Monday, June 26, 2017

Americans in Search of a Model

Wednesday 30 December 2009
by: Corine Lesnes | Le Monde
It was supposed to be the year of change. That
did not happen. One year after Barack Obama's
election, Americans are realizing that one man,
even this improbable messiah (or even Arnold
"Terminator" Schwarzenegger in California) is not
sufficient to the task. It's the system that is at issue.
The president should have fought a bit more, people
will say. He could have surrounded himself with fewer
"insiders," those political professionals who make his
presidency look like Clinton's. But it's clear that the
political system is running out of steam.
Seldom have Americans had so many doubts about their
model. A few weeks ago, two editorialists from opposite
sides, Fred Hiatt (The Washington Post) and Thomas
Friedman (The New York Times), speculated in the same
terms: "Is American democracy paralyzed?"
The question is not overstated. The Democrats' electoral
triumph has not been followed by implementation of the
reforms on which they campaigned. The machine is
running at full bore, but the results are feeble, as though
the motor were bridled. Fifteen months after the collapse
of the banks, regulation of the financial system is just
emerging from Congressional committees.
Health insurance reform has made it through the ordeal
of the Chambers, but at the price of a superhuman effort.
People are already saying that following this exploit, the
climate change issue will probably be pushed to 2011,
after the Congressional elections. In an election year, no representative wanted to be mixed-up in a new
controversial vote.
Unions have not seen the reform that was supposed to
facilitate their lives. It was an electoral promise, but, once
he became president, Barack Obama has not wanted to
aggravate the Republicans even more (a tactic that has
not been particularly effective, as demonstrated by the
example of the health care insurance reform).
Over half of new judges have not yet been appointed or
confirmed by the Senate. The regularization of illegal
immigrants is at a standstill. No one dares grab hold of
the immigration issue at a time when unemployment is
at a record level. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already
made it known that the Democrats will not run any
kamikaze missions in 2010 and will allow the Senate to
take the lead.
Political scientists highlight the same problems: a
political system of checks and balances that accords
the Senate and rural states disproportionate blocking
power, the Internet-cable television tandem that gives
extremists on all sides an echo chamber with no
relationship to their real weight, a permanent electoral
campaign that leaves very little time for governing.
The centerpiece for this dysfunction is the filibuster, the
practice of a "super majority," which, in the Senate and
in the Senate only, gives the minority obstructive power.
As all those who expected miracles from Barack Obama
now know, a majority of 60 votes in the Senate is
required to "invoke cloture," which, in the jargon of the
Capitol, means putting an end to debate and moving on
to a vote. As long as the 60 votes are not there, the
senators leave debate open (there were over 800 hours
during the health care system debate before the last
hold-out allowed himself to be convinced).
The filibuster does not figure in the Constitution, even
though the tradition of unlimited debate has been part
of the Senate since its beginning. Why not change the
system, then? There had been discussion of it in 2005
when the Republicans were revolted by the Democrats'
blockages, not of the financing of the war in Iraq, but
of judicial appointments. Then there was talk of a
"nuclear option" since it was the ultimate deterrent.
The Republicans did not carry out their threats. And
they are doing quite well today because of it. In their turn,
it's the Democrats who today demand the end of
"filibusters." But the White House is also not yet ready
for that battle. Today's majority will perhaps be tomorrow's minority....
In The New York Times, Tom Friedman wondered in
September whether China did not have "a political
advantage" over the United States in confronting the
challenges of the twenty-first century. On those subjects
requiring speed and decisiveness, or which necessitate
heavy investments, such as climate change, the one-party
system is an advantage, he explained, compared to the
functioning of two parties, one of which does everything
to prevent the other from governing.
Friedman's editorial created a scandal. Several weeks
later, he qualified: "there's no reason to "concede the
Twenty-first Century to the Chinese," he said. America
will retain its premier position because it remains the
paradise of creativity and imagination." The iPod may
be manufactured in China, but it was imagined in the
United States."
Thanks to senators' Twitter messages, Americans can
follow the stages of a filibuster in Congress minute by
minute. As long as they've still got Facebook, Google,
iTouch and all the other tools autocratic China is totally
incapable of inventing, senators may bicker on,
America is saved.
Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.

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