Wait … There are rules? Who knew? Apparently Not the Left or the Right.

In an early post  here, I said that one of the things that had made me a pragmatist was holding office in various organizations.  As I said back then, ” It’s great to have this wonderful idea of how things “should be done.”  It’s often another thing entirely when you try to actually do it! ”   One of the “obstacles” that someone trying to work changes in an organization finds out is that rarely do you get to do it by decree.   Which is a point that many on the extremes of the right and the left don’t realize – or want to accept.  To them, the idea is “we won, so we get to do what we want.”  The reality is that no, they don’t, and when they try, they find out that it gets bounced back at them by the courts or another part of the  government.  It turns out that there are rules.

As I said, I’ve held offices in various organizations, including being President of some.  What all of them had was an organizing document – it might have been called a constitution, or it was called the articles of incorporation.  Those defined what the organization was for, how it was organized, and what it could do.  It stated what each officer could do, and what their responsibilities were.  Underneath that was a set of “by-laws,” and “procedural requirements” – most frequently Roberts Rules – which governed how you got things done – or didn’t – in the organization.

What I learned from those experiences was that if I knew the rules and procedures, I could get a lot done.  If I didn’t pay attention to them, or thought I could just declare something to be in force,  I’d get slapped down in a hurry by someone who did know the rules.  That isn’t to say that I liked it all the time, it was just the reality I had to work with.  I learned to check to see if what I wanted “fit” within the organizational rules, to count votes long before bringing something onto the floor for a vote, and if I didn’t have them, I didn’t bring it to the floor until I did.  I also learned how to block things I didn’t want want to pass.  If there was a procedural objection, a way to table it, I used it  if necessary.

That’s true of government as well.  The country has a Constitution, along with laws, courts, and the legislature has its own procedures.   Which is why I often shake my head when I read various people on the extremes of the political spectrum “pontificating” on what should be done, or what they would do if they were in charge.   It’s impressive, except that they ignore – or blithely wave aside as irrelevant – all those things like constitutional limits, existing laws, procedural rules, and court decisions.  If they’ve been elected to office,  and some have,  their “ideas” meet opposition, are blocked,  or are overturned by the courts.   It happens because they didn’t realize that there are rules, or thought that the rules didn’t apply to them.

That’s why I don’t have much patience with them.  It’s one thing to advocate for an agenda, or changes in government.  It’s another thing entirely when the first things you say in that advocacy show that you don’t have a clue about implementing it, or whether it’s even possible.   Every day, I see some far-right person advocate something to “restore the Constitution” or “defend the Constitution,” and in the next sentence propose something that’s blatantly against the Constitution.  For example, a Republican state legislator wants to purge the military of Muslims.   Apparently, he never read the First and the Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.   That’s just one – and the most recent – of a series of examples from the Right.  The extreme Left isn’t much better.  One can hardly go a day without reading a diatribe about how President Obama “failed” in their opinion.   It only works if you ignore that it was the House of Representatives which blocked it, or the Senate failed to move on legislation, that their proposed course of action had no political support (beyond theirs), or that it doesn’t pass muster with current law.

Each side’s extremist demonstrate that they don’t recognize that there are rules.  Which is why they so often end up failing miserably, or worse, causing people to spend a lot of time trying to fix their mess.    If you want to get something done, you have to know the rules. If you don’t know or play by them, you’re not going to get anywhere.  If you don’t acknowledge that they exist,  all you accomplish is making yourself look stupid.  That is what the extremes have done quite well.

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27 Comments

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27 responses to “Wait … There are rules? Who knew? Apparently Not the Left or the Right.

  1. Alan Scott

    The Constitution was written to protect the people from their government . The expansion of Federal power since the early 20th century has eroded that . Damned 16th amendment was the beginning of all that went wrong.

    • The Constitution was written because the government(s) of the time weren’t working. The first line says “in order to form a more perfect union.” It not to “protect the people from government,” it was to give the people a government structured to work for them.

