Some twenty years ago, Richard F. Fenno, Jr. published “The Senate Through the Looking Glass” – a particularly illuminating and trenchant assessment of the state of the Senate. Listening to senators debate whether to allow television cameras into the chamber, Fenno concluded that the Senate was still capable of thoughtful deliberation and consensual decision-making. In this article, I take a Fenno-inspired peek through the looking glass at the contemporary Senate, using a recent parliamentary dispute to probe senators’ views about their institution. The view is unusually dark. Two decades after Fenno’s assessment, rising partisanship has made the Senate nearly ungovernable—leaving a chamber that struggles to fulfill its most basic constitutional duties.
Free speech shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but it has been drawn into the larger dynamics of polarization in this country.