There Are No Rules

Whatever you may think of the sit-in being staged by Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives, it seems like a monumental shift in the way Congress functions.

Viscerally, yes, there may be something immensely gratifying about watching lawmakers say “Enough is enough,” and openly flout the rules of a legislative body which is completely paralyzed in the face of what can reasonably be called a gun violence crisis.

And whether the sit-in reminds you of the Civil Rights movement (Congressman John Lewis’s role in planning the sit-in certainly invited the comparison, something Congresswoman Katherine Clark wisely saw coming), or “criminals and terrorists” as they were reportedly called on an NRA radio program, in reality today’s action is probably somewhere in the middle.

It’s still a remarkable shift. If you read the Federalist Papers it becomes immediately clear that American politics were never supposed to be about instant gratification or immediate change. The mechanisms of federal government are meant to protect the rights of the minority and the rules of the House and Senate have evolved in their various ways within that framework. The Senate is all about the individual’s capacity to bring the body to a grinding halt, hence why someone like Ted Cruz is so incalculably annoying to his colleagues, whereas the House is about the majority party steamrolling the minority.

I’m sure this was always frustrating, and it’s possible that this truly is the moment when the minority party couldn’t stand it any longer and felt that this was when they had to start breaking things (if sitting on the floor can be called breaking things). I get the concept of civil disobedience. But how can that bode for our government when political discourse has broken down so completely at even the highest level that even Congressmen and Congresswomen feel they have no choice but to operate entirely outside of that discourse?

I worry about the precedent being set here.

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