If James Madison Weighed In on Politics Today

More from our inbox:

  • Expanding the Fight for Abortion Rights
  • A Proposal for the National Mall

 Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; photographs by ilbusca and NSA Digital Archive, via Getty Images

To the Editor:

Re “Another Democrat to Be Mad At,” by Greg Weiner (Opinion guest essay, Nov. 29):

Mr. Weiner’s thesis is that James Madison would have wanted to see more support in Congress for any legislation as sweeping and enduring as Build Back Better. Mr. Weiner is likely correct, but this is hardly a meaningful argument against voting this bill into law.

There are two realities that argue against the Madison perspective. First, polling shows that many parts of the legislation are very popularwith most voters. Second, Republican Party “no” votes are predominantly based on opposition for the sake of opposition.

Substantial public support far outweighs any thoughts Madison may have had about a need to justify laws of enduring impact by counting margins of victory in congressional voting tallies.

Joe Grossman
Boulder, Colo.

To the Editor:

Greg Weiner’s essay is carefully reasoned and eloquent. The takeaway is that American democracy as envisioned by James Madison is structured to keep narrow majorities from making large policy changes quickly, and that this is one of the great virtues of our Constitution. I take exception.

For at least two decades our government has been unable to reasonably respond to a great variety of social, economic and environmental issues because a supermajority is required for any contentious legislation to pass the Senate.

We are quite likely past the point of no return on global warming, an issue President Biden appropriately calls “existential.” I can think of no better reason for eliminating the filibuster (and gerrymandering for that matter) and getting on with the monumental work that’s needed if we are to avert the end of human civilization.

David Sligar
Grants Pass, Ore.

To the Editor:

Greg Weiner argues that progressive Democrats unhappy about the failure to pass social legislation should blame James Madison, who wisely engineered a constitutional system that filters and constrains majorities and requires the slow building of support for legislation. But these are not “normal” times.

The reason progressives are anxious to legislate before 2022 is that they know that a Republican reconquest of the House will not represent a “normal” midterm electoral defeat but the victory of a far-right party, with an even farther-right base, and that this endangers democracy itself.

Quoting Lincoln, Mr. Weiner waxes eloquent about “a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people.” But Republicans are now systematically changing state-level election laws to restrict voting and to place vote-counting in the hands of partisans. Under these circumstances, patient confidence is a recipe for disaster.

Democrats must use their legislative majority to pass social legislation and the Freedom to Vote Act now if democracy is to have a future.

Jeffrey C. Isaac
Bloomington, Ind.
The writer is a professor of political science at Indiana University.

Expanding the Fight for Abortion Rights

 Credit…Chelsea Cardinal

To the Editor:

“Losing the Fight Over Abortion,” by Amy Littlefield (Sunday Review, Dec. 5), does not address the most significant mistakes of our movement — our inability to frame abortion rights within the broader context of gender and racial justice.

Abortion rights are fundamental to the rights of all women to be equal participants in society. But so is the right to family planning, sex education, good maternal health care and being free of violence. Our opponents have focused on abortion rights.

Fighting back with what almost seems like an exclusive focus on abortion rights ensures a long-term defensive posture for our movement. A more affirmative and proactive strategy would be a gender justice perspective that broadens the issues for our movement to include the concerns of marginalized communities and to reflect an electorate now increasingly composed of Latinx, Black and Asian voters.

Our vision of a just nation will be realized only when our political movements reflect the full diversity of our communities and address the challenges experienced by our most vulnerable members.

Anika Rahman
New York
The writer is a lawyer who co-founded the Center for Reproductive Rights and is the former chief executive of the Ms. Foundation for Women.

A Proposal for the National Mall

Robert Horton, an assistant director for collections and archives at the National Museum of American History, in a storage area in the museum’s basement.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

To the Editor:

“Saving History With Wet-Vacs in Washington” (front page, Nov. 26)captures the threat of flooding not only to the Smithsonian’s collections, but also to all the buildings around the National Mall.

The National Mall Coalition has proposed a beneath-the-Mall reservoir to take in floodwaters from anywhere around the Mall. The proposal was favorably evaluated by the Army Corps of Engineers and was deemed worthy of further study by an intergovernmental flood team.

Astonishingly, the Smithsonian has rejected the coalition’s concept, stating that “this does not seem like an ideal time to begin an ambitious infrastructure project underneath the Mall.”

If not now, when? The coalition asks only that its proposal — developed since 2013 by qualified architects, engineers and financing experts — be considered as a means of preventing flood damage. The fact that it also includes bus parking, visitor services and a geothermal field to provide clean energy should be seen as a plus, not as an excuse to reject it.

Judy Scott Feldman
Rockville, Md.
The writer is chair of the National Mall Coalition.

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