MAJORITY AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

Now that the Senate has voted for cloture on the stimulus, I gotta say it’s striking how the goalposts have moved in terms of what the media consider a majority out of 100 senators. The dominant sense you’d get from following mainstream media coverage of the debate is that 61 Senators is the cut-off for a Senate majority, and if Obama’s initiatives don’t make it past that post he hasn’t garnered that much support (and he isn’t really that bipartisan). That’s not how I remember things being covered during the Bush administration, when the same talking heads did their talking about the filibuster as though it was an extreme measure.

Put differently, with a Republican in the White House the onus was on Democrats to justify why anything would be worth a filibuster; with a Democrat in the White House, the onus is on Democrats to scare up 61 votes.

When John Kerry talked about filibustering Sam Alito’s Supreme Court nomination (which, compared to the stimulus package, is also far-reaching in impact but most would agree was less time-sensitive to get done), that was covered as an antic from the fringe. But amidst the veneration of Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the starting assumption seems to be that the very most moderate members of the Senate GOP Caucus by default will filibuster the President’s bill unless they get to rewrite it.

Is this an unfair comparison? And if not, then do we blame the media, or blame the Democrats for having lacked the parliamentary-style party discipline to better control the media narrative?

That said, I don’t think there’s much evidence that the public cares terribly much about what Nancy Pelosi rightly called “process arguments” – who’s obstructing who, who’s more bipartisan, etc. And the latest polling suggests that as with the Presidential election, the GOP may be capturing media cycles without capturing voters. Another reason to hope the Conference Committee leaves the Nelson-Snowe crew with a token accomplishment or two but otherwise churns out the bill best designed to actually stimulate the economy – whose success or failure is what voters will actually remember a year from now.

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