04/18/2013 12:39 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2013

Supermajority: Supercollosal Senselessness


I will not try to match the eloquence of President Obama's reaction to the Senate vote that fell half a dozen votes short of passage this afternoon but I am sure to mirror the outrage felt by him and an overwhelming number of Americans over the sinister and incredibly short-sighted inability of Democrats and Republicans to register their intolerance of gun violence in this country. Once again the dysfunction that afflicts our current political system is lopsided or as congressional scholars would characterize it as asymmetrical, with most Democrats supporting a modest background requirement for the purchase of firearms and most Republicans opposing, but to be fair some Democrats voted no and some Republicans voted yes.

I have spent almost four decades in the public policy arena, most of that time in Washington either on or dealing with Capitol Hill. I have a realistic grasp of the culture of the Senate, having worked in that body for over six years, and an academic understanding of our system of governance with its steadfast reliance upon incremental change and compromise, having recently taught a college course on public policy. I have watched policy debate for most of my adult life and fully appreciate the nuance and complexity of it. I also can accept the inordinate influence of special interests and the corrosive impact of legalized bribery that have come to dominate our political system. While I object strenuously to the level of corruption that now infects our government and our elected representatives, I nonetheless accept the reality if not the inevitability of such a disarming state of affairs.

But having said that I still cannot figure out why we as a society must be saddled with the burden of watching our democratic processes held hostage to an unreasonable standard of success that dictates a supermajority of 60 votes in the most debilitative body in the world. This is not a misprint, I meant debilitative and not deliberative. To continue to punish us because of what amounts to a self-inflicted procedural courtesy only begs the question as to what it will take to restore some degree of reasonableness and sanity to the system.

I understand the need to protect against the tyranny of the majority and the need to protect minority rights. And I understand the argument that at some point when the tables are turned and the majority shifts from Democratic to Republican control the courtesy afforded filibuster and cloture votes will be looked upon more kindly by those of us who wish to see progressive advancement on any number of policy issues, but if the practical consequences of those courtesies results in putting any motion forward in a virtual headlock then the time to take our chances on a simple majority are long overdue.

And I am not naïve enough to not understand that special interests and money influences will only learn to 'game' whatever system we put in place to thwart the will of the people. I get it. But at some point we have to either reject those corruptive practices or simply reject the notion of a representative democracy. Already too many have withdrawn from participation in a system that is viewed as unalterably weighted against the better interests of society. When the NRA, or Wall Street financial institutions, or corporate polluters, or agribusiness, or you name it holds such powerful sway over our future do they not benefit from more and more people withdrawing from participation in affairs that play a significant role in their everyday lives.

The space between 50 and 60 votes has become the equivalent of a political demilitarized zone or maybe an even more appropriate metaphor would be the "dead zone" that is created when pollutants and chemicals occupy ever larger bodies of water and prevent anything from living beneath them. Our system of supermajority rule is strangling our society and no better evidence was witnessed than the cynical and cowardly retreat by the minority during today's vote on whether or not to do background checks on people that wish to purchase weapons of mass destruction. To Democrats and Republicans alike who practiced this miscarriage of justice, shame on all of you!