Just for fun, pretend that non-Republicans (many of whom refuse to call themselves Democrats for reasons too complex to go into here) elect an entire governing majority in the United States. Say, 227 members of the House, 64 Senators, and a President of your choice. Then what?
For starters, in order to elect a House majority, voters in districts in a sizable number of states would have to elect non-Republicans. Exactly what the distribution of states might be would depend on how the voting played out.
If we won every district in CA, we would still need 174 more. Throw in every district in New York, we’re still 147 short. Sweep Illinois and we need another 129. The second and third most populous states, Texas and Florida, have 65 Representatives between them, and there is not much likelihood of not-Republicans taking a majority of those 65. Any way you shake it, it will take numerous Representatives from lesser populated states to get the required minimum. That would have to include dreaded Red States.
And given that there are two Senators from each state it would take an absolute minimum of 32 states to give us 64 Senators. Again, depending on distribution, it might take more than 32 states but not less.
Astute readers might wonder why I picked those particular numbers, 227 and 64. It’s partly arbitrary. It takes 218 Representatives – Members of the House – to elect a speaker and pass a bill. Given that no two humans agree entirely, I put in 9 more than the minimum to improve the odds of getting a majority vote for our proposals.
Technically it only takes 50 Senators plus the Vice President to pass a bill, but traditionally our Senate has allowed minorities to block most actions. It takes, at a bare minimum, 60 Senators to pass any bill which has opposition, and getting 60 on board can be difficult. As an example, one of the reasons the ACA doesn’t offer a public option is because there were exactly 60 not-Republican (58 Democrat, 2 Independent / Socialist) Senators who would vote for any sort of health care bill at all, and not all 60 were willing to support a public option. So for the sake of this essay I have given us 64 – room to lose a few and still get things done.
I am proposing real numbers. The minimums I give here are absolute. Any group, by whatever name you call them, party or faction or – I don’t know what other terms might apply – any group must muster 218 votes in the House, and 51 (or 60 in case of opposition) in the Senate, to enact any idea or policy into law.
That means that Representatives of some number of Americans who choose to not live in crowded states or megalopolises absolutely must actively support and vote for any law or it will not pass. There is a vast number of Americans living crowded together in huge cities and urban corridors, but not enough to legislate for the nation.
Under our Constitution, in order for any bill to become law, it must satisfy a majority of the members of the House of Representatives, a majority of the Senators, and satisfy the President. If it doesn’t satisfy the President it must satisfy two-thirds of all the members of the House and Senate. My imaginary numbers for the two chambers do not reach the two-thirds threshold for either House. But that shouldn’t be a problem, because we have both Houses and the Presidency. Just like the Republicans do now. It would surely work at least that well.
So we want to make some laws. What laws do we want to make?
Based on what I read on Twitter I’d say the number one priority of most not-Rs would be “get rid of the Electoral College,” but that’s not a law, that’s an amendment, and they’re harder.
First, the proposed amendment has to be passed by 2/3 of each House of Congress. The very optimistic numbers I have proposed here don’t give us 2/3 of either House. But presume, just for discussion, that both Houses choose to pass it.
The next step is ratification by 3/4 of the states. That’s 38 states. All but 12.
California contains more people than the smallest 21 states combined.
If I were betting my own money, I wouldn’t bet that 9 of those 21 states would vote to give up their amplified voice in Presidential elections in order to please the people of California. If at least 9 didn’t so vote, the amendment would not pass. Period. You can’t get to 3/4 without them.
Another popular – and important – desire is to get the power of money out of our political process. Reverse the Citizens United decision. That’s another amendment. While there is less obvious reason for small states to stand together against that one than there is against repealing the Electoral College, I’m not that confident. I suppose it is remotely possible. To even find out Congress would have to pass the 2/3 of each House threshold.
You could make a convincing case that our Constitution is irretrievably flawed, but I don’t think a reasonably non-Republican Congress and Presidency would be in a position to fix it. I’m going to disregard amendments for the duration of this essay.
What could we realistically fix with conventional legislation? Remember, we have the power. Anything the President will sign, my hypothetical Congress has the power to pass.
My recommendation would be to begin with a strong Voting Rights Act to repair the damage done by recent Supreme Court decisions. In the first place it would be fair. Racial equality in voting is a long held, but not yet realized, goal for America’s republic. The 15th Amendment, ratified in April of 1870, was an attempt to codify that Americans have the right to vote regardless of race. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before it had been swept under a carpet of lies and tricks, poll taxes and rigged tests. We tried again 95 years later, and for a short time that attempt appeared to have been successful, but forces of racism, white supremacy, and wealthism have whittled away at it until today we have returned much of the way back to the bad old days.
We not-Republicans have a fifty-plus year tradition of being the party of racial equality. For fairness we should pass a voting rights act with teeth. Beyond fairness, it is clear that the Republican party has, for now at least, a pretty solid lock on the racist / white supremacist vote. If we wish to remain competitive in the quest to govern the United States, we have to insure that our voters can go to the polls and vote. Not all our voters are blocked by racial voter suppression, but too many are.
Continuing on the voting rights line, we should and could immediately legislate that election day is a National holiday. We could and should legislate other policies which insured widespread access to the ballot box, from extended voting hours to registration based on Social Security number.
Additional legislation to prohibit racial and otherwise biased gerrymandering would be equally important.
If we had, for just one Congress, entire control of the legislative process, as we did during 2009 and 2010, the fairest, smartest thing we could possibly do would be to guarantee all Americans access to the ballot box, with as unbreakable legislation as we could possibly fashion.
