Democrats too late of 2008?

About this time last year, I told a friend that I thought John Kerry would loose the election by fifteen votes. Part of the deal was that, if I was wrong, I had to publicly admit it. So this spring, I am writing to say I was wrong. Kerry lost by nineteen votes. Presumably had he been the nominee, Jonathan Edwards would have won his home state and its fifteen votes. Then the Democrats would be down only four electoral votes and the ambiguity of New Mexico’s results would have been a lot more interesting.

The point is that Edwards was always a more viable candidate than Kerry. In fact, Edwards actually came in third in the 2004 Presidential Election ahead of Ralph Nader: one Minnesota electoral delegate voted for Edwards (source U.S. National Archives). Perhaps Kerry actually believed that the selection of a Vice-President had an impact still?

Why does the national Republican Party have a better handle on Presidential politics than my Democratic Party? There are three key lessons which must be accepted: first, we are in a time of neo-sectionalism in which the Democrats tend to dominate the coasts and the northeast. Republicans dominate the south, the Rockies and the Plains while the Upper-Midwest is a toss-up. Electorally, that gives the Republicans the advantage and the Democrats must run a candidate from a GOP state in order to win (Clinton, 1992/1996).

Secondly, winning candidates have come from state governments (Bush 2004/2000; Clinton 1996/1992; Reagan (1984/1980; Carter 1976) and not from the Federal government (Kerry 2004, Gore 2000, Dole 1996). In that regard, we might explain why even with NC’s fifteen votes, Edwards would have been short.

Thirdly, the vice-president is meaningless. The only purpose of the office is to check the pulse of the president each morning and to break ties on the rare occasion they arise in the U.S. Senate. Did Cheney swing Wyoming into the Bush column? Did Quayle offer cover for Bush (41)? Vice-President Bush was so meaningless that, when Reagan was shot, Alexander Haige declared himself in charge. The last meaningful selection of a VP was Ford and that was only ex post facto. That is, if Nixon hadn’t resigned, Ford would not have been important. Truly, the last time a vice-presidential selection affected the outcome of an election was Lyndon Johnson in 1960.

So where are we now? One year out from the last primary season and about two or three years from the next primary season. Already the hopefuls are visiting Iowa and New Hampshire. Who is in the mix? U.S. Senators John Kerry (MA), Jonathan Edwards (NC), Hilary Clinton (NY), Joe Biden (DE), Evan Bayh (IN) lead the Democratic pack. Meanwhile the Republican nominee will likely be one of the following: MA Governor Mitt Romney, NY Governor Pataki, fmr. NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani, Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist (TN) or U.S. Senator John McCain (AZ).

Isn’t it interesting that the Democratic list is inundated with Senators? The very people that history has scorned? The only candidates that even make an electoral dent are Bayh and Edwards since they come from traditionally Republican states. If the Democrats have to rely on NY or MA then the election is already lost; there is no electoral advantage.

On the other end of the pendulum, the Republicans have mastered the strategy that the Democrats desperately need: the GOP list has three executives from two of the most Democratic states in the country!

The Democratic Party is the party of the people. It is the party that represents the greatest good for the greatest number of Americans, but its being out-maneuvered in Presidential contests. It is crucial that Rhode Island Democrats help like-minded candidates get elected in southern, Midwestern and battleground states. We can not sit by and concentrate only on local issues, however important they may be. In truth, it may be already too late for 2008, unless we can unite the country behind a Gov Easley (NC), an Evan Bayh (IN), or another Democrat from a GOP state.

To filibuster or not to filibuster

To have a filibuster or not have a filibuster, that is the question. I can understand why Republicans and many Americans think we should do away with the filibuster rule. After all, the majority of U.S. Senators are Republicans, right? They should be able to vote on these judicial nominees. On the other hand, I do not believe most people know exactly what is at stake. This issue is a lot bigger than judicial appointments and it’s bigger than partisanship; it is essentially about our two hundred year old republic.

The Founding Fathers intentionally built in a bicameral legislature. The House, with its two year terms, is supposed to be the more impulsive and more quickly responsive to popular trends of opinion. The Senate, with its six year terms that are staggered into three cycles of expiration, was intended to be slower, more methodical, and to have a long term view. Changing the filibuster rule would alter one of the major purposes of a bicameral legislature.

The filibuster rule is over a hundred and thirty years old…and we’re discarding it like yesterday’s garbage. In 1872, Vice President Schuyler Colfax (R) created the filibuster with his ruling that “under the practice of the Senate the presiding officer could not restrain a Senator in remarks which the Senator considers pertinent to the pending issue.” Since that time, the filibuster has been an important part of the Senate’s role…the power to protect political minorities while maintaining the rights of the majority. As a result, the filibuster was used by Southerners of both parties to slow passage of the civil rights legislation; by Republicans to defeat President Johnson’s nomination of Abe Fortas to the U.S. Supreme Court; and in President Clinton’s first term, the filibuster was used to slow the passage of the gun-control legislation.

