Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Folly and Self-Destruction

Exhibit A: Sen. Richard Shelby
James Fallows rightly points to Alabama Senator Richard Shelby as Exhibit A for how our system of government has "become pathologically trivializing and self-defeating."

With the Republicans, led by Shelby, defeating the nomination of Nobel Prize winning economist Peter Diamond to serve on the board of the Federal Reserve, Felix Salmon asks whether it is "even possible, at this point, for the Obama administration to nominate someone who the Republicans won’t automatically oppose on the grounds that he or she is an Obama nominee."  The answer is "no."  It isn't possible under the current rules and the current state of the Republican Party. 

James Fallows notes how Alabama Senator Richard Shelby has held up the confirmation of 70 executive branch nominees because of a federal contract that didn't go to Alabama companies.  And it is Shelby who determined that Peter Diamond, whose Nobel Prize was awarded for his work on unemployment and the labor market, was not qualified to serve on the Federal Reserve.  And, under Senate rules, that's all it takes.  Fallows scolds Shelby for his willingness "to abuse the rules this way, in reckless disregard of the national interest and the destructive wastefulness of making it so arbitrarily difficult to fill public jobs."  As Fallows remarks, "America is rich and resilient. But is it resilient enough to permit folly and self-destruction of this sort?"

The Democrats are far from blameless in all this.  Jonathan Cohn raises the point that the Obama Administration could have fought a lot harder for Diamond and other nominees, and the Democrats should have been seeking to force changes in the Senate procedures.  Indeed, it is far past time to reform the rules in the Senate which allow 41 Senators to filibuster a bill without filibustering and which allow one vindictive Senator to scuttle a nomination.


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