08/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Fierce Urgency of Never

Washington, D.C. -- Barack Obama apparently got it wrong. It's "never" rather than "now" that stirs the human soul. At least it stirs the soul of the leadership of the Republican party in this city, who seem to imagine themselves as unjustly imprisoned Samsons, eager -- once their hair grows out -- to take revenge on progressive Delilah and bring the entire structure of America down around their heads in ruin. How else do you explain John McCain, once that fierce advocate of reform, announcing that he will hide behind the utterly corrupt senatorial tradition of the "hold" to block the confirmations of two key aides to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Not because they are unqualified, or even because McCain disagrees with their likely approach to their jobs, but simply because McCain is blackmailing Salazar "until the Obama administration takes a position on his legislation to clear a path for a copper mine in Arizona's Tonto National Forest." Now, the Constitution says that the Senate shall give its "advice and consent" to presidential appointees. It does not mention extortion as a senatorial privilege, much less for copper mines. But senators of both parties have embraced it eagerly.

McCain is not alone. Ohio Senator George Voinovich has placed a hold on Robert Perciasepe, nominated to be the number two at the E.P.A. because Voinovich "is dissatisfied" with the Agency's finding that clean energy legislation would only cost American households a postage stamp a day. Apparently, if an Agency can't count, depriving it of staff to improve its performance is part of the imperative of the "fierce urgency of never."

Then there is Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, who is obstructing the nomination of Cass Sunstein to be the director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs because Chambliss dislikes Sunstein's opinions on animal welfare. Chambliss is a legendary advocate of Christian values. Even so, based on the Urgency of Never, it appears that if the president were to nominate St. Francis of Assisi, it appears Chambliss would put a hold on his name. (Wait a minute -- wasn't the legendarily liberal city of San Francisco named for St. Francis? Maybe Chambliss has it right. We don't want saints at the Budget Office!)

But senatorial holds are only a tiny fraction of the obstructionism that has become the main topic of conversation in our capital. Even Democrats seemed resigned to the fact that we have ceased to be a country where the majority rules. The simple concept -- have the Senate vote -- has become an impossible utopian ideal. Even at the end of last week a group of moderate senators from both parties pleaded to just slow down the Senate debate on health care.

This debate has been going on since the Truman administration, when I was three years old. Isn't 60 years enough for the U.S. Congress to figure out that if you have the biggest health care bill in the world, and some of the worst health outcomes, perhaps we ought to try something different? Later this fall we'll hear a similar complaint: "Trying to cut our greenhouse pollution by 17% by 2020 is just too fast and too difficult." Well, 17% by 2020 is less than 1.5% a year -- would any of us invest in a stock whose annual return was that low? Moore's law in the electronics industry calls for doubling effectiveness every ten years -- which is a 7% annual progress rate. Relative to the rest of America, California has cut its per capita energy consumption that fast for the last 30 years, without hardly trying. Why do we accept so little, and hearken to these cries of "wait, wait, slow the world down, I want to get off!"?

We can't leave it all to the president. If we don't knock our leaders upside the head every time one of them gets in the way and tries to slow us down, we're cooked. I'm headed to India for two weeks, and will be blogging infrequently. I'll be watching as I'm there while India and China clean our clock, and deserve to, with their green energy investments and spirit. And the fierce urgency of never will be the reason.