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Stupid or Lying? The Right Wing,The Senate and Majority Rule

March 19, 2010

Alright, I’ve had it. The problem with these here intertubes is that any ole ill-informed oaf with an opinion can publish. That in and of itself wouldn’t be such a problem if there weren’t so many other ill-informed oafs chomping at the bit to believe it, forward it, copy it on their own blogs, re-tweet it on Twitter, post it to Facebook, or toss it into the maelstrom of right wing forums. The collective effort pushes the stupid and degrades the quality of political debate in this country. An alarming amount of the time, you can’t debate someone with an opposing viewpoint without first educating them. Drives me nuts!

So what’s got me so frustrated this time? A profound misunderstanding of the Constitution and what it says about the rules and nature of the House and Senate. For some time now, there has been discussion of the filibuster, both in terms of efforts to reform it and efforts, like reconciliation, to avoid it.  A commonly held misconception these days is that the filibuster is delineated in the Constitution. (Why do I have to say this?) Not true.  What the Constitution simply says is that the Senate and the House are to write their own rules. The Senate rules held the potential for a filibuster since 1806 (although it was theoretical) and the first filibuster occurred in 1837. Still, it was an exceedingly rare occurrence until the 1970’s. As we all are now acutely aware, its use has dramatically spiked since the GOP lost control of the Senate in 2006, accelerating even more since President Obama took office.I believe that bit of information as mostly been disseminated. Although I am certain there are some that still believe the filibuster is in the Constitution, I’ll leave that point alone.

More insidious, and more difficult to effectively educate against is a belief that the Senate was not intended to hold votes on a majority rule basis. (An example can be seen here.)  “What?!”, you say. Bear with me and I will attempt to explain the thinking. It goes something like this:

The House was set up to be directly representative of the people, so majority rule votes are the law in the House. The Senate, however, was intended to be a check on the power of the majority (to protect against the tyranny of majority factions.) Therefore, the Senate was never intended to be held to majority rule votes of 50% plus one. This is why the filibuster (now that the GOP needs it) is sacrosanct.

Darn it! They were so close to the truth. Too bad they fail to grasp the obvious. The Senate is not majority rule, but not because it does or should require a supermajority. Rather, it is implicit in the very nature of the Senate itself. A little elementary civics: unlike the House, where representatives are determined by population, the Senate allows for two Senators per state, regardless of population. The result of this is the over-representation of smaller states. For instance, Wyoming, with a population of just over 544,ooo people, has two Senators, while California, where a single city has a population over 18 times that size, has the same allotment.

The Senate then, by its very composition, laid out in the Constitution, is not democratic. This satisfies the founders’ desire to put some limit on the over-rule of minority rights by majority factions. Within the Senate itself, any vote is inherently a check on the majority rule of the directly representative House. When California’s 37 million constituents get the same vote as Wyoming’s 544,ooo, it is clear that the majority is not ruling. There is no need for a filibuster to protect that discrepancy. The fact that the Senate rules allow for a filibuster is fine, but the rules also allow for reconciliation. Both are within the legal, constitutional framework of the Senate.

Everyone in the US that has made it through sixth grade should know this. So what to make of the people pushing this falsehood? Why are they misinterpreting the Constitution? Why are they referencing Madison’s Federalist papers when they clearly don’t understand them, either? There are three possiblities:

  1. They are intellectually challenged and simply cannot grasp this concept.
  2. They are willfully choosing to misrepresent the language of the Constitution and the founders’ writings to suit their viewpoint.
  3. They have been intentionally misinformed by others guilty of number 2.

I will leave it to you to determine the answer for any offenders you encounter.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2010 1:45 pm

    The ultimate guard of minorities are the courts. Unfortunately, our top court; the U.S. Supreme Court has been taken over by a bunch of Right Wing ideologues. And, even worse subservient to corporate interest and the very wealthy.

    I have no problem with the filibuster rule applied by honorable elected people in our Senate, but the people who spent the last two years, blocking every piece of legislation they could, are not honorable people, nor do they represent the American people in general, as they claim.

    They have become experts of spin, sound bites and talking points, and they have mastered that art, much better than the Democrats.

    As far as the three possibilities; it is surely a mix of all three.

    Larry Clement


  1. One Reason Why Reconciliation is Much Ado About Nothing « The Rutherford Lawson Blog

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