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DEMOCRACY
Outside View: Reid's power grab is about much more than Senate rules
by Joseph F. Cotto
Ocala, Fla. (UPI) Nov 27, 2013


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

The U.S. Senate is becoming more and more like the U.S. House of Representatives.

Last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., orchestrated a sweeping rules change. No longer is it necessary that 60 senators confirm an executive branch nominee for administrative and judicial offices. Only a simple majority of 51 is required.

All but three Senate Democrats supported Reid's measure, though many in the caucus balked when Republicans considered something similar during the mid-2000s.

It cannot be argued that this is anything short of a thumb in the eye to bipartisanship. The Senate was devised to function as a moderate counterweight to populist House sentiments. Moving bills or nominations through the Senate was never supposed to be an easy ordeal; quite the opposite, in fact.

The upper chamber's flight from centrism mirrors the country as a whole. U.S. voters seem to love radicalism these days. While this may be attributed to many things, the continually sluggish economy puts typically affable folks on edge like few other things can.

Ironically, it is a government that goes along to get along that is necessary for fiscal prosperity. When enough public servants put the national interest ahead of their own, serious progress is made.

The time when such behavior was commonplace is long gone, however.

"(P)olitics have become so tribal that anyone who works with the other side is viewed by many partisans as a traitor, akin to sleeping with the enemy," Norman Ornstein, an American Enterprise Institute resident scholar, explained to The Washington Times Communities last year.

He later mentioned that "the disgust with the way our politics have operated in recent years means that anyone associated with Washington is viewed as evil or wrongheaded and anyone who says I am not like those politicians gets traction."

There is no telling just how bad this is for the future of our country. Partisans on the left blame Republicans for blocking many of President Barack Obama's nominees. Partisans on the right blame Democrats for supporting said nominees, who are described as not up to par at best and dangerous radicals at worst.

The lefties say that Republicans are standing in the way of an elected official doing his job and righties say that Democrats are agitating against traditional American norms.

Any way one looks at the situation, not much progress is being made. Fewer and fewer politicians appear likely to change this.

The reason is simple and has everything to do with our country's continuous polarization. While this might be most easily found in political discourse, especially on the national level, its roots reach far deeper.

"Moderation simply isn't very attractive because, I think, the nature and function of politics has changed," Bill Bishop, author of "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart," told TWTC shortly before the 2012 presidential election.

"As older institutions have collapsed -- family, community, church, occupation -- everyone has been given a new job: perpetual self-definition. Politics has become, first and foremost, a way people define themselves and that has changed the function of elections and government," he added.

The quest for personal identity has eclipsed the draw of sensible policy-making. Amid an embrace of emotionalism, all too many Americans forgot what matters most in politics. This has nothing to do with partisan gains and losses, charming candidates or single-issue crusades. Rather, it is a matter of solving problems.

Ideally, these problems would be clearly evaluated, discussed in group settings and solved through a logical thought process. With the U.S. state of affairs, though, all of this is reduced to academic philosophizing. No amount of critical, or even lateral, thinking makes a dime's worth of difference when few people are thinking to begin with.

This is why the Senate has changed its rules; why a longstanding precedent devoted to securing a balance of power among the most powerful was thrown into the wind.

Back in the days when sound results mattered, something like this would have been laughed at during dinner parties. If ever brought up as a serious proposal, revulsion and disdain would be the probable response.

In our supposedly enlightened 21st-century society, however, it was treated as a viable idea. Ultimately, the supermajority required for keeping a check on executive authority became yet another page of history.

Republicans will surely ask what this says about Democrats. Democrats can be expected to languish in their short-term parliamentary victory.

What should the country do? More specifically, what should we ask ourselves? It is just too easy to blame the gridlock of Capitol Hill on the people working there. Considering that the folks back home elected them, this becomes glaringly obvious.

Perhaps we should realize that individual politicians say volumes about those who vote for them. The alteration of Senate rules is less of a Democratic plot than a statement about what depths we have fallen to as a nation.

Accepting this sad reality might not be easy but it is a dire step if we want the American Dream to be something other than a punch line

(Joseph F. Cotto is a columnist for The Washington Times's Communities page. He writes often about current affairs, but likes nothing more than a good interview.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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