25 May 2005

Senate Should Tolerate the Filibuster

Both sides in the filibuster debate have done nothing but spout misinformation. That includes telling only that part of the truth that furthers their argument.

The Star Tribune’s editorial on Sunday, May 22, is equally one-sided in its defence of the filibuster as a “right.” That is Democratic partisan nonsense and also plain wrong. There is no “right” to filibuster. Senators have simply used this and other sabotage tactics when it seemed expedient to them. Now they put a feather in its cap and call it a “right.”

Yet the Republicans have engaged in no smaller sins. When they make it seem that only Democrats have used the filibuster to block judicial nominees, they are, well, lying. Of course, they are technically correct when they say that the Republicans were never successful in filibustering judicial nominees. But let’s not mince words: both parties have tried every sabotage tactic on the book to frustrate the hopes of judicial nominees.

From a purely democratic point of view, the filibuster is a hateful monster. It allows the minority to frustrate the plans of the majority, in clear violation of the voters’ will. None of the current minority’s reasons to justify the filibuster have any philosophical merit. It is undemocratic and no legal document grants anyone the right to filibuster. It merely exists by the coincidence of tradition.

Nevertheless, Republican senators would do well to let the filibuster stand, even if they have to do it while grinding their teeth. The fact that voters are limited to only two parties--parties that are both getting more and more extreme--is a serious hindrance to true democracy. Despite the many shades of gray in voters’ opinions, only these two parties matter politically. Thus, any majority in Congress will almost necessarily be slim and the minority sizeable. Unless the political system were reformed to include more checks and balances and water down the power of the majority party, ending the filibuster will cause a de facto one-party dictatorship.

It is a catch 22 because both keeping and scrapping the filibuster are undemocratic. But Republicans should not gloat over the short-term benefits of the “constitutional option.” The Democrats will take their revenge when next they are in the majority and, using the same strategy, impose on the country a host of life-time judges who, in their turn, will rule against each and every issue conservatives stand for.

I agree that there are serious cracks in the system, but I had rather hang around for a better plan to fix them because the “nuclear option” will at the very least deepen the partisan rift and at worst start a dangerous meltdown of the federal government. Faced with that prospect, I’ll be content to grind my teeth at Democratic incivility.

Yes, this is a reversal of an earlier standpoint. But I'd rather have wisdom late, than not at all.

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