Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Informed Citizenship

I received a fascinating email today. The email me pointed to the results of a recent congressional vote on an amendment to invoke cloture on a habeas corpus amendment. This email expressed the forceful opinion that anyone who voted against the amendment was “a U.S. traitor.”

That email was quickly followed by a response from someone else wisely suggesting that the original author read the entire bill and all riders attached to it before judging those who voted. The author essentially reminded us that sponsors of amendments and riders often try to attach their legislation to “sure to pass” bills in an attempt to sneak pork through congress.

I did a bit of research myself and was about to “reply all” to add my two cents, when it occurred to me that the issues I was pondering would make for good blog conversation.

According to my brief internet research, “Cloture is the formal procedure used to end a filibuster. It can take up to three days and requires 60 votes. Cloture can also be used even if there is no filibuster underway, to ban non-germane amendments. If cloture wins, 30 additional hours of debate are allowed prior to voting, but they are rarely used. If cloture fails, debate would continue without limits. Instead, the bill is usually set aside.”

By my read, this means that voting FOR cloture truly means voting to limit debate on the issue, which in my mind is bad thing. Granted, failure often means the bill is set aside, but that’s a different matter and not the REQUIRED outcome of a nay vote on cloture.

Now, further research shows that this specific vote on cloture was held on a habeas corpus amendment which was attached to another amendment to the defense bill – how confusing! And trying to follow sound advice to read the bill and all the riders is practically (and I mean that literally) impossible. There are 96 different amendments to the original bill. The original bill itself is 12 pages of LINKS to text – and there are 4 different versions being considered in congress right now.

How can a relatively educated citizen desiring to be an informed democratic participant dig through this kind of bureaucracy to form an informed opinion?

Thomas Jefferson felt strongly that an informed populace was essential to the preservation of democracy and the avoidance of tyranny. According to data from the US Census Bureau, my attainment of a master’s degree places me among the top 12% of the U.S. population in terms of education. Yet I still often feel stupid when it comes to trying to be an informed citizen.

If we need to be educated and informed to preserve our democracy, yet even someone who should be considered educated often feels thwarted in her efforts to become informed, what does this imply for the future of our democratic republic?

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Comments on: "Informed Citizenship" (4)

  1. Nice point. Lack of transparency in the legislative process thwarts even the pretext of democracy. The executive branch is similarly opaque. You’re right, it’s no longer quaint institutional detail when an informed citizenry just don’t have a clue.

  2. I have been following much of the debate and noise related to this. I do stand by the “traitors” label from the email given the context in which the vote occurred. Basically the proponents of this bill have largely given up on any conventional approach to limit executive abuses and are going about things in about the only remaining way available.

    When a government begins to creatively rewrite the constitution (executive branch doesn’t include the secondary executive, etc…) it becomes necessary to roll things back ASAP.

    Just my $0.02.

  3. So if the Republican party ran amok (in Greenspan’s words ‘swapping principle for power’ and ending up with neither), and the Democrats in power for the last 10 months haven’t exercised much political muscle to re-balance the balance of power, the next logical step in my mind is a viable, strong 3rd party. However, when both major political parties band together to keep 3rd parties down and out, THEN what recourse do we have?

  4. The Democrats aren’t in power. Under the Republican rules imposed earlier (which the Democrats have not been able to roll back), it takes 60 votes, effectively, to do anything. The Democrats don’t even have a majority in the Senate — they have 49 members, plus one independent who votes to organize with the Democrats.

    It’s a razor thin margin at best, and a razor thin margin doesn’t mean “control” when it takes 60 of 100 votes to do anything.

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