To read the derogatory charges being brought against Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) by his party colleagues, the libertarian-leaning legislator’s last-ditch effort to inject some measure of fiscal sanity into the hastily-cobbled together stopgap spending bill was tantamount to some sort of putsch.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) called Paul’s actions “grossly irresponsible”, while Sen. John Thune (R-SD) belittled his efforts on the grounds that they never produced results. In the House, meanwhile, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) went so far as to suggest that Paul deserved to once more be assaulted by his neighbor.
To be clear: Republican Senate leadership is criticizing Paul for insisting on maintaining regular order. The procedural move Republicans were hoping to adopt in order to bring the budget vote forward, and thus avoid an hours-long government shutdown, required unanimous consent because it was beyond the bounds of the normal legislative process. What’s more, all Paul was asking for was the ability to bring an amendment to the floor. He was not demanding his Senate colleagues rally behind his hardline fiscal positions, but merely asking for the chance to have a discussion over whether the restoration of budget caps was in the interest of the long-term economic health of the country.
Senate leadership denied him this opportunity, offering the staggering rationale that to do so would be to open up the floor to the addition of other amendments. In other words: Senate leadership wasn’t going to allow actual democratic processes to occur because this would have taken time, which they did not have.
If Paul’s actions are somehow a threat to the legislative process, or to the image of Republicans, it’s the fault of Senate leadership’s desire to move legislative items through the chamber as quickly and as easily as possible and thus avoid any partisan squabbling that ostensibly might undermine their mandate and damage their chances in the next midterm elections.
That the Senate is dysfunctional is hardly a revelation. However, the dishonesty of the new political operandi is truly staggering: leadership defaults on its obligations to order and process, thus effectively manacling itself. Having done so, it is relegated to fly-by-night compendium bills, the majority of which only past through procedural jiggering and the trading of kickbacks to various interest groups, which are passed at the last minute. Then, Senate leaders have the audacity to criticize those who stand up to this vaudevillian political process and accuse them of standing against the national interest.
Senator Thune’s point—that Paul’s efforts are ridiculous because they never accomplish anything—are particularly inane. Fairness in the democratic political lexicon is most frequently defined in reference to the ability of the majority will to prevail. It’s a kind of arithmetical spin on “might makes right”: morality is to be found in whatever serves the need expressed by the most numerous faction.
This, however, creates a political ethic rooted in action. Successful government simply means that the majority—even within the legislature, rather than the polity—prevails in doing something. The “what” becomes irrelevant as all one needs to know in order to gauge the value of political action is whether it is supported by the majority.
The damage of this was pointed out by Paul himself, who pointed out that under Obama, conservatives railed against the long-term threat burgeoning debt posed to the nation. Now, this monomania has simply vanished and been replaced by a vision so obsessed with the short-term that Senate leadership cannot even countenance a delay of a few hours in the name of the sanctity of regular order.
Emphasizing actions, undertaken in service to the moral imperative implicit in the majority, leads to a politics untethered from anything of substance.
Also published on Medium.