I was ten years old the day I watched pitcher Jim Bunning toss a perfect game against the New York Mets from the luxury of my bedroom in Northeast Philadelphia on a black and white television with rabbit ears through occasional snow that had nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with the quality of electronic technology. It was Father's Day, June 21, 1964 and, as I always did, I kept the book while I watched the game. It was a masterpiece and has only been accomplished 17 other times in the long history of America's pastime.
What Jim Bunning is doing, however, proves that he is now engaged in the wrong sport and should be given the showers as quickly as possible. But what it also illustrates in stunning clarity is the extent to which petulance, vindictiveness, and outright stupidity can all conspire to hold sway in the United States Senate. I worked in the Senate for over six years and witnessed pettiness on occasion and having served those years on the Senate Budget Committee am very familiar with the procedural maneuver called reconciliation that has recently entered the vocabulary of many observers of our governmental process.
I am a firm believer in preserving the rights of the minority, and familiar with the history of balancing small states influence with large states, bicameralism, and the interplay of intergovernmental forces that delicately attempt to balance the respective roles of Federal, State, and local governments. I have witnessed severe ideological and political polarization over the years that would result in votes so close as to necessitate the summoning of the Vice-President of the United States to come to the chamber and be prepared to cast the deciding vote. I was, in fact, intimately involved in one such occasion in 1982 in which then-Vice-President George H.W. Bush was rousted from his comfy bed at the Naval Observatory and forced to sit in the Chair of the Senate after midnight. His vote was not needed that evening but he was there just in case. And that would have been to break a simple tie.
Senator, playing with people's lives is not a game. And besides, this is the major leagues of politics you are in, grabbing your ball and refusing to play just because you are in a fit of pique over something would not be acceptable in Major League Baseball and it is not acceptable in the United States Senate. These childish antics only reinforce the cynicism and distrust that a frustrated and worried populace feels towards their government. If that is your goal then congratulations, you are winning. But if that is your goal you no longer deserve to be in the game.
I have been involved in public policy for over three decades now and I am in constant amazement at the seemingly rapid transformation that has taken place in the Upper Chamber with respect to what determines a majority. Since when did 60 become the norm and not the exception? And what is the rationale for such a shift? If the election of officials was contingent upon their receiving 60 percent of the vote we would have very few officials in either Chamber of Congress.
Have we all just fallen asleep at the switch or has sanity left the building? I can only imagine the shrill cries from the Republicans if Democrats had demanded a supermajority on important issues like say going to war -- they would have been derided as unpatriotic. But is ensuring the health of the nation's citizens any less important a public policy goal as defending against foreign enemies? I would argue that the health and welfare of the nation is every bit as crucial a function of government as national defense.
As a matter of fairness and effectiveness requiring a supermajority in the most optimal setting is probably not wise, but in a time of hyper-inflated partisanship and ideological polarization it renders the Republic powerless to function and fuels an already unhealthy cynicism that is distrustful and suspicious of the very processes of governance that are required to make things work. In the latest episode of Senatorial inertia the famed baseball pitcher has dropped the ball and his ineptitude will mean additional heartache for millions who are already near the ends of their collective ropes. As spring training is currently upon us the sounds of Play Ball are not far off. The same is true for the Senate. It is time to play ball.