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January 04, 2010

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Impressive, no es verdad?

CWCID the commenters at Tom Maguire's place. NPR's lame attempt to demonstrate the lowbrow, hyperpartisan nature of those who don't share their political opinions by out-lowbrowing the opposition reminded me of this:

Ezra makes it out that a moderate pace in passing laws and approving executive nominees to the bureaucracy and bench serves no substantive function. But the ability of a minority to affect the pace of a session forces the majority to focus on its priorities and keep contentious but not-so-important issues off the floor. This blocks any number number of “particular issues.”

Why would a senator stall the process? Because he or she wants something, of course. Most of the procedural convolutions in the Senate are pretty clearly logrolling and vote-trading opportunities. It is the sum of these exchanges, not mere head-counting, that ensure that the various interests represented by the legislators have been taken into account. And this rough balancing of conflicting interests and convictions, not mere head-counting, establishes whatever democratic legitimacy legislation might have.

There’s nothing superspecial about majoritarian voting rules. Counting heads and then skipping merrily and speedily along is an endearingly simple idea, but it’s not very useful. Head-counting can tell you how many voters prefer A to B, but it can’t tell you anything about the intensity of their preferences. If 51 percent mildly prefer A and 49 percent passionately prefer B, there is a pretty clear sense in which A is the “wrong” democratic choice, even though it is in a trivial sense more popular. Vote-trading, logrolling, etc. enable the overall process to balance interests and convictions over time in a way that takes into account the intensity of preferences.

...The more ideological you are, the less satisfactory this will seem. The ideologue insists that her intensely favored conception of justice demands or forbids certain policies no matter the complexion of public opinion or democratic procedural ideals. She insists that certain odious preferences and ridiculous beliefs must not to be taken into account at all, or only at a steep discount. Having no sincere interest in the deliberative and balancing aspects of democracy, then, the ideologue tends to confuse democracy with majoritarian head-counting.

Except, of course, when the Democrats were in the minority. As I recall, the meme du jour back then was that it's inherently unfair, unjust, and undemocratic to have one party calling the shots.

Thank Gaia, the Dems reminded us daily, that a determined and principled minority party was willing to apply the brakes to the reckless and out of control majority :p

Sometimes, the comedy just writes itself. I plan to spend the next 4 years drinking heavily and watching the parties trip over each other in their unseemly haste to reverse whatever the heck they were doing when the shoe was on the other foot. This transfer of power nonsense plays all Hell with fostering a properly gratifying sense of outrage.

Tom Maguire also has this.

Food for thought. Or at least it should be.

Posted by Cassandra at January 4, 2010 02:42 PM

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That's the thing about having the shoe on the other foot; they are specifically designed for only one foot...be it left or right. ;-)

Posted by: camojack at January 5, 2010 12:29 AM

I plan to spend the next 4 years drinking heavily

Party at Cassie's place!


Posted by: BillT at January 5, 2010 04:45 AM

If 51 percent mildly prefer A and 49 percent passionately prefer B, there is a pretty clear sense in which A is the “wrong” democratic choice, even though it is in a trivial sense more popular.

A great many on the left would take deep issue with this statement. There's been a lot of talk about how the Senate is inherently undemocratic and that the 60-vote rule for cloture and filibusters need to be gotten rid of.

I pointed out that we are not a democracy - we are a democratic republic, and that there's a difference. They see that as a bug, not a feature. Then I got whacked with the "original intent" arguement. "Gee, conservatives are quick to resort to the 'original intent' argument when it serves their purposes, but ignore it when it doesn't."

Fortunately, if you search the 'net you find a history of the filibuster on the Senate's own web site. What you find is:

a) The Senate was originally designed to permit unlimited debate, with no provision whatsoever to cut it off.
b) The House was originally designed the same way, but set up procedures to cut off debate earlier because of it's size.
c) It wasn't until 1917 that a cloture rule was created.
d) It required a 2/3 vote (which would currently be 66 votes, not 60) until 1975.

There was never an intent when the Federal government was formed that 50% + 1 of the membership of each house could ram through a bill.

Posted by: RonF at January 7, 2010 09:59 AM

I don’t know about you, but speaking ‘tea bag’ just comes naturally for me. I read stories in the paper every day from people dieing for govt run health care because they just lost the farm due to high medical bills. Wonder who helps them tie their shoes in the morning?

Posted by: omega 3 at January 8, 2010 06:27 AM