Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Al Franken gives Senate Democrats the magic 60

Al Franken: Magic Number 60

Yesterday, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected all counts of the legal case that former Senator Norm Coleman brought to contest the results of the election last November to determine the Senator from Minnesota. Coleman finally conceded the race and congratulated Minnesota's soon-to-be junior Senator, Al Franken. Mr. Franken will be the 60th Democrat in the US Senate. And, in the Senate, 60 is a magic number.

The right wing base is crying foul, of course. In their minds, this election was stolen. After the initial tally, Norm Coleman was ahead by 206 votes. But after the recount, including all the legal maneuverings over the validity of various ballots, Al Franken's tally surpassed Coleman's total by 225 votes (out of some 3 million cast).

But the differences between this election and the travesty that occurred in Florida in 2000 are significant. First of all, in Minnesota, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty did not direct his Secretary of State to "cast as wide a net as possible" when purging voters (mostly black, Democratic voters) from the voter rolls as did Junior's brother, Jeb. Secondly, Minnesota's Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, was not a campaign chairman for Al Franken. In 2000, Florida's Secretary of State was the infamous Katherine Harris who, in addition to her duties overseeing the state election, was serving as Junior's state campaign chairwoman.

None of that will satisfy them. They'll believe what they believe. As long as the rest of us continue to reject their version of reality, things will be alright.

But, going back to the subject of Al Franken being the magic number 60, there is good news, and there is bad news.

Here's the good news: Republicans have their power in the US Senate significantly diminished. Their most potent legislative weapon, up to this point, has been the filibuster. This procedural tool allows for Senators to keep debate open on a particular piece of legislation unless 60 senators vote for cloture. Therefore, Franken's election means Republicans cannot sustain a filibuster without some crossover votes.

Here's the bad news: Instead of Republicans, we now have Democrats. No one should expect that the Democrats, in their new position of dominance, will stay above the ethical morass that has been the home of Republicans ever since Newt Gingrich and gang won congressional majorities back in 1994.

(For the record, I am a registered Democrat. But that is more the result of revulsion toward Republicans than support for Democrats.)

Anyway, in the short term, I think, this is good for the country. President Obama was elected because he advocated a change of direction from that set by Junior and the neo-conservatives. With a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and a dominant majority in the House and with Rahm Emmanuel twisting arms, the President can probably get nearly all of his agenda passed. After all, that's what the voters wanted.

This might be good for the GOP, too. The Republican party, with their obstructionist tactics, seemed not to have understood how utterly their views were rejected by voters. When they begin to fully comprehend how repulsive they are to the majority of Americans, moderate elements in their party can start to pry the reactionary forces (those I call the neo-Confederates) from the levers of power within their own party.

As Al Franken might say: Good luck with that, you schmucks!

1 comment:

Dan Binmore said...

The 60 or not party seats shouldn't actually matter, because those elected should follow their own conscience and the interests of those they represent. However, it will matter because human beings are subject to tribal feelings.

I very much believe in what Obama is trying to do, more so than the Democratic Party does. We've already seen the typical cowardice of the democrats (most abjectly displayed before the Iraq war) when the consequences of the things they know are right effect their election chances directly. Guantanamo Bay should be closed, but not if a democrat's district will then house those leaving. Health care should be universal, but not if it has an up-front cost, or means that some potential voters will get less choice. So Obama won't get everything he wants even with his notional party with him (if democrats were actually smart they'd just go along with everything he wants, he's more popular than they are.)

And then there's the possibility that Obama's policies are flat wrong and will be a huge mistake for the nation and world. Perhaps his spending will collapse the US economy, perhaps engaging the Middle East will result in horrendous bloodshed, perhaps investment in health care and education are just wastes of money. I don't see how that can be so, but then millions of Americans thought enough of George W. Bush to vote for him twice, and then rejected the results entirely.