Of Filibusters and the Future

Isn't getting rid of the filibuster a bit risky for the Democrats?

When a major, historic structural change takes place, sometimes it's best to wait for initial reactions to die down and carefully contempate what it all means.  Letting everyone get the emotion and panic reactions out of the way first helps reach clarity.

And then there's Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D, NV) "nuclear option" destroying the Senate filibuster, a centuries-old parliamentary rule whereby the minority party could stall legislation, judges, and executive appointments they found sufficiently odious.  While the filibuster supposedly still remains for legislation and the Supreme Court, from now on all other judicial and executive appointments will be by simple majority voting.  Thus they are the absolute gift of the majority party; the minority may as well stay home.

This seems like a very bad idea, as argued by none other than the highly experienced Sen. Harry Reid when the shoe was on the other foot during the Bush years:

The filibuster is far from a “procedural gimmick.” It is part of the fabric of this institution...

A conversation between Thomas Jefferson and George Washington describes the United States Senate and our Founders Fathers vision of it.

Jefferson asked Washington what is the purpose of the Senate?

Washington responded with a question of his own, “Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?”

“To cool it,” Jefferson replied.

To which Washington said; “Even so, we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”

And this is exactly what the filibuster does. It encourages moderation and consensus. It gives voice to the minority, so that cooler heads may prevail.

Thanks to Sen. Reid's John Kerry-esque flipflop, the Senate can no longer function as Jefferson's saucer.

It's obvious why President Obama would want the filibuster gone: he had the dickens of a time getting Obamacare passed, and virtually his entire legislative agenda has been stalled ever since.  He can't get 66 votes for his hard-left judges or his felonious cabinet nominees.

Of course, like every other president for the past two centuries, he could consider submitting more palatable people instead - but no.  It's more fun just to change the rules and use the Senate as a rubber stamp.

Which raises a relevant question in a democracy: is that sort of power really what you want your enemies to have?  Yes, Barack Obama is the President and Harry Reid is Senate Majority Leader.  What about when there's a Republican president and Republican majority leader?

You'd think that the left would want to retain the power to filibuster against hardcore anti-abortion justices and executive appointments who believe in a shrinking government.  Nope: they've sacrified that blocking power, now and forever.

What could be going through their minds?  There are only two possibilities, and having thought over it for several weeks now, we haven't come up with any others.  Let's take a look.

The Path to Dictatorship

As we've mentioned before, Hitler's rise to power was obsessively legal.  His Nazi Party was duly elected to the Reichstag, Germany's Congress; he himself was duly designated as Chancellor, more or less the Prime Minister; and his dictatorial powers were in strict accordance with a law passed by the Reichstag in 1933 and periodically renewed thereafter.  For every single action he took, he could point to a chain of legality deriving, ultimately, from the consent of the people.

Why did he dare have all power placed into his office?  Wasn't he afraid that his political opponents might win the next election and then have all that power?

Of course he wasn't - he knew perfectly well that, no matter what the paperwork said, there wasn't going to be a free and fair election in Germany as long as he was around.  Whatever elections took place would return the Nazi Party and none other to power for the entire lifespan of the "thousand-year Reich."

That's one pretty obvious explanation for Harry Reid's daring: he doesn't expect the Democrats to lose power, ever again.  Possibly he's reading his own press about Republican incompetence and fecklessness - but Sen. Reid has been around a long time and he's read media predictions of the death of the GOP before.  They've been wrong in the past, odds are they're wrong now.

Perhaps he knows something new.  Could he have listened to Mitt Romney's notorious speech about the 47% of Americans dependent on government who will therefore never, ever vote Republican?  Maybe he's read the demographic and polling analysis showing that traditional Americans are dying out and being replaced by socialist Third-Worlders?

That happened in England too, and England has a prime minister from the Conservative Party today.  Yes, England's "Conservatives" are somewhat to the left of America's Democrats, so socialism marches on unimpeded, but from the perspective of partisan political power it's no solace to the Labor Party.  They lost power and their opponents gained it, and the same might happen to Sen. Reid.

So unless Harry Reid seriously expects President Obama to seize permanent dictatorial power and eliminate all future elections, there will always be a risk of these stronger powers falling into the hands of the other side.

We all know people who believe that sort of internal coup is exactly what Mr. Obama intends, but quite frankly, we don't.  We have every expectation that on January 20, 2017, Barack Obama and his family will board the 747 previously known as Air Force One, and be returned home to Chicago.  A new president will take his place as has happened 43 times already.

But if there's no secret plan to create a police state and end elections, and both history and simple math argue that someday a Republican will win once again - what's Harry Reid thinking?

Unworthy Opponents and the Disloyal Opposition

To get into Harry Reid's mind, we have to look back over his career.  He's been in the Senate since 1987, and before that in the House of Representatives for four years.

What has he seen in that time regarding Republicans?  Yes, the tail end of the Reagan years.  Otherwise, he's seen both Bushes, and the era of the Gingrich Congress.

These were times of Republican power.  Yet as an insider, Sen. Reid knows exactly what was and wasn't accomplished.  He knows that over all that time, in good times and bad, in times of Republican "dominance" as well as Democrat, the government continues to grow.  Our freedoms continue to diminish.  America as a country moves further and further left, becomes more and more socialist, less and less constitutional.

In other words, Harry Reid knows what Scragged and the Tea Party have been pointing out for some time now: that it doesn't really matter when Republicans win, they don't actually do anything useful in the long term.

By eliminating the filibuster, Harry Reid is demonstrating his complete contempt for Republicans and conservatives alike - not as intellectual enemies or advocates of a different type of governance, but as opponents at all.

He is saying, "I have created this powerful weapon with which I can destroy all you hold dear.  But you are such incompetent opponents that I don't even worry about you getting hold of the weapon - go right ahead.  You won't have the guts to use it on me anyway."

Yes, that's right - Harry Reid is doing the modern political equivalent of a supervillain monologue.

If we were in a movie, at this point the villain would turn his back and walk away, leaving instructions for his minions to dispose of Our Hero at some future more convenient time using an overly complex and needlessly slow means of death, leaving plenty of time for escape.  But as Harry Reid well knows, conservative America is short of heroes at the moment.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments

"Nope: they've sacrified that blocking power, now and forever"

I don't agree. I think conservatives who share this optimism are forgetting where the Overton Window is.

I suspect that Washington liberals are now confident that they have the political capital to change laws back and forth in whatever direction is required for the situation at hand.

If Republicans once again assume any semblance of power, it will only be RINOs who lack the ability or compunction to stop Democrats from convincing them, the media and the nation that the filibuster needs to be reinstated.

Democrats are running the show now regardless of who is in office - that was obvious even when Bush was president and we briefly had control of both houses. Even with a Democrat minority, they are able to control the legislative agenda to the point of rendering the Republican majority unproductive.

National politics have fallen off the cliff. Hope is lost, and good people are now nothing but bystanders.

December 31, 2013 10:13 AM

lfon is quite right: the GOP was effectively neutered, even as they controlled both houses and the White House. They were neutered by the howling mad Democrats (who said truly insane things, but were never held to account) and they were neutered by their own leadership.

Most importantly, though, if Harry Reid ever seriously thought the GOP would use the tool he has just created, he is so past shameless and so sure that the media would run interference for him that he and his party would change it back on his last day as Majority Leader.

Then, when the GOP failed to do literally anything about it, we would puzzle and wonder if it was principle or cowardice, and we'd be back where we started.

December 31, 2013 11:49 AM
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