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American Shakespeare

| Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010

Our nation is gridlocked and the filibuster, which permits a minority of U.S. senators to permanently block just about any legislation, is the culprit.

Before any law gets an up or down vote, 60 senators must vote to allow a vote, a situation more suited to a Potemkin village than what was once known as the world's greatest deliberative body. This stupid Senate rule allows a minority of 41 senators out of 100 to scuttle the wishes of the majority whenever they choose.

For much of its history, the filibuster was used to delay a vote and encourage debate, which came in pretty handy when the majority was tempted to rush to judgment. Most recently, it has been used to prevent both debate and a vote from ever happening. Any notion that the will of the people will be expressed through their elected officials has fallen victim to "minority rule."

In 1995, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, unsuccessfully tried to change the filibuster in a way that would have permitted meaningful debate while assuring an eventual vote on all legislation. Harkin was an honest broker at the time, since his proposal would have stripped his own party, which was in the minority then, of the ability to kill Republican legislation. But Harkin saw the future.

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the public is fed up with the inability of both major political parties to get anything done, with 93 percent saying that there is too much partisan infighting and 61 percent bemoaning the refusal of both parties to compromise.

On the heels of the Haiti earthquake, Americans were treated to a rare and comforting glimpse. President Obama, with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- one Republican and one Democrat -- stood outside the White House to begin a massive aid program to be led by Obama's two predecessors. This selfless bipartisanship might save Haiti but what will save America?

With economic, health care and education crises crushing the average citizen here at home, Democrats and Republicans are unable to find the personal or political courage for just such a symbolic meeting in Congress.

In Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet," the Montague and Capulet families maintain a vicious feud, to the detriment of each other and the broader community, much like the Republicans and Democrats are doing in Congress. And like our politicians, the families resist every encouragement to get along for the sake of themselves and their own constituencies.

The senseless self-destruction born of their feud suddenly becomes crystal clear when Romeo's best friend, Mercutio, tries to defend him from a rival family member and suffers a mortal wound. As he lay dying, Mercutio, uttering these immortal words, says, "A plague on both your houses."

And that, without the pathos , pretty much sums up how most Americans are feeling about Democrats, Republicans and Congress.

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