Since the topic of the day is “tyranny” let’s understand what that word and its adjective “tyrannical” mean.

tyranny:  noun: oppressive power; esp. oppressive power exerted by government.

tyrannical:  adj:  2. characterized by oppressive, unjust or arbitrary behavior or control.

Both words have, over the last two years, found their way into conservatives’ attack on Obamacare, and more recently, with respect to Senate Democrats’ exercising of the so-called “nuclear option”; i.e. a vote to allow the confirmation of presidential appointments with a simple 51-vote majority rather than the 60 previously required.

Apropos Obamacare (OC), conservatives have claimed with it was “jammed” down everyone’s throat, and that congressional Republicans were denied any voice in shaping the bill as it was being crafted. Thus, because the bill in final form, passed without a single GOP vote in either house, it was a “tyrannical” exercise of power by Democrats who, at the time, were in the majority.

There is little basis in fact for such claims. House Republicans put forward five substantive amendments to OC; Senate Republicans, two (1). Some were adopted, some were not. In any case, all told, there were 161 GOP-sponsored amendments to OC that found their way into the bill in its final form. Most of these were, admittedly, “technical” (2) in nature. That this legislation passed without any GOP support may well have more to do with that party’s longstanding disinterest in healthcare reform, especially if it included the name “Obama” (3).

Turning our attention now to Senate Democrats’ exercise of the “nuclear option”, there is this:  Senate Republicans had steadily refused to even bring to the floor for debate, the merits of three individuals that the president had nominated to fill vacancies in various federal courts. The GOP refusal was based on Obama’s unwillingness to accede to demands that had absolutely nothing to do with the qualifications of the three nominees. For example, Sen. Lindsey Graham in outspoken fashion, had declared that he alone would block each of the nominees unless he was supplied with information pertaining to the attack on our compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Sen. Graham is not the only Republican who promised to use the same sort of tactic which is best described by the single word, “extortion”. In all such cases, what was to be extorted was completely irrelevant to the nominees’ qualifications, judicial experience and record in being impartial in their proper application of the law. For good reason, then, the president refused to comply, especially since matters like Benghazi had already been subject to multiple, open hearings in both houses. This impasse remained in place for months until finally, the Democrats brought the nuclear option to the floor and passed it. In turn, this will allow Obama’s nominees’ names to move forward for debate and likely, eventual confirmation.

If, in the foregoing recent Senate history, there is any “tyranny”, it was being practiced by the body’s Republican minority. James Madison, one of our most honored Founding Fathers, worried over a “tyranny of the majority” that might come about as a result of the arbitrary/unjust exercise of power by the many over the few. In contrast, in all that he wrote and said, there is no evidence that he was equally concerned that a partisan minority would use the rules of the Senate to bring governance to a halt. Pity that he did not see it coming or he might have warned us. 


1. The Republican House amendments are identified as H.R. 3400, 3468, 3970, 4038 and 4529; in the Senate by S.R. 1099 and 1783.

2. The term “technical” was applied to a portion of the 161 amendments by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

3. See “From whence commeth Obamacare” published at this blogsite on Nov. 6, 2013.