Sometimes politicians are wrong and the filibuster is stopped. Sometimes there is a political issue that is so important that the country needs to take a longer look. The filibustering of civil rights legislation strengthened the revolve of most Americans and our country is better off now that segregation has been defeated. The filibuster, and the threat of filibuster, focuses national attention on an issue and that attention educates the electorate. Gun-control advocates, gun-rights advocates, environmentalists and domestic-oil advocates have all been mobilized by filibusters.

Let’s take oil-drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge: It was stopped year after year, but over time, support for the project has grown with the shift of power in the Senate. Whether you like the decision of not, you can’t complain it’s a knee-jerk reaction to gasoline prices. There has been an ebb and flow to the Republican presence in the nation. In the Senate, this is is reflected in the distribution of seats. The Senate grew slowly more conservative in the 90s: 1992 (43 seats), 1994 (52 seats), 1996 (55 seats), 1998 (55 seats). Then, the country took a step back and didn’t seem to know what direction is wanted to go: President Bush was elected, but the Republican seats in the Senate fell to 50. Since that time, the Senate has trended conservative again: 2002 (51 seats) and 2004 (55) seats. But what’s next? What does the 2006 election hold for us? Are a couple of judges worth the destruction of a one hundred and thirty-three old rule as well as two hundred and sixteen years of the Senate’s longterm perspective?

Let me offer a parallel situation in American history. In 1936, FDR broke a one hundred and forty year old tradition by running for a third term. Rather than filibustering the Senate until Roosevelt withdrew his nomination, or filibustering the certification of election results, The Senate waited. After FDR was out of the equation, Congress proposed Amendment XXII to the U.S. Constitution on March 21, 1947 and it was subsequentially ratified on February 27, 1951.

My point is this: Why can’t we wait? Make the filibuster rule a major campaign issue in the 2006 election and see what happens to the balance of power. If the Republicans gain only five more seats they can end a filibuster and our government has not been endangered. If the rule is changed to a simple majority, then it’s a slippery slope to the demise of the Senate. Majority Leader Frist has said that the rule change would apply only to judicial nominees, but how can he guarantee that after the door has been opened? Sen. Frist, The U.S. Senate and the American people need to remember that, once this is done, it can not be undone. It’s not called the “nuclear option” for nothing. What’s more, are the Senate Republicans prepared to suffer this same treatment at the hands of a Democratic majority at some time in the future? Protect minority political opinions. Protect the Senate. Protect our democracy. Protect the Filibuster Rule.

Neither writer understands faith’s mystery

Reprinted from The Providence Journal (May 2, 2005), pg. A.09

I found it interesting that both David Carlin (“Breaking liberal Catholic hearts,” Commentary, April 22) and the Rev. Raymond Suriani (April 22, “Innovator’s curse,” letter, April 22) base their conclusions on a similar premise.

In Mr. Carlin’s case, “Catholicism is a backward-looking religion, not a forward-looking one, since its legitimacy rests on its claim to be the custodian of the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles.”

For Father Suriani, “He [the pope] is commissioned by Jesus Christ to guard the rich deposit of Faith that has been faithfully handed down to him from the Apostles themselves.”

The implied assumption is that the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles and the rich deposit of faith have been handed down to the church as a block of truth unchanged since the apostolic age. But change has been intrinsic to understanding the truths of the faith from the beginning. The words and actions of Jesus were the basis of an oral tradition that led to the written word that led to reflection by the church that continues today.

According to a scripture scholar, the Rev. Raymond Brown, the truth of the Gospels is a living message constantly shaped by the community. This the paradigm for understanding the truth revealed in the Gospels. What do we make of the words spoken by Bishop Angelo Roncalli, later known as Pope John XXIII, upon learning of the death of Pope Pius XII: “We are not on earth to guard a museum but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life”?

Is there any truth in the claim of scholar Elizabeth Schuzler Fiorenza when she writes, “Tradition is not a block of content to be carefully guarded by authorized hierarchies but a dynamic action of God’s love which is to be passed on to others of all sexes and races”?
The church is not made up of conservatives and liberals so much as it is made up of ordinary people seeking to live the will of God as best they can, and trying to understand the Mysteries of the Faith, as taught by the church. In this human and humble action the hungry are fed, the imprisoned visited and the poor have the Good News revealed to them. The living message continues to be shaped by the community.


Why does justice wear a mask?

The recent floor speech of Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) sympathizing with the criminals who murder judges and their families qualifies as ‘conduct unbecoming a United States Senator’ and can only serve to inflame the passions of would-be copycats. Senator Cornyn’s speech and Texas Congressman DeLay’s threats against judges have helped me to understand why people like the Lone Ranger, who “led the fight for law and order” in Texas, felt it was necessary to wear a mask.

Golfing with Murderers

Thank you to the Providence Journal for the article on the Religion page, April 2, about the 25th anniversary of the shooting of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador. What the article didn’t mention was that the bullets and gun that killed Romero were paid for by the U.S. tax dollars, that the assasin had been trained, at U.S. taxpayers’ expense, in the School of the Americas, Ft. Benning, Georgia, and that the man who had ordered the assasination, Roberto D’Aubison, later became the golfing buddy of Vice PresidentDan Quayle. As Jesus said, “One generation murders the prophets and the next generation builds their monuments.”