While it would take a Constitutional Amendment to directly overturn Citizens United, it is possible that Congress could pass a law that the terms “speech” and “money” as used in the Constitution were exactly as defined in the standard dictionaries of the English Language. If the Supreme Court did not overturn that law, a challenge to Citizens United would be possible without an amendment. It is obvious that the Citizens United decision is the most destructive single act by a Supreme Court since at least the Dred Scott decision. A wise Congress and Executive would do everything in their power to overturn it by legislation, as averse to amendment.
I propose the above recommended legislation to restore the United States government to some semblance of Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” If the people writ large are not allowed to vote, they cannot govern themselves. The government “of” them will not be either “by” them nor “for” them. Voting is the foundation.
Unfortunately, voting can only assure this ideal government to the extent that it is informed voting, based at least broadly on fact and on the legitimate powers of government. Roughly half of the American people today literally believe things which have no basis in fact, and disbelieve provable, empirical fact. When a sizable portion of the electorate votes against a candidate based on the accusation that she is secretly running a pedophile sex business out of the basement of a pizza restaurant which has no basement, the entire process of holding elections is invalidated.
Congress has passed laws requiring truth in commerce, and forbidding outright lies in commercial advertising. Electing a government is no less important than choosing a toothpaste or an automobile; Congress has every right, long established, to establish reasonable limits on free speech. Our Congress, our majority, must be used to prohibit the promulgation of outright lies as news. We can do this.
From the early days of electronic media to the Reagan Administration the United States operated under a Fairness Doctrine. No broadcast media outlet could operate as a house organ for one political party. Ronald Reagan halted that doctrine.
Congress could, and should, restore it.
The United States, and indeed the world, faces major, possibly existential, threats, and in spite of that I have spent over 1500 words so far addressing only legislation insuring fair governance for the nation. That is because without fair governance the people cannot work toward solving broader, real problems. The reason that oligarchs have seized control of our government is because they know that only government can address national and worldwide problems, and they do not want those problems addressed. So now that we have (hypothetically) provided for a fair government, what next?
I would propose that the biggest problem, external to our right to govern ourselves, is global warming. It is already here; it is having the predicted violent effects. We need to do two things about it: we need to address surviving it in the short term, and we need to move quickly toward halting the increase of heat energy stored here on earth. This is possibly the greatest threat humans have ever faced. While we do not know exactly what the outcome of increasing temperatures and available free energy might be, we know for certain that the ecosystems with which we evolved are those which exist and operate at the current energy and temperature levels. Rather than argue about what the resultant, different, higher energy ecosystem might look like, we should do everything in our power to preserve the one that has supported us for the recent few hundred millennia.
Global warming is a bigger threat to human civilization as we know it than any other we have ever faced. Virtually no approach to it is too extreme. Look at the changes the United States made in our economy and lifestyles at the onset of World War II. Global warming is a bigger deal than World War II. The question is not whether we will have to change our lives; the question is whether we choose the changes or have them imposed on us.
I have written some essays on particular avenues I would recommend we take, facing this inescapable, obvious threat. I am only one man and have no claim to particular expertise and specifically no claim to omniscience. I cannot see all the possible solutions. America has some brilliant people, scientists, legislators, designers, sociologists, It is imperative that a Congress with the interests of a majority of the American people in mind make a top priority of modifying our current lifestyle to minimize the damage and suffering caused by global warming weather, and of moving us away from a carbon-emission based economy. We have already jumped off the bridge; the question now is whether we open the parachute.
Having discussed a few laws I would recommend, consider for a moment what it would take to pass them. Let’s consider legislation to provide relief in advance for global warming damage.
Coastal states are obviously threatened by global warming. By a quick count, there are about 18 coastal states of the lower 48, plus Alaska and Hawaii makes 20. We have already established that we must have Senators from 32 states, so at a minimum we have 24 Senators whose states do not have anything to lose if coastal states are flooded. Taking the House, elections are by district, not by state. There is no guarantee that a Representative from, say, upstate New York is totally committed to spending tax money to protect Manhattan Island from flooding. Nor is there any guarantee that a Representative from the Central Valley of California is deeply concerned about sea level rise in Malibu.
There is an old saying attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.” (Sausage makers object, saying this isn’t fair to their industry.) Even if we have not-Republican legislative majorities, the needs and desires of the individual legislators are going to differ. The legitimate needs of the voters in the differing legislative districts are going to differ. It might be possible to get widespread agreement on legislation to improve the honesty and fairness of our voting system, since each and every not-Republican member of Congress could see advantage for themselves, but when it comes down to spending money to alleviate and reduce global warming, it is reasonable to expect every single member of Congress to say, What’s in it for my district? That is, after all, why we vote for members of Congress: to represent us. Not some vague “Americans” but: us.
Remember: 218 Representatives must agree to pass any bill. The member-elected Speaker of the House must, in most cases, agree to bring a bill to a vote or it will never get voted on regardless of how many individual Representatives might favor it. It is highly unusual for a bill in Congress to get voted on unless a majority of the controlling committee approves. An absolute minimum of 50 Senators plus the Vice President must agree to pass a similar bill. It is not unusual for it to take a minimum of 60 Senators to even bring said bill to a vote.
Legislation is a messy process. Observe the paralysis of the United States Government under Republican control in 2017. So far they have been unable to enact nearly any significant legislation whatsoever aside from a few critical bills to keep the insane President from giving away the store while they were out of town. They have not been blocked by Democrats, but by members of the same party.
This legislating business is harder than it looks.
Could we not-Republicans elect majorities in both houses? Under current conditions among our ranks I am not that confident, but it is possible.
If we succeeded in electing majorities in both houses could we accomplish anything with our majorities? Given, again, the current condition among our ranks, I am dubious.
Politics, it has long been said, is the art of the possible. In modern, disputatious America, is anything possible at all?