The Wizards of "No"

09/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Springfield, IL -- This city is most famous as the political launching pad for Abraham Lincoln, a president who famously put serving the Constitution above everything else. But this summer it's seeing politics of a different kind -- Representative John Shimkus, for example, regaled the Illinois State Fair with the battle cry of the current Congressional Republican party:

You know there's a chant going on in America right now. And you know, it's really not a Republican chant yet. But it's a Republican chant by the grassroots America that are attending thousands of townhall meetings. And as congressmen enter these townhall meetings, what is the public saying to them? They are saying, "Just say no. Just say no. Just say no."

Now, Republicans -- that is going to be our chant from now until Election Day, because we've been saying no for a long time.

Lincoln, the father of Republican Party, would have been appalled. But the nation, including the press, is sleeping through a fundamental threat to self-government. An essential principal of democracy is that, while minorities must be respected and their rights guaranteed, governance rests with majorities. But since 1993, the U.S. Senate has turned what was once a historical anomaly -- an occasional days-long filibuster on issues of enormous controversy -- into a routine political tool that has elevated minority rule into perhaps the most important political dynamic in the country. In fact, a minority of forty senators -- enough to block action under the current culture -- might actually represent as little as 20 percent of the nation's population. Combine this with a Republican party that, in Washington at least, has decided that Congress should work on a bitterly partisan basis, and our government has lost its capacity to reflect the basic rules of our Constitution -- that government rests upon the consent of the governed.

The American people have not consented to the continued control of our lives, environment, and economy that is currently enjoyed by the coal and oil industries -- polls have consistently shown for two decades that they want energy innovation and transformation. At various times, a majority of Congress that also represents a large majority of the American people has been willing to respect this public will. Since the election of Barack Obama (and for the first time since the early days of the Clinton administration), the White House has agreed. But, because minority rule in the Senate blocks action, the lock that Big Carbon has on our economy has not been broken.

It's time to call the current rules of the Senate what they are -- a coup d'état by the minority, enabled by the desire of Democratic senators to hold on to the individual veto power those rules give them. This folly brought Bill Clinton's administration to its knees in 1993 -- and it's on the verge of doing the same thing to Barack Obama's.