A few weeks back I dove into re-reading Robert Caro’s masterful biographical series on Lyndon Johnson. Much of the analysis of Caro’s series has focused on his second book in the series, Means of Ascent which was published in 1990 and detailed the shenanigans 1948 US Senate Primary in Texas which LBJ won by 87 votes.
I started re-reading Master of the Senate which was published in 2002 ironically as the Democrats held a razor-thin 51-49 Senate majority. In the past since my focus was exclusively on LBJ and his times it had escaped me Caro’s first 100 pages of the book which are dedicated to painting the picture of the US Senate as a dreadful institution, completely inoculated from public opinion while lacking a moral compass.
Master Of The Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson should be read alongside, Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy Kill Switch which is written by Adam Jentleson, an aide to former Senate Majority lays out how the filibusterer became a tool to impose minority rule and has no actual grounding in the sort of Republic envisioned by the founders.
On a broad swath of issues including the Treaty of Versailles, anti-lynching legislation, civil rights, voting rights, trade, protective tariffs and much more, the Senate has long been a repository for the most extreme, obstructionist and demagogic forces in our nation.
The goal of the current Republican Party as the readers are well aware, is to impose a degree of minority rule on the country, deeming “real Americans” who live in red america as more worthy than the coastal elites, minorities and college-educed upper income brackets of suburban voters. In this quest, the GOP has found a corruptible narcissistic ally in Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, which ensures minority rule will continue.
We have to think broadly about the Senate as institution and whether it should remain as unrepresentative and arcane as it is. These are not new arguments. These are things that were discussed in the 1950’s and 1960’s and while Senate rules have been reformed they haven’t been reformed nearly enough.
It’s tough to lecture other nation’s about democracy when you hardly have one at home to begin with.