Someone Was Wrong on the Internet!

James Stewart good. Filibusters bad. By Columbia Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
While navel-gazing today I found a significant error in my first post of consequence. Stop the presses! Someone was wrong on the internet!

I wanted to see what my writing was like four months ago when I started this thing, remind myself of the mission, and try to find instances where my writing could be clearer along with instances where my writing gets the job done. I’m fine with letting some typos and some clunky phrases go without edits or mentions. But this one mistake. Man, I’m glad nobody read that post!

The post, “A Good Place to Start,” was about the tendency of American media to view conflicts between our two major political parties through a “both-sides-do-it” frame. That is, whatever crazy and irresponsible thing we find happening in one party (Republican), there must be an equivalent happening in the other party (Democratic). So, that helps explain efforts earlier in the fall to equate Donald Trump’s candidacy on the Republican side with Bernie Sanders’s candidacy on the Democratic side. Never mind that Sanders was a distinguished mayor and congressman and is a sitting senator while Trump was, well, Trump. The important thing is both parties have their crazies. Bam! Send the column to the editor and let’s go for drinks.

This trope is lazy in the extreme. Somehow, it sounds plausible to a lot of otherwise smart and not lazy people. So the myth that both of our major political parties are equally responsible for dysfunction in Washington because both parties are full of equally unreasonable extremists rolls on.

My post in question was an effort to combat this argument. It was especially galling to see a writer I like and respect use “both-sides-do-it” to explain why Congress hasn’t passed any meaningful climate change legislation. If generally well-informed writers are getting this wrong and sharing this pernicious myth with their readers, then I have to spring into action. After all, it’s basically in my blog’s mission statement to do so.

I tried to explain how Republican use of the filibuster, an undemocratic device that a committed minority of (41 to 49) senators can wield to thwart the will of a majority of (51 to 59) senators, had grown out of control during Barack Obama’s presidency. In the case of climate change legislation, Republicans did indeed use the filibuster to block consideration of a good bill that had already passed the Democratic-controlled House. I really butchered this explanation in the post. I should have saved the garbled syntax version for comparison’s sake, but please find the cleaned up version below. Or, go read the whole thing. The post is still relevant to our politics, extremely so I would argue, and has not been superseded by any events over the last four months.

In 2009, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES). It was then “defeated” in the Senate, but here defeated means that it never came up for a vote because a minority of Republican senators wouldn’t allow it. Democrats held a majority in the Senate at the time, but the Republican minority was in the process of perfecting its unprecedented, total obstruction strategy. Simply put, Senate Republicans began serially abusing the filibuster to require 60 votes to move all legislation, a tactic previously used mostly in special circumstances. Soon after Obama’s inauguration, Republicans were filibustering routine legislation and executive branch appointments. In hindsight, whatever you think about the policy merits, it is practically a miracle that the Affordable Care Act ever passed.

There, that reads much better and is an accurate description. My previous version wasn’t even accurate! I need better editors.