass it's own rules and may do so with only a majority, instead of needing a majority as they do upon every other day. But the problem with this great thaumaturgical loophole is that they could only do so on the first day and upon no other. How would they accomplish such a feat of ritual and conjuring?
Why, by decreeing that the first day consisted of many days. Duh.
This made the all-powerful minority, which effectively controls the majority vote, very sad and angry, and so they fretted loudly and promised to summon demons to devour the hearts of the first-born children of the impotent majority minority. I think that's what they promised, anyway. And so a compromise was struck, in which the Senators gathered together (around a great round table, I think, in a chamber in the Forlorn Tower Of Westwaste in the Dragonlands, or possibly they just held a conference call about it), and boldly agreed to a compromise so that the powerful minority can no longer kill a bill by cloture or filibuster, so long as they have two chances to slit the bill's throat by amending it so that nobody could possibly vote for it.
And thus, the first day ended (I think--it has ended, right?), several weeks after the first day, with the Senate agreeing to reform itself by passing new rules that will allow it to continue to get nothing done, much as it has accomplished nothing for many years now.
So take that, Mr. Foster! You ask if there is a minimum threshold of plausibility in the United States Senate--fool! You must think you're pretty smart, Mr. Foster, asking such a responsible, intelligent and relevant question, but you clearly have no concept of how degraded, degenerate and useless the American political system has become! There is no minimum threshold of plausibility in the Senate, Foster--only absurd and inane rules that the institution wisely imposes upon itself to limit its Constitutionally limited powers so that it can get less done more slowly while offering its members increasing opportunities to demonstrate just how ignorant and out-of-touch many of them are on a wide variety of topics. You might as well inquire into the sanity and sensibility of the Queen Of Hearts' Royal Court--except that wouldn't really be relevant, since Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland is really all about math, which we Americans are really terrible at...
I mean, for the love of Heaven, man: we think fifty-nine percent is a minority.
(H/t CGL for the Telegraph link.)