Defending the Filibuster

George Will defends the Senate’s filibuster rule in his Newsweek column.

The filibuster is an important defense of minority rights, enabling democratic government to measure and respect not merely numbers but also intensity in public controversies. Filibusters enable intense minorities to slow the governmental juggernaut. Conservatives, who do not think government is sufficiently inhibited, should cherish this blocking mechanism. And someone should puncture Republicans’ current triumphalism by reminding them that someday they will again be in the minority.

The promiscuous use of filibusters, against policies as well as nominees, has trivialized the tactic. But filibusters do not forever deflect the path of democratic government. Try to name anything significant that an American majority has desired, strongly and protractedly, but has not received because of a filibuster. Which brings us to the pertinence of this year’s politics.

A senior White House official says the president believes that his emphasis on Democratic obstruction of judicial confirmations is one of the main reasons for Republican gains in this year’s Senate elections. If so, the political solution to what is a political problem is working.

The president should renominate all 10 appellate-court nominees who have been filibustered, and he should vow, like General Grant, to “fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer.” Norman Ornstein, a student of these things, says Senate Republicans could force Democrats to conduct the kind of filibuster Southern Democrats conducted against civil-rights legislation in the 1950stalking around the clock, the obstructionists and their opponents sleeping on cots in the Capitol, the Senate paralyzed. There has never been such a spectacle in the era of C-Span and saturation journalism on cable 24 hours a day. Do Democrats want to make 2005 the year of living dangerously? Seventeen of their 44 seats are at risk in 2006five of them in states Bush just carried.

James Joyner of Outside the Beltway disagrees:

Will’s argument has merit and his plan for fighting it out would be wonderful political theater. That said, I disagree. The Constitution already puts numerous hurdles in the way of a thin, overzealous majority: bicameralism, staggered Senate terms, representation of states rather than population in the Senate, and the veto are just the most obvious examples. Judicial review, itself extra-constitutional, is yet another barrier to encroachment by the majority on the rights of a minority.

The filibuster, while now steeped in tradition, is not a part of the Constitution. Used as a last resort on the most controversial issues of the day, it was tolerable. Now that it has become a routine tool of the minority, though, it turns our system on its head. President Bush has been elected twice and Republicans have had majorities in both Houses of Congress after each of the last six elections. At some point, they should be allowed to govern.

Both arguments have merit and James makes a stronger case than I probably could have, but at the end of the day, the Republicans should leave the rule alone.

One of the reasons I’m a passionate conservative who spends more hours than he should preaching the gospel of Republicanism is that I have been routinely annoyed and downright offended at the Democrat party wanting to change the rules, not to make the country better, but to allow them to gain power.

How can Republicans complain about Democrats wanting to change the rules after elections are run in Florida if we pull similar (if not perfectly analogous) stuns in the Senate?

The behavior of the Democrats over Bush’s judicial nominations has been appallingly childish and frankly, quite egregious but that does not give Republicans license to behave poorly. The proper response is, not to change the rules of the Senate, but to subject the Democrats to public humiliation. When Gore sued to throw out the military vote, I declared the battle in Florida over. When you give away the moral high-ground for political gain, the American people will abandon you.

Ironically, James lays out the perfect reason to make the Democrats actually hold an around the clock filibuster. “President Bush has been elected twice and Republicans have had majorities in both Houses of Congress after each of the last six elections. At some point, they should be allowed to govern.”

That is the line the Republicans should take to the American people. It’s a win-win for Republicans. They’ll get their nominees thru, keep the moral high-ground and pick up a few more Senate seats as a bonus prize. Who could ask for anything more?

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