A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Minority/Majority Report

Late this week, Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate Majority leader invoked what some have termed the "nuclear option." This means that instead of requiring 60 votes to confirm the President's nominees, the Senate will simply need a majority (51). Of course, Democrats currently think this is a great idea, as they hold a majority in the Senate, and President Obama is also a Democrat. As has been rightly pointed out, they will likely feel differently when Republicans control the Senate and there is a Republican president.  

In this situation I don't think there's an absolute moral right here, but it does put a spotlight on the inherent tension between majority and minority rights in our democracy. This conflict is all over our constitution. The Bill of Rights prevents majorities from controlling minorities. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press protects unpopular movements or sentiments - popular opinions don't really need protection. For all our extolling our constitutional forefathers, many of them used "mob rule" as a bogeyman, and feared rule by the uneducated "common man" majority. 

Tension between majority and minority rights is baked into the structure of our government. The House of Representatives, or lower house of Congress, represents the people while the Senate is supposed to be a step removed from the people. Even the President isn't directly elected, instead chosen by electors. The Supreme Court in its isolated perch is the farthest removed from public opinion, supposedly allowing it to protect the rights of unpopular minorities. 

I believe Mormons should be one of the biggest supporters of minority unpopular groups. Early in our history, members of our church were beaten, driven, and in some cases murdered for espousing unpopular opinions. This history should make us defenders of opinions we disagree with. At one time or another, each of us will be part of a minority group, so while we are part of a majority we must protect minority rights. The only way we can make sure our religious freedom is protected is to protect others' freedoms to believe (or not believe). 

The debate about the nuclear option shows the power of a minority. Democrats have pointed out that of all the filibusters of nominees in the history of America, over half of them have been on Obama's nominees. See the graph below showing the number of filibusters over time. Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the Senate, has really used the power of the filibuster to block Obama's choices to head agencies, or even delay confirming nominees (the statistics show that the average Obama nominee waits 100 days longer than George W. Bush's nominees). Democrats rightly argued that Republicans were using the filibuster and other delaying tactics to oppose even non-controversial nominees. Minorities can abuse their power just as much as majorities can.
I think both parties have used the filibuster to do stupid things. However, blaming the filibuster is blaming the symptom of the problem, not the actual problem. The actual problem is a refusal to compromise and work together. The dysfunction in our government is present because of stubborn pig-headed-ness on each side of the aisle. It's a refusal to work with or hear the other side's arguments. Democrats were driven to it by obstructionism on the other side, but I think they would have been just as obstructionist in the current climate if they had been in the minority. I think this needed to happen simply to get some of the machinery of government working again, but it's sad that it needed to happen.

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