After Republican Scott Brown's recent win in Massachusetts over Democrat Martha Coakley for the Senate seat held by Teddy Kennedy for 47 years, the liberal Village Voice ran a headline: "Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate."
The Voice is not, it should be noted, mathematically challenged. It's merely engaging in a little dig at the way the congressional Democrats seem to have reacted to the news. In fact, Senate Democratic leaders circulated a set of talking points after Brown's victory that contained the eye-popping sentence: "It is mathematically impossible for Democrats to pass legislation on our own."
Say what? I'm no math whiz, but last time I checked, 59-41 was still a majority. And majorities can get stuff done if they're willing to use their votes. As numerous pundits have pointed out, even at their high-water mark, the Republicans never had the presidency, 59 votes in the Senate and 59 percent of the House.
And not once do I recall them circulating a flier that claimed they couldn't get anything done and begging the Democrats for votes. Heck, in the 1998 midterm, they lost seats in the House and pressed ahead with impeaching the president anyway, despite polls telling them how unpopular the move was among the electorate.
The problem, of course, is the Senate, whose archaic rules allow not just a minority but a single senator to hold things up indefinitely, not only through the filibuster, but through a variety of other arcane rules.
One of these is the "hold," like the one South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint put on President Obama's nominee for the head of the Transportation Safety Administration. DeMint, who's been one of the most terror-stricken of the panic-mongers in the wake of the Christmas Undiebomber, would still apparently rather see the TSA go leaderless than take the risk they might unionize.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted attack, DeMint said in trying to justify his obstructionism, "is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA."
Get that? If the TSA unionizes, it won't be able to stop terrorist attacks. We're so dedicated to this principle, we're going to render the TSA leaderless. The fact that there was an attempted terrorist attack during this leaderless period just proves our point, even though the TSA was not, at the time of the attempt, unionized. And we let people like this have effective veto power over the majority.
Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. The Democrats could grow a spine and start calling bluffs. If Holy Joe Lieberman threatened to filibuster a health-care bill, despite the fact that he'd gotten changes he'd previously demanded, they could say, "Fine, Joe. Knock yourself out. We'll give your Homeland Security chairmanship to someone else while you run your mouth."
Then, while he's reading the phone book on the Senate floor, they could run ads 24/7 with Joe's mug up on the screen and a voice-over saying, "This is the guy who wants you to lose your health insurance if you get sick. This is the guy who wants you to be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. Call him now."
Or, in the alternative, they could vote to change the rules. But that would require the aforementioned spine.
Back when I first started writing this column, in the days before the GOP started screaming "traitor" at everyone who didn't think George W. Bush was the greatest thing since sliced bread and drove me into the Democratic Party, I was proud to call myself an independent (you can look it up).
Back in those days, I was fond of quoting Jay Leno: "Every time I think I'm going to join the Republicans, they do something greedy; every time I think of becoming a Democrat, they do something stupid." To this I would add, "Or they wimp out."
You're not going to win seats, or even keep them, by allowing the other side to make you look weak. Quit worrying about what Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh's going to call you. They're going to hate you no matter what you do.
C'mon, guys, man up!