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Saturday, January 14, 2017

“Someday, we will find that the inefficiencies of the Senate will have saved our liberties."

Al From, late of the DLC, writes at the Huffington Post that Senator Edmund Muskie understood the Founders' design:
At the hearing, just before the early press deadline (in those days before cable news and the internet, making the newspaper deadline was crucial), Virginia Governor Linwood Holton launched into a tirade about how impatient President Nixon was with Congress’ handling of his proposals to dismantle the War on Poverty. Holton, the chairman of Republican Governors Association, had been briefed by the White House, which wanted to shape the news story out of the hearing.

Muskie answered Holton for the record, and then turned to me (as subcommittee staff director sitting next to him) and said:

“Someday, we will find that the inefficiencies of the Senate will have saved our liberties.” [emphasis in original]

Muskie believed in protecting congressional prerogatives, including those that resulted in “the inefficiencies of the Senate,” as a safeguard against excessive presidential power or the power of the majority party to run roughshod over the minority. Muskie learned the importance the minority party rights as governor of Maine, he didn’t have enough Democrats in his legislature to sustain his veto.

The lesson I learned from him that day is that major systemic reforms should be undertaken only after considering the long-term consequences, not to achieve a desired outcome on a particular issue or short term political gain. Muskie was an ardent reformer, but he was always mindful of the consequences when political circumstances changed and the shoe was on the other foot, when today’s minority party became tomorrow’s majority party.