Friends and acquaintances who know that I am a confirmed atheist are always surprised to learn that I not only own a well-thumbed copy of the King James version of the Bible but consult it regularly. Affronted by the duplicitousness of the Republicans, I am given to invoking Matthew 23:25-33 [no, I am not going to tell you what it says. You will have to hunt up a copy of the Good Book and read it for yourselves]. In these terrible times, when Obama is embarked on the madness of what will be endless war, who does not think with sadness and longing of Isaiah 2:4? To be sure, one must, to echo Oscar Wilde, have a stomach of stone to read Leviticus without losing one's appetite. Still and all, any serious student of the history and philosophy of Western Civilization will have an intimate relationship with the Old and New Testaments.
In somewhat the same way, those who know me as as anarchist [and it is thus, not as a husband or father or Kant scholar or amateur violist or teacher that I am known around the world] seem puzzled by my fondness for the feel, the sound, the intricacies, the absurdities of representative government. Surely, they will say to me, you cannot feel a swell of positive emotion when you contemplate the American Congress!
This reflection is prompted by the fact that I spent some hours yesterday watching, thanks to C-Span, a series of votes in the U. S. Senate on amendments offered to the health care reform bill now before that house. Before reporting my thoughts about those events, perhaps I should take a moment to explain this anarchist's affection for a form of government that he has decisively proven is and must always be illegitimate.
Representative democracy is as close as we shall ever come, in a vast continental nation of more than three hundred people, to those face to face deliberations in which mature adults share their thoughts, compose their differences, and settle upon some course of common action to advance their collective interests or ambitions. As I have observed before on this blog, when Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Arlen Specter, and Maria Cantwell meet in the well of the Senate to attempt a compromise on a clause of the health care reform bill, it is not the meeting of a despicable cretin, a nakedly ambitious time-server, and a splendidly intelligent and admirable public servant, although that is an accurate description of them as human beings. Rather, it is conversation among the men and women of South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington State. Deeply divided as those states are both within themselves and from one another, there is no alternative if they are eventually to compose their differences and act in concert through the intermediation of laws applicable to all. Not one of the hundred members of the Senate can speak as movingly and intelligently as Barack Obama, and I dare say no more than the tiniest handful have his command of the issues before the nation. And yet, as the chief of the Executive branch, while he can command, he cannot through his internal deliberations give any sort of representation, however imperfect, to the competing interests and convictions of the people of the country.
Watching the Senate take up and vote on a series of amendments to a bill is, of course, somewhat of a specialist taste, rather like watching a Chia pet grow. Things take forever, and the result is rather hairy. At issue during the hour or two that I devoted to this light entertainment were two amendments by Democrats that passed 98-0 and 97-1, and two Republican amendments that went down to defeat [despite one of them getting 51 votes, since under the rules in operation, amendments to a pending bill require 60 votes to be adopted.] As near as I could tell, the Democratic amendments were in effect preventive strikes designed to undermine seriously damaging Republican amendments in the hopper. They were worded in such a manner that the Republicans could not afford to vote against them. Hence the near unanimity.
The C-Span cameras are fixed, and positioned high up, with the result that everyone looks very small. Even so, news junkies like me could easily make out many distinctive figures -- Olympia Snow, tall, slender, in a pants suit; John McCain doing little macho jigs as he chatted with his colleagues; the shock of white hair under which stood Chris Dodd; the wonderful Debbie Stabenow, frumpy and looking more like a real human being than most of her fellow Senators.
I loved it. It wasn't legitimate. It could never be legitimate. But I loved it nonetheless.