      You should read the history of the 16th Amendment, it’s rather fascinating. Particularly the order of states ratifying it. Its funny. 😉 But, the 16th was passed to get around the fact that the “direct” taxes the federal government could levy had to be apportioned by population. If you think that your tax rates would decline, you might want to check this list. It would also have meant that the wealthy and corporations wouldn’t have paid taxes, which is something they’ve been trying to get back to ever since. You and I, of course, would be taking it in the neck.

    • Nathan Katungi

      I am sorry but you have it all wrong! The Constitution was written to create a more forceful federal government power because the loose Articles of Confederation that governed the 13 colonies during the war with Britain were failing. Colonies were beginning to war against one another; within each colonies factions were also being formed that were not easily put down by the power individual colonies. The Constitutional Convention in 1787 was precisely called for the purpose of creating a stronger government than the one that existed under the Articles of Confederation. Ironically, it was people with property who were pushed the creation of a strong federal government to protect their interests. Obviously they were then smart enough to restrict the franchise (right to vote) to white men with property.
      Finally, the Civil War Amendments, enacted in the 19th century, long before the passage of the 16th Amendment, pretty much re-affirmed Sections 2 and 3 of Article VI, of the Constitution which clearly establishes the supremacy of the National (Federal) government. It might do you some good to read the Constitution as well as the constitutional history before regurgitating right wing nonsense about the 16th Amendment.

      • “We the People” collectively are the sovereign legal and legislative authority within the U.S., not the “National (Federal) government”. Next in line is the U.S. Constitution, which is the Supreme Law of the Land. Third in line is the U.S. Federal Government.

        The government may not change the Constitution through legislative fiat, executive decree, or judiciary decree. Yet, all three have done so numerous times since the Constitution became law.

        On the other hand, “We the People” collectively can and have ignored the Constitution whenever we want. We can’t change it without undergoing the amendment process, but we can indeed ignore it collectively, but not individually.

  2. I think the Constitution was written to form a government that would protect people from the power of corporations and kings

  3. Dancer

    So many thoughts…yes there are rules…and then there are far too many who believe they can’t possible be for THEM…live for awhile in a senior community (make that in Floriduh and it’s even dicer)…books could be written. I’d be less bothered by the fool who wants to get all muslims out of the military IF he/she were just expressing their opinion and desires…by that we can know them and hold them to account. It’s when these folks PROMISE to do something they know they have no power to do that I see RED… if I hear ONE MORE TIME that our president had all the branches of government for two years (therefore suggesting he could have/should have done MORE) I’ll have to do more than scream and pound a pillow, I fear! And, it’s even more distressing when it’s said on tv or written somewhere and there is never an historical correction…ah, well…it’s a beautiful day in the Southern Tier so I must keep the BP down and count blessings…

    • Exactly. Every time I read something from the Professional Left, it’s obvious they have no idea – or worse, do and are just waving it aside – of what each branch of government does, their limits, and how they operate. One of the sterling examples was when the ACA was moving through Congress and the firebaggers were “lobbying.” They weren’t talking to the right people, they were haranguing people they shouldn’t have, and they had no “whip counts” to determine where their ideas stood. The PL and the emogressive/frustrati seem to have no interest in learning how a bill moves through Congress, and what barriers there are. I may not like the filibuster rules in the Senate, but I recognize they’re there and they have to be taken into account.

  4. …some far-right person advocate something to “restore the Constitution” or “defend the Constitution,” and in the next sentence propose something that’s blatantly against the Constitution. For example, a Republican state legislator wants to purge the military of Muslims. Apparently, he never read the First and the Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

    I am so tired of hearing this kind of nonsense from ignorant people. Not only do they not understand that there are rules, but they ignore history as well. They should remember that Hitler, in his hatred, just wanted the Jews out of of German territory too, permanently.

    • Yes, they do. They don’t even have to study international history, since our own history has a number of sad examples of what can happen. It’s a common feature of the extremes, that they “know what they know,” and that it often isn’t true is something they don’t want to admit – or even see. For example, I think Citizens United was a terrible decision, but whether I like it or not, for now it’s the way things are. There are ways to overturn that, but it has to be done within “the rules,” and just screaming it sucks doesn’t overturn it.

