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Democracy on notice

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There are a lot of people weighing in today about what it means in the United States that the Democrats lost the Senate race in Massachusetts yesterday.

It was a big loss. Sen. Ted Kennedy had held that seat for the democrats for more than a decade longer than I’ve been alive.
The Republican Party should be self-satisfied today for stealing it away.

I’m sure it says a lot about how the voters of Massachusetts feel about Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy’s legacy. It also is likely a sign of the malcontent of a people still suffering from the recession, rising unemployment and that sudden jolt of reality that our instant gratification consumer culture is not really all that sustainable.

But after spending most of this year so far debating and discussing and reading about the state of Canadian democracy, the proroguing of Parliament and the need for reform, I find myself questioning how wrong things have gone in the United States.
The loss of a single Senate seat, still gives the Democrats control of the Senate with 59 seats to the Republicans 41. They control the House of Representatives with 255 seats to the Republicans 178. And they control the White House.

So all of a sudden the loss of a single seat has turned the U.S. government upside down and plans for health care reform and climate change legislation are in jeopardy?

The main reason for that is procedural hijinks. The Democrats still have control to vote those bills through if they wanted but rules will allow the Republicans to cause enough of a delay that they could end up dying anyway. With 60 votes in the Senate, the Democrats could have shut down the filibusters expected now. With 59, no such luck.

I’m not suggesting a minority party in government should have no say or no control. (I’m also not suggesting the Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing if the party’s roles were reversed so please spare me the anti-Republican bias diatribe). But when procedural hijinks are the method standing in the way of serious debate about serious issues it’s not a good sign.

It’s also very odd. In Canada, a prime minister without control in the Senate and a minority government in the house of Commons, can shut down debate all on his own for several weeks. Regardless of why he did it, he did it.

In the United States, a president whose party controls the three main legislative branches of the government can’t get health care or climate change legislation through anymore.

That is the current state of democracy in North America.


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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.


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