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Flipping the Line: McConnell and the U.S. Senate offer no lessons to Canada
While McConnell has achieved national fame, he hasn’t exactly been effective in passing legislation that would address the concerns of his Kentucky constituents.
The Line welcomes angry rebuttals and responses to our work. The best will be featured in our ongoing series, Flipping the Line. Today, Matthew Alexandris replies to Rahim Mohamed’s recent article on Mitch McConnell, Kentucky politics, and the role of the U.S. Senate.
By: Matthew Alexandris
In Rahim Mohamed’s recent article at The Line, “What McConnell means to Kentucky, and why Canada needs a few like him (no, really),” he laments Mitch McConnell recent demotion to Senate minority leader. He writes that McConnell was an effective senator, able to bring the issues of his home state of Kentucky into the national media.
Mohamed goes on to compare McConnell’s story to the story of the U.S. Senate, calling it “a highly effective and often underappreciated federal institution,” and praising the U.S. Senate for its role of equalizing the power for smaller states in federal politics.
McConnell does not deserve our praise. Neither does the U.S. Senate, nor does it deserve to be seen as the goal that the Canadian Senate should aspire to be.
Both McConnell and the U.S. Senate favour obstructionism rather than being effective at passing legislation, which has pushed partisanship and polarization in the U.S. to a place far beyond what we’ve seen in Canada.
While McConnell has achieved national fame, he hasn’t exactly been effective in passing legislation that would address the concerns of his Kentucky constituents. McConnell is much more famous for blocking legislation from passing than passing legislation. For example, in a now infamous move, McConnell blocked any attempt to discuss Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia. The move left the Supreme Court with only eight justices for over a year.
Moreover, it is hard to agree with Mohamed’s assertion that the U.S. Senate is effective when much of the difficulty in passing legislation occurs when it is in the Senate. In recent years, the Senate has moved slowly and has not passed or even voted upon much of the legislation passed in the House of Representatives. Furthermore, the filibuster, whose future it itself now a source of intense debate, can be used to block legislation from coming to a vote, and has been increasingly used over the past couple of decades. Many ambitious legislative efforts have died by the filibuster in the Senate.
The U.S. Senate wasn’t always ineffective, but it has gotten worse in the past couple decades as the urban-rural divide began to grow. While Mohamed praises the U.S. Senate for equalizing the power for smaller states, it is worth pointing out that under the composition of the U.S., the Senate actually favours smaller states and the small populations that live in them.
An analysis by Nate Silver found that while there are about the same number of people living in big cities and rural areas, in the Senate, rural areas get 2.5x more representation than big cities do. Because rural voters are more likely to vote Republican, the tossup Senate seats that are most decisive in passing legislation are considerably more red than the country as a whole.
If politicians in rural areas want to look for a U.S. senator as an example addressing the issues of its constituents and putting them under a national spotlight, it should be Joe Manchin.
Manchin, a Democrat, represents West Virginia, a small and deep-red state. This leaves him very much a rarity. Manchin is one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate (just watch one of his ads), but he is also willing to co-operate and find compromises with his fellow Democratic senators and Republicans alike in order to pass legislation for his constituents.
Now that the Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the Senate, much of the U.S. national media and other Democratic politicians are looking to Manchin to find compromises on passing legislation like filibuster reform.
Mohamed concludes his column by pointing out that having provinces outside of Ontario and Quebec send their own Mitch McConnells would fend off growing alienation. However, the obstructionism that defined McConnell’s career and the U.S. Senate would only exacerbate alienation. If politicians really want to address alienation, they should find compromises and work together to pass legislation that has a worthwhile impact in addressing the issues of their communities.
Matthew Alexandris is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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