  5. Nathan Katungi

    “It turns out that there are rules.”

    Exactly, Norbrook! even the rules we do not approve of are still rules that we either have to abide with, or make a conscious choice to defy them, hoping that our defiance will bring about changes in those rules. For example Black folks had to abide by segregation laws. Blacks, like Rosa Parks, made a conscious choice to defy those laws but they were fully prepared to pay the consequences of either going to jail or paying fines. In the end, through massive boycotts and legal challenges, those laws/rules were eventually changed. But the change didn’t come easy and nor was achieved overnight. It took decades; and involved many sacrifices including many people, young and old who lost their lives in order to change the rules/laws.

    On the other hand, there are rules that govern the political process that unless they are changed they still have to be abided with. By way of example let me sight two rules that I personally detest but at the moment I have no choice but to abide by them or understand why the elected officials I voted for have to abide with them as well.

    (1) Here in California, unlike Wisconsin and Maine, I am required to register to vote at least three weeks before an election. If I am not registered three weeks prior to the election, California will not allow me to exercise my right to vote that I am sure the U.S. Constitution grants me. Contrast that to the rule in Wisconsin (before the Scott Walker regime) and Maine that allow citizens in those states to register on the same day they vote. Although ideally I would like to be able to have the same options as the citizens who reside in Maine and Wisconsin, the reality is that, here in California, I must abide by the rule that requires me to register three weeks prior to the elections. If I don’t do that I will certainly not be able to exercise my Constitutional right to vote.

    (2) Right now the U.S. Senate operates under a cloture rule that requires 60 votes to cut off debate and call for a vote on any given bill. For the ordinary person like me, who was taught that in a democracy the majority rules, this Senate rule that requires 60 votes sounds bizarre! But, for the people familiar with the Constitution, which gives the United State Senate the power to set its own rules of operation, this rule is the reality one has to deal with because it was agreed upon by Senators. Until it is changed, the reality is minority senators who make up more than 40 votes have the power to swart the interests of the majority of Senators. Recognizing this reality leads me to understand why: (1) President Obama could never get 100% of what he wanted done and, (2) Why my energy should be focused on defeating obstructionist right wing Republicans and not on attacking President Obama and the majority of Democratic Senators who, in order to get things done, had to work out some compromises under this rule that was easily exploited by the Republican minority.

    Bottom line: I deeply appreciate your common sense pragmatism about politics that is reflected in all your posts on this blog and other pragmatic sites. Unlike you, I’ve never held any political office. But, I am old enough to know that rarely does any one in politics get 100% of what they want. I suppose that is also true, for the most part, when it comes to real life.

    Thanks for a great article!

    • New York is very similar to CA when it comes to voter registration. It’s easy to register, but you have to do it well before you vote.

      The problem with the cloture rule isn’t that it exists – it’s actually better than in the past – but that it has been seriously abused by the Republican minority. I think one of ways to fix it is to require any Senator wishing to filibuster to physically do so – as used to be the case. The House has its own tricks, although “majority rules” generally apply. Motions for reconsideration, motions to send it back to committee, requests for debate, etc. all can do a lot to delay a bill, or even kill it. That’s assuming it gets out of committee in the first place, which is usually where the action is.

  6. david goldstein

    Um….Who were these “founding fathers” who wrote the constitution?
    According to Charles Beard, they were wealthy merchants and slave owners who wanted to be the 1% themselves, not the second percent, answering to king george.

    They wanted to protect “the people” from “the government?” PR. Ben Franklin’s specialty. I think they wanted to protect themselves from greater aristocrats so that they could become greater aristocrats. Not trying to badmouth Ben, he was a genius, but trying to put the cadre in perspective.
    When the constitution was put up for ratification, it was deemed “inadequate,” and could not be ratified until the Bill of Rights was added in the form of amendments.

    Well, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    Even a lot of conservatives are offended by “citizens united” but where is the the redress of that grievance? The rule makers are not rule-followers. “They are our goalposts, and we’ll move them as we please.”

