Traditions, like rules, weren’t made to be broken

I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving is one of our most time-honored American traditions. Traditions are important and evolve from moral values, that are passed from generation to generation. The word tradition derives from the Latin verb “tradere,” meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping. Safekeeping has a warm and fuzzy sound to it.

Tradition plays a role in government, or it has until recently. While there’s very little that’s warm and fuzzy about partisan politics, tradition, rules and the rule of law provide a check on raw political power while serving to protect individual rights, the foundation on which our republic is built. In my humble opinion, if you are going to eschew tradition there had better be a profound moral basis for it. I can find none for the partisan rules change recently forced through by the Democrats in the U.S. Senate regarding the filibuster.

The history of the filibuster goes back to Roman times. In the U.S. the first filibuster occurred in 1837. Of the 10 longest filibusters in the U.S. Senate since 1900, the list includes more Democrats than Republicans. On that list is Sen. Robert Byrd – Mr. Constitution himself – who filibustered for 14 hours in 1964 and as a member of the so- called “gang of fourteen” fought to preserve the filibuster in 2005. Another was Harry Reid who filibustered for eight hours, 39 minutes in 2003 to block presidential judicial appointments. Imagine that. You can’t make this stuff up.

With this as a matter of record, what can one say about the report last month in the Huffington Post that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had “pulled the trigger” on what is known as the “nuclear option,” changing Senate rules regarding the filibuster in order “to pass most executive and judicial nominees by simple majority vote.” Back in 2005, Sen. Reid described the nuclear option as “un-American” and “illegal.” Apparently, to Reid, it would only be illegal if Republicans were to use it, something they have refrained from doing. While some contend what he did is indeed illegal, I’ll go with his own assessment – it’s “un-American.”

This exercise of raw political muscle gives enormous new power to the executive branch. A check on presidential power has been removed. But that isn’t enough for U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel. As reported in the Examiner, the congressman praised Reid for invoking the nuclear option, but added that his party hasn’t gone far enough, suggesting that the president use executive orders for “everything,” bypassing Congress entirely. Said Rangel: “I’m gonna see why we can’t use executive orders for everything.” So much for the American tradition of checks and balances between the branches of government.

On the local level, here in Jefferson County, it’s eerily similar. As reported last week in the Spirit, the County Commission voted 3-2 along party lines to change the rules regarding the use of its public meeting room. Political parties are now allowed to hold closed meetings at taxpayer expense. The action stems from the Democrats having broken the old rules mandating that all meetings held in that public space be open to the public. By changing the rules after the fact, the Democrats on the Commission have not only admitted that the rules were broken, but have given their tacit approval.

According to the article, Commissioner Dale Manuel accused “the tea party” of politicizing the issue. This is a classic case of blaming the victims. By evicting the attendees that weren’t Democrats, it was the Democrats that politicized the issue – in violation of the rules. Further, Commissioner Manuel stated that he has no problem with the public picking up the tab. We’ve heard of corporate welfare, now we have welfare for political parties. Once again, you can’t make this stuff up.

Manuel made reference to the Capitol Buildings in Charleston and Washington where rooms are made available for political parties to caucus. The mind boggles. On the county level we do not have a Legislature. There are three Democrats and two Republicans on the currently constituted County Commission. If they need to caucus, they can go out in the hallway and do so – but they don’t need to. Political partisanship on the county level should be minimized. It appears that was the original intention of the rule, and as such would be a worthy tradition to uphold.

Local Republicans have managed to abide by the rules all along. I hope they continue to observe the old rules. To me, the local Democrats are looking more and more like their national counterparts. That’s their prerogative, but if they want to engage in activities that they don’t want the world to see, they should go get a room — at their own expense.

— Elliot Simon writes from Harpers Ferry

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