In his article in The New Republic yesterday, Jonathan Cohn asserts that both the Democrats and the Nation as a whole would be better served if we were to eliminate (or at least greatly diminish) the role of the filibuster during congressional hearings and floor votes.
He points to errors in a new Flash animation in the mode of the old School House Rock cartoons, where Phil A. Buster tries to tell us that some lawmakers want to remove him (an important check on the system) so that they can have “one party rule”.
While there may be factual inaccuracies in the animated piece, I think Cohn misses the point and doesn’t provide perspective on the uses of the filibuster throughout history. By focusing his energies on just the most recent use of this practice – the Democrats trying to block judicial nominees – he unfairly paints this issue as a right versus left dispute rather than a radical versus moderate one.
In many circles I am sure that I am considered radical. I do have particular stances on the environment and foreign policy that, perhaps, deserve that label. On the role of government, however I believe I am quite moderate. I believe strongly in civil liberties and don’t think the government should get into too many social issues. Keep our roads in good shape, provide some measure of defense, and look out for the health and safety of its citizens. That is about it. I don’t believe legislators should be actively looking to make changes to laws unless directed specifically from its citizens (not its corporations). To be brief, I believe in the virtues of a system designed to move slowly. The two parties, the three branches, and yes, the filibuster all serve to slow down legislation and cause change to happen more slowly.
Mr. Cohn makes the following observation in his article:
“…since the 1970s, there have been hundreds, plus many more “silent” filibusters in the form of threats that simply prevented legislation from coming to the floor. As a practical matter, the Senate now passes most major laws only when 60 of its members agree.”
And this is a bad thing? Shouldn’t every law be passed with a clear majority such as this? Shouldn’t making laws be about building consensus and compromise so that more people are content with the final result? Or is government now a winner take all and screw the rest proposition?
Cohn comes very close to the truth of how the filibuster helps the U.S. and its citizens. In fact, he actually makes the point quiet elegantly before deciding to muddle through a haphazard indictment of it by saying it has “gummed up the works”. Here is what he writes, precisely illustrating my point (emphasis mine):
“Although, in recent years, Democrats have deployed the filibuster to block the Republican agenda, historically conservatives (like Strom Thurmond) were the ones most likely to use the filibuster over issues like civil rights legislation…Of course, the filibuster isn’t so much hostile to any one ideology as it is to whichever party happens to propose the most radical changes in public policy, which is why it worked against Democrats before the Bush era and has worked against Republicans in the years since. But, while the whole point of the U.S. government is to thwart “tyranny of the majority,” the filibuster has arguably gummed up the works too much, making shifts in public policy so rare that voters have grown increasingly angry at the apparent unresponsiveness of government…”
Really? Is this why voters are so angry? Huh.