FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sen. Tim Johnson Death Watch

 

Let’s stop all the heavy breathing.

While Republican vultures hover shamelessly over the hospital where Sen. Tim Johnson, the South Dakota Democrat remains in critical condition following emergency brain surgery, progressives are in a lather worrying that if Johnson doesn’t recover, or if he dies, South Dakota’s Republican governor would appoint a Republican to finish out his term, handing control of the U.S. Senate back to the just ousted Republican Party.

There were fears of the same possible outcome back in early November, when pseudo-Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), defeated in an August primary for his party’s nomination, succeeded in winning re-election running as an independent. It was feared-and to some extent is still feared-that Lieberman could jump over to the GOP in January, handing Republicans control of the Senate. Lieberman has played this fear like a virtuoso violinist, wresting a promise that he will chair the Homeland Security Committee in the 110th Congress if he stays in the party fold.

Progressives should take a deep breath and relax, though. The truth is, all this angst is really just about Democratic Senators looking to maintain their own newfound power and their own marketability to the big donors who they hope will fill their campaign coffers. If they lose control of the Senate, and don’t get to chair all those committees and subcommittees, they don’t get the big bucks.

But from a policy standpoint, it matters little whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate-at least these days. In fact, not to wish ill to Sen. Johnson, but we might be better off if the Democrats ended up back in the role of opposition.

Consider:

With a majority of one, and a Republican president, the Senate cannot hope to pass any kind of significant legislation. If Senate Democrats somehow managed to pass something like a minimum wage bill on their own, it would just get vetoed by the president. Of course, they could try to win over enough liberal Republicans to pass veto-proof legislation, but then, they could do that whether they were in the majority or the minority.

A Democratic-run Senate could do investigations of course, but given the infamous timidity of the party’s Senate leadership, it seems unlikely that they will do anything substantial in that regard anyhow. And besides, the House, where the Democratic majority is more solid, can handle the investigation business better.

In control of the Senate, Democrats will simply open themselves to charges, in the 2008 campaign, of being obstructionist and negative, because they won’t be able to accomplish anything of substance. In opposition, they would be in a powerful position, with 50 votes, to block any bad Republican legislation or bad nominations to judgeships or government offices, but because they would be in the position of opposition party, no one would blame them for being obstructionist-opposition and obstruction would be their official role.

More important, in the role of opposition party, Democratic Senators would be freer to be themselves. There would be far less pressure from corporate interests to temper their views and to move to the center or to the right than they are getting now as the ruling party.

The point is, it’s one thing to have a majority of one in the legislature when your president is of the same party, but it’s another when you have a one-vote majority and the president is from the other party. In the latter case, the opposition party, despite being in control, is incapable of accomplishing anything over the president’s opposition, and thus the pressure to compromise becomes almost irresistible. And Democrats, with little in the way of ideological grounding, have long been all too ready to compromise away important issues and principles and to play footsie with the president. Just look at them signing on to a continued war in Iraq, with even more troops. Look at them refusing to defend habeas corpus and to oppose torture. Look at them calling for even bigger defense budgets. Look at them signing on to the NSA’s warrantless spying operation. (Incidentally, Sen. Johnson himself has been quite the backer of Republican positions, voting for the Republican budget in 1998, supporting a flag-desecration amendment to the Constitution, voting in support of eased restrictions on cell phone tapping, voting in favor of tightening consumer bankruptcy laws, and voting to expand the death penalty and to limit habeas rights of death penalty prisoners. Johnson has been one of Bush’s most ardent backers of the Iraq war among Democrats, and has been a big recipient of funds from Parsons Corp., one of the biggest corporate war profiteers in Iraq after Halliburton.)

We’re not going to see Democratic Senators taking principled stands on progressive issues until they know that they are stuck in the role of opposition party.

So let’s wish Sen. Johnson a speedy recovery, but progressives needn’t fret if he has to step down.

We might be better off that way.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com

 

 

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail