Author & Speaker

The Senate as a Model of Government

I am about to write a sentence I never expected to write. Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wrote an interesting piece the other day.
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Former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he said, but he points out that our president-elect and vice-president-elect both come from the U.S. Senate. Joe Biden has been in the Senate for most of my adult life, while two-thirds of Barack Obama’s career in public service (four years) took place there. Frist emphasizes that the Senate is run with particular concern for the rights of the minority party, what with filibusters and cloture votes and Senatorial courtesies (whereby individual senators can stall legislation and appointments by simply raising a finger).
Frist celebrates the Senate as a body intended by the Framers as a place of “deliberation and discussion and unlimited debate and enhanced minority power.” These traditions, he argues, will allow our prospective leaders to be more effective in forging workable compromises with Republicans and leading the country. That would, of course, be great.
Frist neglects some of the other characteristics of the Senate: windiness, bloviation, inaction, and stalemate. It would be best if those did not dominate the Obama-Biden Administration. I wish I had a nickel for every time legislation has died in the Senate since I arrived in the Federal City thirty years ago.
Moreover, how much do we really think the Senate has imprinted itself on the President-Elect’s thought patterns? He’s been running for president for the last two years, so spent little time in the Senate during that time. His first two years in the Senate seem unlikely to have immutably shaped a mature, highly intelligent human being. Frist may have a much stronger point about Senator Biden, who is in his sixth six-year term in the Senate.
The best description of the Senate’s role in the American government still comes from a (possibly apocryphal) anecdote involving Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Jefferson was in France during the Constitutional Convention. Upon his return, Jefferson is supposed to have voiced misgivings to Washington about the Senate’s aristocratic, exclusive qualities.
The Father of Our Country replied, we are told, ‘Why did you just pour tea into a saucer?’
‘To cool it.’ Jefferson answered.
Washington smiled and said, ‘Just so—and we pour House legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.’
Cute, but not exactly what we need right now. I would prefer some bold, enlightened leadership.

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