Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Every motion of no confidence fails by one vote."

That's a saying in countries that have parliamentary governments. A parliamentary "vote of no confidence" in the government that will bring it down if passed will fail by one vote because that's how many votes the government will allow to be cast against it.

The point is that the government is doing something very unpopular with the voters, or else the "no confidence" motion wouldn't exist, typically brought by the opposing minority party. To defuse the voters' anger, the government allows as many members of its own party as possible to vote against it -- up to that last one who would make the difference.

The government is going to do what it is going to do anyhow -- but to save the most vulnerable members of its own party from the voters' wrath it allows them to take a brave and independent stand against it, that they will point to in the next election, but which changes nothing in the end.

[OK, for the moment I think we can put the rest of this aside ... except for the final thought.]

Update: Now we see that Speaker Pelosi tried exactly this tactic with the "bailout" bill but bungled it. She tried to let as many of her Democrats as possible vote against the bailout while still getting it passed with Republican votes. But she either (a) miscounted the Republican votes for the bill, or (b) angered a number of Republicans into not voting for it with her little last minute spontaneous tirade against them (or both). So the exercise blew up.

I suspect we just saw the US version of this same process in the weekend political "standoff" over the $700 billion bailout for the financial system. The NY Times at this hour Sunday dramatically reports...

Breakthrough Reached in Negotiations on Bailout

But was the bailout ever really in danger? I doubt it. A lot of members of Congress, especially from conservative Republican districts, have been getting a whole lot of heat from their constituents about apparently spending $700 billion of their tax money to bail out fat-cat Wall Street zillionaires -- with an election only weeks away.

So last Friday, when the markets were closing and it didn't matter, these Republicans bravely and independently stood up and defied President Bush and Wall Street, demanding reform of the bailout! Now, over a weekend of difficult negotiations, they have achieved what they demanded, making the President and Wall Street concede to their demands, in a highly publicized manner -- even if they got only a fig leaf in substance.

Monday morning when the markets open and it matters, the bailout in substance will be just exactly what it was last Friday, these Republicans will vote for it, and then they'll go into the last weeks of the election being able to tout to the voters in their districts how they stood up against it, and brag of their success in changing it.

Isn't democracy fun!