    We have this set of rules that were written by the wealthy for the wealthy.

    How’s this status quo working? Paraphrasing Einstein, problems are never solved by the mindset which has created them, and expecting different results from the same procedure is insane.

    • Um… I think you’re doing an admirable job of poisoning the well, but let’s go with this. “redress of grievances” is not a guarantee. You have the right to petition the government for the redress, it does not mean that the government has to fix it. That is the responsibility of the electorate to continue to advocate for change, and at the same time, elect representatives who will enact it. It’s not a fast process. I might also note that the voter turn-out figures show that a lot of people are abdicating their responsibilities, so if they’re complaining about it, they’ve been complicit in it by staying out of the voting booth.

  7. Rose

    The “rules” allow some effort at good governance. I am on the “Extreme left” and I don’t blame Obama for what he didn’t do; I blame him for not even trying. He could have pushed for single-payer healthcare instead of “taking it off the table”; it would have made a great statement in support of the 99%. What we got instead was a law that entrenches our for-profit healthcare system for the benefit of health insurance companies. Obama did not even try to prosecute the Iraq war criminals or the Wall Street criminals. He said we had to look to the future instead of looking back, but that is only true for rich and powerful criminals. I also blame Obama for not doing what he had the power to do; he could have appointed different military and economic advisors. He appointed the same Bush war-hawks to supervise the war in Iraq and the same Clinton/Bush Wall Street insiders to continue running our economy into the ground. I also blame Obama for what he did completely under his own choice; he didn’t have to escalate our foreign adventures in the mideast, yet he continues to pour billions of our tax dollars into the killing spree. My expectations for Obama were very low to start (I had watched his voting record), but he failed to meet even my very low expectations. He recently postponed his Keystone xl Pipeline decision; some cheered this as a sign he was listening to the 99%. I predict he will vote in favor of the pipeline after the 2012 election when he no longer needs to hold this crumb out in front of the 99%. Obama will continue to support his rich and powerful supporters on Wall Street. They are his constituents–although Obama is too smart to say that in public as Bush did.

    • OK, let’s take that “single payer.” Did you read what I said in the post, about “counting votes?” Apparently you can’t, either. Single payer was a non starter from the beginning. A significant number of Democrats in Congress weren’t going to go for it. It was dead before it even got mentioned. Unlike you, and Jane Hamsher, the President can count votes. If you can’t get it to begin with, you don’t waste political capital on it. Yes, he could have stood there making all sorts of speeches and it still wouldn’t have happened. Now, apparently you don’t bother to read all the good things in the bill, and yes, the significant controls on insurance companies, or that 30 million people are getting coverage that wouldn’t, if the bill hadn’t passed.

      You whine about the “Bush war hawks,” I assume you’re talking about Secretary Gates. You know the guy who made significant cuts in the Defense budget, advocated for the repeal of DADT, and helped set in motion the withdrawal from Iraq? That guy? His “escalation” was to withdraw almost all our troops from Iraq, and they’ll be out by the end of this year. Which is what he said he was going to do. He also said that he was going to take on Afghanistan, and, yes, he did. Our “other” adventures, like taking out Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen and elsewhere have been without loss of American lives. I might also note that while the Left was screaming about our involvement in Libya, the Libyans greatly appreciated it.

      You have a thirst for revenge, but you might want to take a step back and think about the people who were prosecuted. Now, I know you wanted all of the CEO’s and traders charged, but the problem is that you have to have actual criminal charges to file, not “I want them in jail!” Which, you don’t. I might also note that you can’t make a law retroactive. Those same “insiders” you whine about are the ones who shepherded through a major bill re-regulating the financial industry, made a profit on TARP – which was expected to lose money – and created the first consumer protection agency for the financial sector.

      But thank you for demonstrating my point about the Extreme Left. You’re just as clueless as the Right. The only difference is that you write better.

      • LAC

        Bravo, Norbrook – this stupidity you had to address is why I love your blog. “Rose” is the poster child for why the left and the right in this country need to pushed back on by thinking folks everywhere.

