U.S. Senate: `Frozen’ in Time

Photograph by AP Photo

A joint session of Congress on May 19, 1949.

Relying, as we do, on a D.C. institution not known for its efficiency or high marks from the public — the Metro subway system — offers one unintended upside: Lots and lots and lots of time to catch up on our reading as we await a train.

And so it was that we stumbled across this take on another D.C. institution likewise much abused these days:  The U.S. Senate.

The Founding Fathers, in devising the chamber “had wanted it to be independent, a place of wisdom and deliberation armored against outside forces. But the rise inside the Senate itself of forces they had not sufficiently forseen — the rise of parties and party caucuses, and of party discipline; the transformation of America’s infant industries into gigantic economic entities which had representatives sitting in the Senate itself — had undermined the Senate’s independence from within, and the impact of these new forces on the Senate had been heightened because the armor against outside forces remained in place.”

“Still protected against the people and the president, both of which wanted social progress, the Senate was unprotected against internal forces that opposed social progress, and that were indeed making it less a place of wisdom and deliberation. Other internal developments — most importantly, seniority and the filibuster — had further distorted the Founders’ dream. They had envisioned the Senate as the moderating force in government, as the cooler of the popular will; cool had become cold, had become ice, ice in which, for decades, with only a few brief exceptions, the popular desire for social change had become frozen.”

A Bloomberg View piece ripped from today’s headlines, as some lawmakers push for changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules?

Not hardly.

The passage comes from 2002’s “Master of the Senate,” the third volume in Robert Caro’s majestic “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” series.

It’s a description of the Senate that Johnson entered in 1949.

The more things change…




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