Saturday, April 6, 2013

Diane Feinstein on the First and Second Amendments

Diane Feinstein was at the Commonwealth Club on April 3, 2013. You can find the show on iTunes.

Around 7:20 into the show she remarks on the Senate:

When I went to the Senate in 1992, there weren't clotures every week. The big issues of the day were expected to be debated on the floor of the Senate, to be passed out of committee, and people were expected to vote, not to hide, but to stand up and vote. Now, virtually everything takes sixty votes, just to have a vote on the floor. It's really very bad. 
What's happened is a fear has set in, that if they vote for the bill, they won't be re-elected. It's that plain, and it's that simple. My view is, then they shouldn't go to the Senate. 
Robert Caro, in "The Passage of Power," and in "Master of the Senate," spends a great deal of ink on the Senate, but his portrayal is much different than Feinstein's.

From "The Passage of Power,"
The inefficiency of Congress was nothing new, of course--the only period since the Civil War that the pattern had been broken in the Senate, the principal logjam, was the six years of Lyndon Johnson's leadership
In fact:
Some analysts were questioning the efficiency of the governmental framework of which Congress was so pivotal a part. In a book, The Deadlock of Democracy, published earlier in the year, the distinguished historian--and unabashed Kennedy admirer--James MacGregor Burns said that "we are at the critical stage of a somber and inexorable cycle that seems to have gripped the public affairs of the nation,...mired in governmental deadlock, as Congress blocks or kills not only" Kennedy's programs but Republican programs as well. Concluding that "We...underestimate the extent to which our system was designed for deadlock and inaction," he said that perhaps the system would have to be changed.
Caro writes
Walter Lippmann said: "This Congress was gone further than any other within memory to replace debate and decision by delay and stultification. This is one of those moments when there is reason to wonder whether the congressional system as it now operates is not a grave danger to the Republic."
Lippmann commented Congress replaced "debate and decision by delay and stultification," Life Magazine wrote of "the least productive Congress in memory," newspapers "thundered against filibuster, and public demand for cloture rose."

I wonder if Senator Feinstein knows the history of the Senate, knows, as Burns points out that the system was "designed for deadlock and inaction," or is counting on her audience not knowing.

Of course, her complaint is the Senate is blocking her attempt to restrict the Second Amendment. It's somewhat odd she is attributing the block to the filibuster since her legislations could at best, according to Majority Leader Reid, attract 40 votes. That's a landslide against her proposal.

I'm rather ambivalent regarding guns. I am not, however, ambivalent about restricting the rights enumerated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I'm one of those people who think the Constitution has and continues to work rather well. I'm one of those people who thinks a system designed for deadlock and inaction is a feature, not a bug.

Senator Feinstein is not happy with just restricting the Second Amendment, she sees value in restricting the First Amendment as well. Around 12:30 into the program she is asked about  the connection between violent video games and violence in society:

I have been hopeful, and we'll wait and see what happens, that the video game industry itself, would respond. Because you get into First Amendment issues in the Congress if you legislate in this arena. I think there's enough evidence out there to show that these video games have a very negative role for these young people. And the industry ought to take note of that and the industry ought to respond by taking some of these very violent games off the market.
Has that ever happened, she's asked.
"No," she responds,  "this is meant to be a little shot across the bow."
Some wonder why restricting the Second Amendment brings up such passion. Some blame the NRA as if the NRA is some body operating independently of the voters. But Senator Feinstein knows that's not true. She mentions why her legislation can't get the votes. 

What's happened is a fear has set in, that if they vote for the bill, they won't be re-elected. It's that plain, and it's that simple.  
I heard the disappointment in her voice. The accusation that somehow this was a bad thing. And it puzzled me. Representatives responsive to their constituents is a bad thing? If the Senators vote for legislation their constituents do not support, they will lose their seat. Isn't that the way it is supposed to work?

Some wonder why restricting the Second Amendment brings up such passion. Listen to Senator Feinstein and you will hear why: People are afraid if they allow Congress to limit the Second Amendment, then the First Amendment, and then maybe the representative nature of our government. People are afraid of a "little shot across the bow," and what may follow.

Our system is designed for deadlock and inaction. Some, like myself, observe it has served us well. Others are frustrated it requires patience and persuasion to change. And that's why the gun debate stirs up such passion.

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