Just say no to grab 'n' go

Power grab masks a fragile center
By Sam Patten | Apr 23, 2021

Elections have consequences, former President Barack Obama once observed — as have many others. That is why the current power grab in progress shouldn’t surprise anyone. But is it wise?

In recent weeks, Democrats in the House passed a bill to grant statehood to the District of Columbia, floated legislation to add seats to the Supreme Court, and in the Senate, are considering the “nuclear option” of killing the filibuster. These are all big, structural changes to how our republic works.

Closer to home, Democrats in the State House rammed through a one-page budget last week, which one legislator who’s served Maine over the past half-century under governors of all partisan stripes called unprecedented. Moderate Republicans were left wondering why this was necessary.

At both levels, there is a grab 'n’ go mentality right now among those in charge, more akin to looting than to governing. Republicans bear plenty of blame, cue photo of Mitch McConnell. Experience has taught politicians to make hay while the sun’s shining, because the sunshine never lasts long.

Donald Trump kept his promise to conservatives when it came to judges, but that wasn’t a structural change, even if it affects the slant of the judiciary (they’re supposed to be unbiased, right?). In fact, Trump spent so much of his single term fending off attacks — including two impeachments — that he had no time to fundamentally change how Washington works.

Given that he promised to drain the swamp, too, that’s a shame.

Over the past decade and even longer, both parties have become accustomed to shoving their agenda down the throats of the other. The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, was passed through reconciliation, which is a fancy way of saying it was rammed through.

In doing so, Democrats probably remembered what happened with former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s health care plan and wanted to avoid a drawn-out massacre at all costs.

Though I have vague memories of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton making concerted efforts to win bipartisan support on key questions, that was long ago and the recollection may be tainted by nostalgia or naiveté.

The good news about all these efforts at structural change is that they distract from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ill-conceived notion of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Apparently, the ones in charge are smart enough to focus on big-ticket items, like packing the court or changing the way we vote. But that’s just dumb luck.

The bad news is the fact the Democrats are in charge today undermines the best argument for changing the rules. The system worked. Institutions did their jobs. To the relief of many, a jury in Minneapolis this week convicted the police officer who killed George Floyd last summer.

I’m the last person to defend the Senate, but eliminating the filibuster strikes at the heart of that institution. Our founders did not intend the Senate to simply be an elite version of the House; they actually wanted it to slow things down. The more corrupt the society, Tacitus said of Rome, the more the laws. Without the filibuster, the Senate will be less deliberative — even if its claim on being the world’s greatest deliberative body is sometimes shaky at best.

What about packing the court? Well, Franklin Roosevelt had an abundance of power and was in fact the first culprit in creating an imperial presidency, but even he showed restraint on this. He demonstrated his power not only by what he could do, but also what he chose not to do.

The great selling point of Joe Biden, other the fact he is not Donald Trump, is that he is supposed to be a collegial, non-doctrinaire style of politician. If the power grab continues, that fragile image will disappear. Many don’t care.

But those who think consolidating power right now is the most important thing would be wise to talk to their pollsters. Americans' faith in government has never been lower. That means that now is the time for politicians who want to seem “in-touch” to focus on what is holding the middle class back, not on changing the rules. The country just wants to get back to normal.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Apr 24, 2021 12:36

Donald Trump could have spent the time he had adding to the swamp to empty it. I don't think we need to expand the Supreme Court. What we need is to have the rules be the same no matter the party in power. Ask a Republican why Obama couldn't have a nominee close to the end of his term but Trump could and the answer will be the Democrats do the same thing. That translate to "I know you are but what am I". Really Mr Pattern do you think we are all stupid enough to not see your bias. If things were fair for all citizens we wouldn't be having all these hard feelings. My thoughts are we are better off with Trump gone.


Posted by: Linda Milton | Apr 23, 2021 13:22

Recommend this, seemingly featured, opinion writer study history a bit including both of the Senate Filibuster rule and its evolution as well as historical changes to the structure of the Supreme Court. He should also  spend a bit of time studying the Constitution as related to the structure of the Supreme Court. Yes, everyone has at least one opinion, however, when that opinion is continually represented in a local newspaper, that opinion writer, the publication  and above all, the readers are best served when the opinion writer provides an informed basis for the opinion.

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