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MAKE Them Speak

The news media took note of Senate Republicans’ failure to filibuster the jobs bill offered by the White House. The bill wasn’t much to speak of, but the filibuster made the news because five Republicans jumped party lines to defeat it, in a move counter to the current gridlock in Washington. Also, Scott Brown (R-MA) was among them, so Beltway junkies were eager to read the tea leaves concerning this newly-elected semi-celebrity.

But hardly anyone took note of the vote on the bill itself. That’s a shame, because the vote there, along with the filibuster vote, are hugely important.

With the aid of the five renegades, a move to defeat the filibuster was passed with 62 votes. The jobs bill went on to pass by a vote of 70-28. That means that <i>at least</i> eight Senators who first tried to kill the bill with a filibuster went on to vote for the bill when the rubber hit the road—possibly more, given that Senators may easily have been prepared to vote against the bill but felt that it should nonetheless be put to a vote for whatever reason. (A growing frustration with or, more likely, a fear of the public’s frustration with gridlock makes such a position entirely plausible.) Eight votes may not seem like a lot, but it is, even in a healthier political climate; in this finely balanced Senate, a swing of eight votes is huge. Eight votes that were prepared to block legislation from the anonymity of a filibuster, but not prepared to go on record actually taking a stand against a (professed) jobs initiative. Eight Senators who were scared to go home and explain to their constituents why they didn’t think the government should be trying to raise employment figures.

That news is hugely important because it points the way to progress in Washington: if the party of “NO” decides to vote no, they can; nothing can stop them—not until the next election, anyway. But if they actually have to stand up and speak out against popular initiatives, at least eight of them won’t. Eight of them will tuck tail and cave in. Are you listening, Democrats? This same thing you’ve been doing for thirty years? The Republicans will do it, too.

But only if you force them to. Playing nice, allowing them to save face, will not move a single vote; making obstructionists stand up and explain themselves, or even be seen blocking legislation, will move them. It’s worked all these years on you, every time someone wanted to gut the Constitution and you buckled under, for fear that standing on principle would make you look “weak on crime,” or “weak on terrorism,” or “weak on defense.” Well, now it’s your turn. As long as you make the bastards stand up and actually look weak on jobs, weak on recovery, weak on Main Street, it can be done. But only if it actually is done.

Postscript: In another positive sign, the great bipartisan meeting on health care was well staged. Obama came away looking, rightly or wrongly, as the man willing to govern, and managed to leave the Republicans looking for once exactly like what they are: a faction with neither desire nor ideas for improving the system. The slap-down directed at McCain was particularly skillful. This, and the tone struck since by Obama and Reid suggest they’ve finally got the message. The Republicans haven’t the slightest interest in good governance or in striking a happy medium, and the Democrats look like they are finally, finally prepared to go it alone, whatever it takes, and let the conservatives try to play catch-up. Hopefully, they will make the most of their sacrifices for failed bipartisanship, and will frame every new move with a reminder that they tried concord first, and found it impossible.

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