Tuesday, October 11, 2011
"Yes, I'm very excited to be here," the alien says. "We learned from the History Channel about your brilliant Constitutional framework, and we think it might work really well on our planet. Tell me what it's like to live under such a wonderful system?"
"You're in luck," I tell the alien. "I happen to have studied history and constitutional law, and I've always wanted to explain our system to a visitor from another planet. I'll tell you what happened today, just as an example of how our Constitution functions. Tonight our wonderful Senate just voted 50-49 in favor of allowing a vote on the American Jobs Act."
"That's just the kind of thing I want to learn about," responds the alien. "We aren't really able to keep up with the latest news very well where I come from. What is this jobs act?"
I explain: "We have a problem with high unemployment right now, and this bill is designed to help put people to work building roads and schools and other stuff that everybody wants. It also provides incentives to encourage companies to hire more workers. Most of the experts think it would help reduce unemployment, and polls show that the public is strongly in favor of the bill."
The alien is getting excited to hear all this. "Wow, democracy in action! You have a big national problem, and the president and Congress act together to put together a solution. Just how the Framers envisioned it! And a majority of the Senate agreed to allow it come up for a vote, so now there will be a vote on the bill, right?"
"Not so fast," I respond. "Remember I said that the Senate only voted 50-49 in favor of allowing this bill to come up for a vote? The problem is that they need 60 votes, so tonight's vote actually means that they won't allow it to come up for a vote."
The alien looks confused. "Wait a minute, on my planet we have studied your Constitution very thoroughly, and it says nothing about requiring 60 votes in the Senate just to allow a bill to come up for a vote."
"You're right. There is nothing in the Constitution about that. It's just a procedural rule the Senate adopted a while back, but the opposition party now uses that rule routinely to block anything they are not in favor of."
"Why would they do that?" the alien asks. "I thought you said the people are mostly in favor of this bill, and the experts think it will solve a big problem."
"It's just election year politics, although, um, it's not even an election year. The opposition doesn't want the president and the other party to have a big victory this year."
"But don't they believe in democracy? Why won't they even let a bill come up for a vote? If they don't like the bill, they can always vote against it. And whichever side has the most votes should win."
"Well, back when the opposition party used to be in the majority, they used to demand that they be given an up or down vote on all the things they wanted. But now that they are in the minority, they don't seem to be in favor of up or down votes so much anymore."
"I still don't understand. How can they possibly explain this?" the alien wonders.
I read from the paper what the Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said: “Democrats have designed this bill to fail — they’ve designed their own bill to fail — in the hope that anyone who votes against it will look bad. This whole exercise is a charade that’s meant to give Democrats a political edge in an election that’s 13 months away.” "
"I'm really confused now." The alien is shaking his head and giving me a pained look. "I thought you said this bill was popular and that the experts think it will help solve a big problem. Isn't that the president's job to propose something that he thinks will help the country? It seems like it's the opposition that is engaged in a charade to give themselves a political edge."
"If it seems like that to a visitor from another planet, then I hope it seems like that to the voters down here," I say, slightly encouraged.
"Good-bye," says the alien. "This has been very educational. But I'm afraid we're going to have to look elsewhere for a model political system.