Saturday, January 23, 2021

Literary Corner: Noir

Photo by Mark Coggins/flickr.

Do not underestimate how many congressional Republicans would like to send checks to their people. Recently, I was on a call with the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus and a similar group of senators. I was struck by how passionately these Republicans and Democrats are committed to one another across party lines, how deftly they used the evenly divided Congress to restart the Covid-19 relief effort in December, how fervently they want to break the partisan logjam.

If this doesn’t work and Republicans go into full obstruction mode, Democrats should absolutely kill the filibuster. (David F. Brooks, "The Case For Biden Optimism", 21 January 2021)

The phone rang, a familiar number. I let it ring, long enough to take a shluk from the bottle of Waldweben Peach Schnapps and shove it back in the upper left desk drawer, then picked up. "Brooks here."

"Hello, David. How's married life?"

"Suits me. What can I do for you, outside of something I can't do for you?"

"You can do us a favor."

"Where have I heard that line before?"

"It's just a little thing."

I sighed, probably audibly, and tried to gather my wits. "I'm out of the game, pal. I don't do it any more. I just have to do one column a week, I have a gig at Aspen. I have a nice new wife, she doesn't like politics, she likes religion, go figure. I like religion too. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside."

"Wouldn't ask you to do anything against your religion."

"I'm a liberal now. I voted for Biden." It was true. I wasn't even trying to hide it. I'd been screaming about civility for decades, and finally tumbled into a situation where the civility was so one-sided I couldn't deal with it any other way.

"So we hear. You've been hanging out with that Problem Solvers Caucus." 

Bunch of young congresscritters sick of the partisan logjam, ready to solve problems as long as you don't waste a lot of time wondering what the problems are. I don't care how it works, just fix it. It's what made America great. I love those guys. "You have a problem with that?"

"Nice kids! You want to write about them?"

"Sure. On my terms, not yours."

"That's the spirit. Just one little thing?"


"We need you to recommend killing the filibuster."

I felt like all my teeth were about to fall out of my mouth. Could that happen, in an earthquake? "Killing the what?" 

The perfect guarantee of rights for the opulent minority, devised by our sacred founders or if you prefer the descendants of the founders in 1917? The ultimate senatorial saucer for cooling the legislative coffee? How in the name of Edmund Burke could I even consider such a thing?

"Not exactly. Just in case. If things don't go, you know, right with the Covid plan. If the Problem Solving doesn't quite work out. Just the threat, hanging—"

"But what kind of threat is that? Nobody's going to eliminate the filibuster!" I'd just come from hanging with the Problem Solvers and their senatorial opposite numbers. and I knew it was the last thing on their minds. I'd spoken to Democratic Senators Manchin, Warner, King, Shaheen, Hassan, and none of them had any interest in breaking the filibuster at all. Could they even get 40 votes?

"Of course not! They haven't got a chance! No need to worry about that."

"Then what's the point?"

"The point is," he said, "that they do have the votes for something else. Remember how they rammed Obamacare through the Senate with 56 votes back at the end of March 2010?"

It had been just before my column on the irony of Sandra Bullock getting an Oscar and breaking up with her husband in the same month:

On the one hand, an Academy Award is nothing to sneeze at. Bullock has earned the admiration of her peers in a way very few experience. She’ll make more money for years to come. She may even live longer. Research by Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh has found that, on average, Oscar winners live nearly four years longer than nominees that don’t win.

Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

"Refresh my memory."

"Little thing called Reconciliation. Every year Congress has a chance to pass a budget reconciliation bill bringing the different budget bills passed in the House and Senate together and it can't be filibustered in the Senate. That year they packed the whole Affordable Care Act into it, minus a few provisions that were ruled to be not budgetary."

"Whew. Audacious."

"It was a Democrat coup d'état. And they could do the same thing this year, with that $2-trillion meshugas they're calling Covid relief. With a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave and family leave, and $400 a week added to your unemployment check. Without a single Republican vote. It's criminal. It's a nightmare."

"The bastards! And they talk about unifying the country!"

"Yes, it's a desperate moment. And you can help."

"By advocating an end to the filibuster? But wouldn't that be even worse?"

"Sure, if it happened. But like you were saying, it won't."

"Then why?"

"Because Democrats listen to you, David. Especially now you're so woke. They'll be like, if Brooks says we can kill the filibuster we can pass anything we want! Why waste our time with this reconciliation crap?"

"But that would be deceitful! That would be dishonest! That would be uncivil!"

"Just like old times, huh?"

"I'll post it Thursday night."

"Knew I could count on you."

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