Filibuster Ranting

Conservative blogger Stephen Bainbridge[1] has a good post about “the deal” that pretty much sums up why I hate the filibuster :

The filibuster is a profoundly conservative tool. It slows change by allowing a resolute minority to delay – to stand athwart history shouting stop. It ensures that change is driven not “merely by temporary advantage or popularity” but by a substantial majority. Is it any wonder that it has usually been liberals who want to change or abolish the filibuster rule?

The filibuster is an anti-democratic tool that’s been used to empower some of the most horrible elements of our society in blocking progressive reforms such as anti-lynching legislation, the civil rights act, and universal healthcare. It’s a depressing irony that Democrats have been forced into a position of defending this tactic due to the even greater hypocrisy of the Republican majority in the Senate[2].

Then again, as far as I’m concerned, the filibuster isn’t the only problem here. I’ve always hated the fact that the Senate is an anti-democratic institution that disproportionately favors the south :

If each of every state’s two senators is taken to represent half that state’s population, then the Senate’s fifty-five Republicans represent 131 million people, while its forty-four Democrats represent 161 million. Looked at another way, the present Senate is the product of three elections, those of 2000, 2002, and 2004. In those elections, the total vote for Democratic senatorial candidates, winning and losing, was 99.7 million; for Republicans it was 97.3 million. The forty-four-person Senate Democratic minority, therefore, represents a two-million-plus popular majority — a circumstance that, unless acres trump people, is at variance with common-sense notions of democracy. So Democrats, as democrats, need not feel too terribly guilty about engaging in a spot of filibustering from time to time.

What’s even more frustrating is that this was all by design :

Writing to Thomas Jefferson, who had been out of the country during the Constitutional Convention, James Madison explained that the Constitution’s framers considered the Senate to be the great “anchor” of the government. To the framers themselves, Madison explained that the Senate would be a “necessary fence” against the “fickleness and passion” that tended to influence the attitudes of the general public and members of the House of Representatives[3]. George Washington is said to have told Jefferson that the framers had created the Senate to “cool” House legislation just as a saucer was used to cool hot tea.

The notion that the Senate is the body in which cooler heads prevail strikes me as incredibly elitist. What is it about the makeup of the Senate that makes the body immune to the “fickleness and passion” of the House? The fact that states with small populations are given the power to overrule the will of the majority? This is just the sort of notion that I’d expect from a group of men who felt that the only people who could be trusted to pick their own representatives were wealthy, white males[4].

Going back to the filibuster, before you all decide to send me angry emails, lemme make one point clear. I think the Democrats are completely justified in their use of the filibuster. It may be a tactic I disagree with, but my discomfort with its use is outweighed by the fact that the the GOP majority are trying to sneak wingnuts into the judiciary while crippling the rules that allow Democrats to give “advice and consent”. When the Republicans play this dirty, we’d be fools to not fight fire with fire.

1 : Who gets my respect for being a real conservative and not just another partisan hack.

2 : As Prof. Brainbridge put it :

[A]ny honest conservative must admit that the only reason we’re having this debate over filibusters is because of Orin Hatch’s changes to the Judiciary Committee rules and procedures on matters like blue slips, hearings, and so on, which deprived the Democrats of the tactics that the GOP used to bottle up a lot of Clinton nominees in committee.

3 : Which worked so well during the Terri Schiavo fiasco.

4 : No, I’m not bashing the founding fathers. I think their flaws should be kept in historical context, but I bring this up to make the point that our concept of how we define a democratic republic has evolved over the last 200 years or so.