Monday, October 17, 2011

Comment on Drum on the 60 vote Senate

Kevin Drum wrote

Like it or not, the reality of congressional politics has changed. The Senate is now a 60-vote body, and it's the vote on a cloture motion that's the important vote. For all practical purposes, the cloture vote is the vote on the bill. So my complaint would be just the opposite of Fallows's. Instead of insisting on a Schoolhouse Rock version of reporting, I'd prefer it if the media routinely reported on the actual reality of legislation today. If you want to report accurately, you should (a) report the cloture vote as a vote on the bill itself, (b) you should make clear that 60 votes are required to pass a bill, and (c) you should report the partisan breakdown of the voting — something that used to be routine but now only occasionally appears in reports of legislative activity.

Bottom line: The real-life practice of politics in America has changed over the past decade. Reporting should change along with it.

Note that he says the key votes to be reported are not votes on the bill itself but on cloture motions. His proposal is not to change reporting as reality changes (so to use "Cloture motion" in the place of "bill," but rather to use the word for the event which used to occur but didn't in this case to refer to the other thing which happened in this case.

They have to report on votes on Cloture motions, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't say they are reporting on cloture motions. Would Drum think it OK to say the Senate voted against a banana ? Why not talk about what happened using the word for what happened rather than a nice familiar word which happens to refer to something which didn't happen ?

At his blog, I have a long comment which I cut and paste below.

I vaguely recall some poll which demonstrated that most US adults don't know that it takes 60 votes in the Senate to end a filibuster.
26% correctly answered 60.

However, I agree with Fallows on the specific matter. I think the headline should have included the word "cloture" or "filibuster." I think all headlines of all articles which report on cloture votes and or filibusters should include the word "cloture" or the word "filibuster."I'd even contest your claim that your position is that reporting should change. Political reporters are now reporting cloture votes not votes to pass the bill. Yet they use the same old words. Most of our fellow citizens demonstrably do not know that the way the Senate (dis) functions has changed. Political reporters have failed to report the breaking news that the Senate fundamentally changed in January 2007. This isn't new but it is still news to most US adults. It should be reported until the public knows about it. That means people should be confronted with ugly words which they don't understand so that some of them will learn what the words mean and what has been done to their republic.

I understand that your aim was to argue exactly what I have argued. But I think that avoiding the words "cloture" and "filibuster" is not the way to teach people that they are the keys to understanding official Washington's failure to function in 2009 and 2010. It would be better to avoid the words "bill", "pass" and "approve." These are old concepts which are rarely useful these days. They should be used rarely while filibuster and cloture should be used often.

Do you think someone should say he was late to work because the roads were packed with carriages or say that the roads were packed with Chariots ?

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