In 1922, Bernard DeVoto published Mark Twain in Eruption, a carefully culled selection of the Old Gentleman’s unpublished work. Twain still carried a substantial national audience 12 years after his passing. There is in this collection a section in which Twain discusses the United States Senate.
There are many Senators whom I hold in a certain respect and would not think of declining to meet socially, if I believed it was the will of God. We have lately sent a United States Senator to the penitentiary, but I am quite well aware that of those who have escaped this promotion there are several who are in some regards guiltless of crime--not guiltless of all crimes, for that cannot be said of any United States Senator, I think, but guiltless of some kinds of crime.
Twain, of course, was writing about the Senate of the last Gilded Age, a body made up of bought-and-paid-for corporate stooges appointed by state legislatures made up of more cheaply bought corporate stooges. And, while our current Senate is made up of people who are at least part-time corporate stooges, it is also made up of a remarkable number of people who seem to be natural born time-servers dedicated to the proposition that the best day of work is that which is dedicated to making sure nothing gets done. Given a choice between corruption and apathy, we’re in the middle of what appears to be dead heat, emphasis on “dead” and certainly not on “heat.”
Right now, the Democratic majority is tied up in knots because too many of its members have entangled themselves comfortably in customs and traditions so that a serious response to serious national crises are beyond the reach of the upper chamber of the Congress. On Sunday, the Senate’s parliamentarian, an official of no real constitutional authority, declared that immigration reform could not be included in the reconciliation package. From Politico:
The parliamentarian underscored the power of the chamber's rules to clip Democratic ambitions on Sunday night, ruling against the majority party's bid to include immigration reform in its social spending bill. That isn't the only call Democrats are anxious about getting: They'll likely also need parliamentarian approval to include provisions on labor, clean energy and drug pricing in their party-line bill. The Senate Budget Committee declined to comment about their strategy for winning those go-aheads. What the parliamentarian lets stay or forces out of the multitrillion-dollar measure could have enormous consequences for its ultimate success and Biden’s legacy. And the referee has stymied Democrats’ plans before, most notably when she ruled out a minimum wage hike for a coronavirus aid bill they passed earlier this year using reconciliation.
And the Democratic majority is going to go along with this, just as it is going to go along with preserving the filibuster, because a handful of cowardly senators are letting Senator Joe Manchin front for them. In fact, the parliamentarian’s ruling is purely advisory, just as the filibuster is purely a matter of custom, not of law, and certainly not of the Constitution.
These are ghosts in the machine, spectral roadblocks given substance only through the fact that some people believe in them. A Senate majority could do away with the filibuster with 51 votes. The vice president could dismiss the parliamentarian’s position out of hand. Certainly, Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence, respectively, would have hand-waved their way past both barriers. But Democrats don’t do that. Neither do they seem to care enough about voting rights even to carve out an exception to the filibuster to pass a bill that Joe Manchin designed. This isn’t just Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. There are other Democratic senators in the weeds here. Complicity is the most enervating form of corruption there is.
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