Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A bit of politics

When I saw Beto O’Rourke asking the press WTF about Trump’s comments fueling racism and leading to mass shootings, I had to figure out just why these gun legislation bills are not getting voted on. I find it hard to believe that Beto does not know this, so I see his rant as not that different from Trump railing at the press. To solve the problem, he would need to comment on votes for Senators in other states, which is not something political leaders usually do. He would have to explain the historical precedents that give Mitch McConnell the power he has, also something politicians don’t do. Beto doesn’t want to explain how the system is broken, he wants to use the broken system to his advantage.
So I went to Google University to try to pull back the curtain. I offer some solutions at the bottom, so skip to the bottom if you don’t like reading about the history of rules of order. I’m afraid I don’t have much more than “organize and vote”, but there are some specific strategies and priorities that could get McConnell demoted to just another Senator.
McConnell is the Senate Majority Leader. That means the Presiding Officer gives him priority to speak. That is the VP, as per Article 1, Section 3, Clause 4 or the Constitution. But, basically that is just a chair for rules of order, not a position of power. Article 1, Section 4 grants the Senate power to establish it’s own “Standing Rules”. But, those are rather archaic and don’t grant any real power either. They do not fill all the gaps when controversy arises, so there are informal precedents. The precedent of the majority leader being recognized first by the presiding officer (see 1937 John “Cactus Jack” Nance Garner) gives Mitch McConnell the ability to set the schedule and control the agenda of the Senate. By law, any senator could make the motion to proceed with any bill. They could just shout it out and then someone could shout out a second.
So why don’t they? I don’t think it’s “deference” to Mitch McConnell. It’s deference to the donors that would crush them if they opposed McConnell. None of these procedural rules keeps people in power over a majority of its citizens without a system of enforcement to back it up. The enforcement needs money. It’s tough to win an election without it. Whoever has the money is not interested in procedures and majorities. They only need people to do their work and buy their stuff. They figured out how to scam the system and there is no vote that can change that. But your vote does matter, I’m getting to that.
The money isn’t just to pay for some TV time, it’s used to fake studies that show that you should be afraid of the government and afraid of others who really aren’t “others” at all. It’s used to keep the system of poor education in place so people don’t understand the system that is oppressing them. It’s used to distract while they reach into your wallet. More to the point, it funds border security and policing but doesn’t fund training for de-escalating violence or better mental health care to keep people out of the justice system in the first place.
A couple things we can do. One is, flip the Senate so McConnell doesn’t have this power and Republicans don’t have it. Even if they keep the Presidency, the VP as presiding officer does not have much power in the Constitution or by tradition. Even if all we get are votes on bills that are lost or vetoed, we have at least identified who is voting how and we can put pressure on those individuals. Easier said than done though since McConnell is there because of a few hundred thousand people in Kentucky, just like senators in North Dakota or Georgia. But there are swing states and even if you don’t live there you can contribute to the campaigns.
Another is voter suppression and apathy. I agree that voting is unfair and your vote does not count as much as some voters. But it is not worthless. People who want gun control and want children released from detention centers are in the super majority. As long as we continue to lose these battles by slim vote margins, it appears we don’t have power. But remember, women won the right to vote without having the vote and civil rights was changed by people seeing what was happening in states where votes were suppressed. That suppression is still going on, each of us just has to look. If you know someone who says it isn’t, show them.