Everyone knows about “activist judges,” the ones who, we’re told, ignore the law as it is plainly written and substitute their political agendas for it. Less well known are activist senators, those who thumb their noses at majority rule and make it tough to get anything of substance approved by Congress.
The United States could afford the luxury of activist senators in ordinary times. But these are extraordinary times; the country confronts, in President-elect Obama’s words, “an economic crisis of historic proportions.” Congressional business-as-usual ought to be unacceptable. That means removing the usual roadblocks to action. In other words, activists in both parties need at least to forgo the filibuster.
The central issue in the recent run-off election in Georgia was whether the GOP would be able to keep its minority stranglehold on the Senate. The party ought to have been ashamed to run a campaign tied to minority rule, but it did and the press made no issue of it. It’s as though, without a constitutional amendment, the country has come to accept the undemocratic proposition of super-majority Senate rule where a three-fifths vote of 60 must be mustered to get anything of consequence approved.
The Bush administration and the Obama team seem to be working in harmony. Whether the legislative branch will follow suit is uncertain. A critical test will come when Congress tackles, early in the next session, Obama’s ambitious plan to add 2.5 million jobs.
Emergencies are when the country can least afford to be stampeded. So let there be hearings and deliberation and time for all members of Congress to have their say. But let Congress also honor the distinction between deliberation and obstruction and, at the end of the day, allow the government to come to grips with its considerable problems.
This country does not have a tradition of national unity governments. With countless citizens losing homes, livelihoods and savings, the U.S. is in urgent need of such a government. Instead, the country is caught in a period of transition. At the minimum, political leaders should create the functional equivalent of a national unity government by declaring a moratorium on politics as usual. Temporarily suspending the rule that allows just a handful of senators to hogtie Congress would be a tangible sign of such unity.
The press needs no introduction to hard times; it has seen them up close for many months. Now that buyouts have morphed into layoffs what was once a recession looks dangerously similar to full-blown depression. The press needs to be beating the drums for an end to politics as we have known it and to quit giving a pass to activist lawmakers who put “activist judges” to shame.