Thursday, June 24, 2010


Republicans in the Senate are on the verge of using their 41-59 "superminority" to filibuster a bill that (as Steve Benen notes) "extends unemployment benefits, maintains popular tax breaks, protects doctors from Medicare cuts, and boosts state aid to prevent massive job layoffs in the states." Democrats (Ben Nelson) are prepared to vote for this bill, and could pass it with a asimple majority, but, because of the filibuster, they can't.

Matt Yglesias says: note that if conditions do worsen many, many, many more Americans will blame Barack Obama for the bad state of things than will blame the Senate minority. The filibuster might not be so pernicious were its impact generally understood by the public, but the intersection of a minority that's empowered to obstruct and an electorate that holds the majority responsible for policy outcomes is toxic.

And that really is the problem -- Republicans are going to take away unemployment benefits and Democrats are going to be blamed. But, um, does it have to be that way? Of course, you reply -- Americans just don't understand the filibuster.

But is there no mechanism whatsoever -- a prime-time interview, a prime-time speech -- whereby the president of the United States might explain the filibuster to peple, as if he were teaching Civics 101? Explain it, and explain the specific way in which this undemocratic relic of a procedure is being used to block these benefits and thwart majority rule? Why couldn't a president reach out to the public to educate us on how our government works, in the interests of his agenda? Would Ronald Reagan have hesitated to do so? Would FDR? Wouldn't they have found a way?

I know that Obama, while not a professor, taught for a while. Unfortunately, he taught elite law students. I don't think he quite understands how to educate people who really need a basic education in government.

He should imagine what he would say if Malia or Sasha were to ask him to explain why, if he has a majority, he can't get the law passed. And then he should explain it to us exactly the way he'd explain it to one of them.

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