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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

question of the weekend: How do we fix what’s wrong with American politics?

Last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow proposed that we need to find a new word for “something that is both catastrophically important to the future of the United States and totally freaking boring,” something that “speaks directly to whether government is capable of actually governing.” She was referring to the filibuster, which is threatening to freeze up the U.S. Senate to such a degree that nothing will ever get done, ever again. And at The Filibuster Challenge at Maddow’s site, people are proposing that we rename the filibuster the “billblocker” or call it a “hung Senate,” both of which are good ideas.

But simply renaming a process doesn’t go far enough.

Obviously, American audiences these days love contention, violence, humiliation, and the opportunity to vote anyone off an island or a team or out of a house or a job. Obviously, what we must do is turn the federal legislative process into a game show… and I think it’s safe to say that it would be the ultimate reality program, with the future of the nation hanging in the balance.
The doings of the House of Representatives and Senate are already televised, on C-SPAN. I propose we move them to prime time on a broadcast network, with a celebrity panel offering live commentary on the speeches, votes, and other procedures, and grilling the politicians on their bills. Senator Reverend Billy Bob McRighteous from the great state of Jesusland wants to make it illegal for women to cut their hair? His proposal will have to survive the votes of the millions of viewers. Senator Boring O’Dullsville from the great state of Overeducated Eastern Liberality wants to give the unwashed mass single-payer universal health care? He sure as hell better be able to sell it to the viewers in an entertaining way. All corporate donations to any elected official will have to be voted up or down by viewers… after the CEOs of the donating companies, in exciting battle challenges, reveal precisely what they expect to get in return for their millions.

It surely could not be any worse than the way things are now.

I see Senatorial Idol getting huge ratings on Monday nights on NBC, and So You Think You’re Smarter Than a Congressman? the new big hit Wednesdays on ABC after Lost.

Your suggestions? How do we fix what’s wrong with American politics?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Taru Kavika

    Fix ourselves. See politicians for what most of them are. Vote out the lunatics who abuse and twist every sort of rule that can be made. More rules and definitions won’t help at this point. Americans have to wake up. Will that happen? Ever? That’s the question.

  • JoshB

    Get rid of the Senate altogether.

  • Pollas

    Frankly, I prefer it when the federal government does very little. The less it does the less things it effs up. The government needs a lesser role in citizens’ day to day lives, not a greater one. The Federal government should protect the people’s rights and perform the other duties given to it by the Constitution. It’s not its job to tell us how to dress, what to eat, what cars to drive, how much money we can make, etc. and it’s not its job to feed us, cloth us, or take care of us like we were children. The US is a democratic republic, not a socialist or communist country. Enough of this nanny state that it’s become and further heading toward.

  • Les Carr

    In American Idol (or for the Brits, the X-Factor) it’s not the Muscial Content that is the point of the show, it’s the performers. You can see how the format would play out as a way of choosing political high flyers, but the actual political decisions would be pushed to the background. All the issues – healthcare, climate change and budget reduction would play second fiddle to the advancement of political careers.

    Oh. Quite. I see what you mean.

  • MaryAnn’s “Survivor: Capitol Hill” scenario is only barely hyperbolic. In these days of wall-to-wall cable news saturation, our national government has become much less about governing than it is about bad theatre.

    Clearly, television does not shine the all-seeing light of truth on the workings of government. Quite the opposite. It makes the whole thing into an exercise in style over substance. It doesn’t matter how good an idea may be, or how much benefit it might bring to the country if put into policy — if it doesn’t roll up into a TV-friendly sound bite format, it’s automatically dismissed.

    The only semi-solution of any kind that I can think of is something along the lines of the real time back-and-forth that Obama had with the congressional Republicans right after the state of the union. Kind of like question time in the British parliamentary system. Immediate, live, and nowhere to hide. Politicians can fortify themselves in bunkers of bullshit during speeches, news show appearances, senate proceedings, and even campaign debates. Take away all of that and make them just go straight-up. Then their ideas and policy proposals can sink or swim on their own merit.

    If not that? Fuck, I don’t know. What passes for political discourse or even legislative give-and-take these days reminds me most often of the “which table has cooties” feuds I remember from the lunch yard in 6th grade. Our taxes pay these assholes’ salaries, yet apparently that doesn’t even oblige them to act like goddamned grownups, for fuck’s sake.

  • Ogami Itto

    We should just cut to the chase and deal with our problems with The Thunderdome and The Wheel.

    That’s where this country’s headed, anyway.

  • Hank Graham

    I think we need to give the Democratic Party a spine transplant.

    Or, failing that, let’s get rid of the filibuster altogether. And do it NOW, instead of in the summer (when Obama will be naming Supreme Court justices, probably), so that the pseudo-shocked Faux News plastic outrage at that action won’t play out into the November elections.

  • Paul

    Getting rid of the Senate would be a good idea, if only because it would mean Senators representing 20% of the population could hold everything up even without a fillibuster.

    But what I think would be a good idea would be if reporters did more fact checking of what politicans send instead of just reporting what politicians said.

    Reporter: Today Senator Bible Belt said it was our God given right to invade other countries, but Jesus did tell us to turn the other check and love our enemies. So, do you agree with BB, or Jesus?

  • Paul

    Opps, I meant so those Senators couldn’t hold everything up.

  • funWithHeadlines

    Have the media do their job for once. You know, instead of making every single political story be “Side A sez this, side B sez the other, I transcribed both lies without giving it a moment’s thought,” start telling the truth when politicians are hypocrites, when they are lying, etc. That might wake America up, and it might make pols realize they aren’t getting away with their lies.

    I realize this would get the reporters kicked out of D.C. cocktail parties, but I consider that a feature, not a bug.

  • Lisa

    i’m not american but didn’t they change the rules on filibustering now you don’t actually have to filibuster you just have to say you will why did they decide that? that’s completely stupid! if you have to filbuster then you’d better be prepared to get up there with a coke can to pee in!

    so you could do away with that rule for one

  • iakobos

    I have a simple solution for fixing what’s wrong with American politics. It’s called a Constitutionally limited government. It would operate like the Constitutionally limited government our country was given in 1789. But alas, most of the country, our President, quite a few Supreme Court Justices and nearly all the Senators and Congressmen don’t want a Constitutionally limited government. Therein lies the problem.

    This problem applies not only to all the Democrats but just about every single Republican at the Federal level too, including our most recent Republican President.

    Now that we haven’t operated under a Constitutionally limited government for over 150 years both sides sit around and argue about which un-Constitutional pet legislation they want passed. Or they argue about whether to go faster or slower with their un-Constitutional legislation.

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