        • Thank you. I wish it wasn’t needed. I’m am tired of the crap about “single-payer” and/or “public option” still being thrown about by these people. Seriously, the number of votes those things had? 85. Possibly with some serious arm-twisting, they might have gotten to 100. Considering they needed 218 to pass anything, that’s what we call “dead on arrival.” Then again, I know how to count, and what you need. I also know that the President doesn’t get to simply order Congress to pass something.

  8. jeff davis

    Baloney! The thesis “he couldn’t do it because he was constrained by the rules” is pure Obama-supporter apologism. He didn’t “do what he promised” because he chose not to. An exact complement to Pelosi’s strategy after the 2006 Democratic victory, in saying “Impeachment is off the table.” The Dems would do better in 2008 if they just let Bush carry on unopposed through the end of his term. Let him continue screwing the country if the Dems could profit from it. Obama embodies the very same self-serving philosophy.

    Obama, all rhetoric, devoid of sincerity, said what he calculated he needed to say to get elected. Which got him elected.

    Then he did what he calculated he needed to do to get reelected. OF COURSE, he did not do what he said he would: that’s not the way this paid-for-politics business works.

    I could offer the back end of this thesis: what he could have done to achieve what he promised and what the country so desperately needed, but first, I’ll give Mr Norbrook an opportunity to respond

    • Bullshit. If you’d actually read his platform, you’d have seen him say what he was going to do, and you know what? He’s been doing exactly that!. So your argument fell apart with the first line you wrote. Now, yes, Pelosi could have started impeachment proceedings against Bush. You know what would have happened? Zip. Nada. Nothing. You need to get it through the House – unlikely to begin with – and there were never 67 votes in the Senate for it. So while it may have been wonderful for you people to wank off over, it would have been a tremendous waste of time and energy. But you’d “feel better.” 🙄

      You and most of the “extreme Left” came up with a fantasy platform. That it wasn’t the real platform, or what any of the candidates ran on, apparently went right by you. I’m not responsible for your inability to pay attention. But please keep running around with your little fantasy world. Reality is so much different.

      • It is the same situation with President Obama. As I have repeatedly stated to conservatives calling for his impeachment at different times – the votes aren’t there in the Senate should the House (not likely) vote for impeachment.

        It is a waste of time that would be nothing more than a feel good for the extremists of the right.

        Independent voters – like myself – don’t like extremists and want some cooperation from both sides, keeping our government more centered.

  9. I find this article really scary. It is based on the premise that once ‘rules’ are made and installed by whatever means used they cannot be challenged or changed by the ‘people’.

    That is truly the most arrant nonsense I’ve heard in donkey’s years.

    This reliance on the sanctity of the Constitution is pathetic. In the real world If you don’ like a rule you either break it and suffer the consequences knowingly, ignore it and do the same or change it and if you can’t within the rules you do it by whatever means necessary.

    People are always quoting MLK and the Civil Rights movement, what would Malcolm X have done?

    The reason OWS was seeded and is spreading (and it is whether people who are scared of the consequences like it or not) is precisely because the people finally realised that you can’t change anything by following the rules.

    • Frankly, you’re full of shit. Yes, you can change the rules, and they can be challenged, but they are done so within the framework of the existing rules. There is a mechanism for changing the Constitution, and it’s right in there. In fact, it’s been done 27 times since it was adopted. Congress can change its procedural rules, that has been done in the past, and is re-examined (and often changes are made) at the start of each Congress.

      You can actually look at what Malcom X did, if you want to know what he would have done. You also could look up what political action actually is. You, with enough people who agree with you, can change Congress – all within the existing framework. Finally, trying to fob off the OWS as “not following the rules” is equally crap. They want to to change some of the rules, and they are taking advantage of existing rules – particularly the First Amendment to be precise.

      Mostly all you’ve demonstrated is that you’re an idiot, and why people like you never accomplish any real change. You talk a good game, you want immediate results, but the long hard work that goes into achieving it – and making it last – is beyond your capabilities.

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