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If you read nothing else today

I don't really know what to say about George Packer's masterful report on the modern Senate except that I wish I'd written it. The lines of argument won't be new to readers of this blog, but Packer does a better job than anyone else has at showing what it's actually like to be a member of the Senate at this point in the institution's history.

In an e-mail to a reporter yesterday, I said that none of our problems are unsolvable, but combine them with the problem of the Senate being unable to solve problems and the situation gets grim fast. Packer's piece, particularly its chilling final paragraph, is perhaps the best deep dive into why.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 3, 2010; 11:08 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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"its chilling final paragraph"

Mmmmm ... gridlock. Please, sir, I want some more. 1990s, here we come!

Posted by: ostap666 | August 3, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

The Senate is not unable to solve problems. It is unwilling. There's a big difference.

Senators value personal power more highly.

Posted by: pj_camp | August 3, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Addendum to previous post: We've seen this most recently with Chuck Shumer's cool response to filibuster reform. He clearly wants to be seen as reforming it without actually doing so. Good luck getting a majority of Democrats to sign on to any changes.

Posted by: pj_camp | August 3, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I agree with pj_camp

I think the Senate is a tool of the rich and powerful (most of the Senators either are, or assume themselves to be a member of that club) and its rules are designed to inhibit progress. The reason is the status quo is enriching the rich and powerful.

Posted by: lauren2010 | August 3, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Yeah but by any objective measure the Senate has recently taken a turn for the vastly worse. Senators in the minority party didn't used to believe their role was merely to object to anything the majority party tried to do, regardless of substance. There were certainly substantive (and ideological, and partisan, and especially regional) differences within the senate, but if people agreed on something they could usually do it. Now, however, it's "us vs them" and anything they want is, by definition, bad. That's new. And it makes about as much sense as Maryland deciding that it will reflexively oppose anything Virginia wants, regardless of merit.

Posted by: simpleton1 | August 3, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Look at the difference between what the House has passed and what the Senate has passed in the last year and a half.

The difference is primarily due to Republican leveraging of the rural small state bias in the Senate via a Foxified updated Southern Strategy.

Until Democrats find a way of neutralizing the race-baiting of rural whites that will continue.

Posted by: BobFred | August 3, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

BobFred, this is the point: there is a way to neutralize, and that is to do away with the filibuster.

but there are too many dems who actually aren't interested in progressive outcomes, just in looking like they're trying to achieve progressive outcomes, so the filibuster is a good thing as far as they're concerned....

Posted by: howard16 | August 3, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

They really are a disgrace to themselves and the nation.

What can possibly change them (or us, since we elect them)? My hope is for changes in the national culture so that we are less self centered, and we prize respect for the common good and respect for your fellow man. Slow work that.

I hope as individuals they still have the decency to read that piece, recognize themselves and what they have created and be ashamed.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | August 3, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

If you actually read Packer's article, there is no way to conclude other than that the Senate is vastly more dysfunctional than at any time since the Civil War, and this imperils the country.

To some extent it is the consequence of the polarization of the parties, the formerly Dem Southern pro-whites having gravitated to the GOP and the formerly moderate GOPsters having been voted out or gone to the Dems. But what really is dispiriting is the alacrity with which people like McConnell will sacrifice the country's well-being and its future for electoral advantage. True, he and the others can persuade themselves that global warming isn't real, that oil isn't running out and its overuse doesn't warp our foreign policy, that tax cuts don't exacerbate deficits, that the markets work just fine even though they destroyed the wealth of over half the population in one way or another, all to enable them to sleep at night. And they are so isolated that a hack like McConnell or idiots like Bunning and Sessions and Shelby can believe that the rest of the country agrees with them--after all, Fox News says so!

But still. They are a disgrace, the problems aren't going away, in fact they are getting worse, and I hope that the newer Dems who really do want to solve problems someday get the chance.

Posted by: Mimikatz | August 3, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

"Until Democrats find a way of neutralizing the race-baiting of rural whites that will continue."

Or until the demographic trends make the group of "rural whites susceptible to race-baiting" small enough to lose its power.

Race-baiting doesn't work well on the under-30 age groups; it doesn't work well on the rapidly-growing Hispanic population. Even with the Senate's absurd over-representation of low-population rural states, the race-baiting strategy is going to run out of steam (if it hasn't already).

The GOP just hasn't done the math. Or they don't believe in math at all. But they're running full speed off the cliff like Wile E Coyote.

Posted by: richardcownie | August 3, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Repeal campaign finance regulations, including limit on individual donation sizes. They would have to spend drastically less time raising money.

Posted by: cdosquared5 | August 3, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

How about Humphrey's advice to Biden: "Don't be a gadfly." Talk about in one ear and out the other.

Posted by: cdosquared5 | August 3, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

There will be no compromise. The Democrats seem incapable of using their electoral power to an absolute advantage, something the previous administration had no problem doing. We have to win more seats.

Posted by: Gates9 | August 3, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

I fully agree the senate needs fixing, but... if the Democrats had a combination of guts and having their act together it wouldn't matter. They would have planned in advance to structure the approach to each major bill to have the option of reconcilliation built in and they would have used it. What a waste.

Posted by: TomCantlon | August 3, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

As Packer delineates, the Senate has become a place where a nation's aspirations go to die. Senators are far more interested in their own privileges than getting things done. The current super-majority filibuster rules favor lobbyists and corruption, and that seems to be how the Senate likes it. I see no solution.

Posted by: glenerian | August 4, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

cdosquared5: "Repeal campaign finance regulations, including limit on individual donation sizes. They would have to spend drastically less time raising money."

Or even better: have robust public campaign financing. Then they would have to spend drastically less time raising money and diminish the influence of private donors and special interests--another problem mentioned in the New Yorker article.

Posted by: dasimon | August 4, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

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