Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Time to fix the filibuster

Over the history of the filibuster, it had been used in extreme circumstances (from the minority's point of view), as a last-ditch effort. Most notably from Southerners trying to stop civil rights legislation.

Today the Republicans in the Senate use the filibuster for everything, routinely--aided by a recent Senate innovation that allows them to not actually filibuster, but simply to threaten one. Thus the filibuster has morphed from an emergency device to preserve minority rights to something close to minority rule.

I believe in minority political rights. During the Dark Ages (the Bush presidency and Republican Congress 2000-2006) the Democrats used it and I always thought "Great. The Founders wanted our democracy to be somewhat inefficient, to prevent mob rule." Moreso because during the Republican rule of the Senate, its majority actually represented some 15 million fewer voters than the Democratic "minority"--courtesy of the way the Electoral College gives, say, one Montana Republican voter the same say in picking a President as around 4 California Democrats.

But now the filibuster has become exactly what Alexander Hamilton predicted in his Federalist Papers:

"The history of every political establishment in which [a super-majority] principle has prevailed is a history of impotence, perplexity and disorder."

The Senate Democrats must confront the filibuster head on. The howls will be huge. And when the Republicans regain control of the Senate, as is historically inevitable sooner or later, they will use any new rules on us--ruthlessly.

So be it. Minority rights cannot be allowed to become minority rule, regardless of who's in the minority.

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