Catching up on reading Balloon Juice, I saw that John Cole was thinking what I’ve been thinking: Democrats need to be saying the phrase “up or down vote” until they’re blue in the face. I’ve been amused all this past week, watching Rachel Maddow run a contest to see who could rename the filibuster problem in a way that was soundbite-friendly and attention-grabbing. When people ask my advice on getting people engaged with your message online, I tend to suggest just this—reward them for creativity and listen to their opinions, and you’ll find progressives respond really well to that. And that’s what her show is doing with this contest, driving people to the website and, more importantly, getting them to really think about and care about the filibuster issue so they’ll talk to friends, blog, and call their Senators. I also applaud the daily touting of Senators who answered their calls, which is a good way to shame those who didn’t.
Here’s the “but”. But the problem is that the winner—”The Tarantino”—is cute but not actually a good frame, since it doesn’t make you think about the actual problem, but about a bunch of movies. Granted, the intention of the contest was never to actually come up with decent framing of the filibuster issue so much as to raise awareness of the “boring” problem to political junkies who don’t think it’s actually boring, and to have an excuse to talk about it when the news cycle doesn’t produce any impetus to do so. But I think it’s time to talk about the actual frame to use. And luckily, the Republicans have done all our work for us, both in terms of coming up with the phrase and popularizing it. They even perfected the tone of moral indignation with which to pronounce the phrase.
“Up or down vote”.
God, it’s a brilliant phrase. (Another reason I vote “evil” in the “stupid or evil” debates, because many Republicans are good at being simple in a way that’s deceptively hard to do.) Why? Well, it’s simple and descriptive. You don’t have to know the particulars of how a vote is being blocked to know that it’s going on, and to relate immediately to the frustration being expressed. It conveys the idea that the minority party threatening to filibuster is preventing the government from working, and this pisses people off, because we fund their paychecks. But above all other things, the phrase taps into Americans’ deep and understandable loathing of interminable meetings.
This loathing is why movies and TV shows that have cops impatient with meetings and protocol that decide to cut the crap and do it their way are endlessly popular. Few of us have escaped a work environment where you and probably some to most of your colleagues just want to start to work on something, and you feel you know what needs to be done, but oh my god, someone’s called another meeting where everyone can rehash the same issues over and over again. And while you’re sitting around discussing the work, the work is not getting done, and you have that dreadful feeling you get when you begin to realize that while you thought you had a lot of time to finish your work, it’s getting eaten up by fucking meetings and you’re beginning to panic.
Or worse! You’ve been in a work environment where the bosses prefer to call meetings to tell their disempowered underlings things that would have been communicated nicely by a memo, thank you very much. If you’ve worked in service, you’ve experienced these meetings. Everyone is forced to come in an hour early so the boss can tell you that you need to wear 20 pieces of flair now, asks for comments, and then gets aggravated because no one has anything to say because the whole fucking thing is a farce anyway, and no one is unaware of the fact that speaking up and arguing with the boss will mean exactly nothing.
The filibuster is both these meetings rolled into one. The Republicans are both wasting time for the hell of it, and playing the role of the aggravated boss man who feigns interest in having a discussion and gets pissed when you correctly assess that he’s full of shit and won’t—or can’t—budge an inch.
The phrase “up or down vote” is the cop who plays by his own rules in this system. It hits on a major fantasy enjoyed by the vast majority of voting Americans who’ve been subject to boring meetings, that you could simply cry foul and take a vote that would shut down the meeting so you can all do something that isn’t a meeting. Democrats should be using the phrase to describe the issue both because it’s a good phrase, and also because you can demonstrate that the Republicans feigning outrage were singing a different tune when they were in power.